One Little Boy’s Newspaper Story

India 2005

By Troy Turner

June 10, 2009

MUMBAI, India – Big boys don't cry. Especially a grown man who is a hardened journalist, having seen troubling images from dead bodies in the street to orphaned babies crying for Mama. Anybody's mama.

Saw it in Africa.

Saw it in Asia.

Saw it in Alabama.

Therefore, it was going to take something pretty strong to catch me with my guard down before spending time traveling throughout India, a crowded land of 1 billion people and most of them happy if they can manage one good meal a day.

Having only days earlier been caught in a near riot for taking pictures on a digital camera in a poverty-stricken marketplace, and having spent time talking with mamas that fretted over sold daughters, and talking with daughters having sold themselves twice a day for more weeks than they could remember, India's poor had indeed depressed me. But pretty much it was as I expected.

What I didn't expect was a sucker punch that would hit me while not in a musky brothel, or while giving my water bottle to a thirsty man as we talked in a sewer-filled back alley, or while bribing the toothless gate guard into allowing me to sneak inside and visit an old Christian church. Rather, it came while riding in the back of a tiny, air-conditioned bus, of all places.

While most of the other dozen or so passengers peered off at the traffic jam to the right as we sat stuck and waiting, I noticed this little boy, not much younger than my own son who is 10.

He was a cute kid, though filthy from obviously living in the streets and having to struggle for his keep. I thought about how handsome he would be, with his tan skin and thick, wavy black hair, if he could enjoy a long hot shower, a good meal and a nice change of clothes.

Then I realized why he was smiling. Tucked under his arm was a crisp-looking, hot-off-the-press-that-day newspaper. He obviously had found it somewhere and realized he had a commodity on his hands, and like any good commodity broker, he had waited for the traffic to stop, and he made his way into the angry river of puffing trucks, three-wheel taxi scooters, bicycles, cars and busses, and he tried to sell that newspaper.

That one, little newspaper, holding it high as if it were a priceless ticket to America's equivalent of the Super Bowl. To him, on this day, it was. Sell this newspaper, and he might have enough for a soup bowl, maybe.

He knocked on window after window, keeping his smile and realizing that sooner or later, his investment in his efforts would pay off. He would open up the paper, show it full length so as to be sure and show off the pretty women scantily clad on the inside section. This kid knew sex sells. Even blind kids growing up in the streets of India see that.

Finally, a nibble.

A flashy BMW up ahead of us with three college-age men in it laughed and chatted with him as they reached for the paper to give it a glance. I couldn't tell from the back of the bus what they were saying. But, I surmised it was the paydirt the kid had been seeking, and I was about to turn away as the traffic finally cleared and it was time to move.

The scattered newspaper flapping in the air caught my eye, however. I refocused my vision, and I saw just before they sped away home one of the men took one section from the paper, literally shoved the rest into the face of the boy and pushed him away, and they drove off without paying the boy anything but heartache.

The boy did something I never imagined this tough and street-savvy kid would do.

He started crying.

Running through the lanes of traffic back to the shady roadside, he melted on the curb and began sobbing into his folded arms propped up on his knees, as he sat there, all alone.

I'm still mad I couldn't stop the bus, despite the danger of riot it might have caused by halting traffic again. And now, I sit here and look at the stacks of newspapers surrounding me in my office. But today, I don't see old newspapers.

I see little boys.