D’boy was not dulling himself. He was lurking around the outer fringes of the small crowd at the newspaper vendor’s stand, looking for a promising pocket to pick. If he didn’t find one here soon he would proceed to the nearest bus stop. Fuel was scarce again and so the bus stops were packed with hot, angry people, some of who would get even angrier, getting on a bus after a vigorous struggle to find their wallets gone. He shrugged. Hunger had long robbed him of his conscience. He wiped sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his once white T-shirt. The sun was fierce today. It would have a dizzying effect on the less sturdy. His stomach growled again, a reminder of the hunger that was a constant companion.
D’boy was an ordinary enough boy, going by his looks. He was four feet tall and scrawny, with dark skin and big innocent eyes that had gotten him out of countless self-generated troubles. But D’boy had been toughened by the circumstances of his life. He had been born to a prostitute and – according to her – a man he had come to know only as Spanner. It had never occurred to him that he should be offended when the other boys said ‘your mama na ashawo’. That was the story of his life after all. He had lived with her for a few years as a child. Then one morning, without warning, she’d taken him, with his meagre belongings, to a large compound having several rows of single room apartments. She’d left him in front of room 25. Her instructions were to ask for Spanner and tell him that he was his son, from Caro. She’d left without a goodbye. He hadn’t seen or heard from her since. He’d waited outside that door for hours, tired and hungry, his imploring eyes quickly ignored by the people who’d passed by. He’d learnt rule number one then: every boy for himself.
Spanner had come back that night long after the compound had gone to sleep. D’boy lay curled up on the hard veranda that – unbeknownst to him – would be his bed many nights. He was rudely kicked awake, and Spanner, in an angry growl, asked who he was and what he wanted. D’boy blinked up at Spanner, his eyes gradually losing their sleep-induced heaviness, and decided he could pass for Spanner’s son – at least in terms of skin colour. He sat up and recited Caro’s message in a halting voice. The big, dark man examined D’boy in the yellow light from the bulb overhead like he would a worthless, albeit fascinating piece of debris that had washed up on his own private stretch of beach. He finally put his hand into his trouser pocket and dug out his keys. He opened the door to the room and with a grunt, gestured for D’boy to go in. The room was small and airless, with a mattress, a tiny wardrobe and little else. He was home.
D’boy had no fantasies of Spanner as the dutiful father. While his mother had bemoaned her fate every day she’d been saddled with him; Spanner simply ignored him. Having lived with Spanner for years now, D’boy had no idea what Spanner did; he only knew there were long absences that sometimes ran into weeks. At such times he would make his bed on the veranda. Spanner hadn’t thought to give him a key. He hadn’t thought to ask.
D’boy felt a gust of wind and looked up just in time to see Orobo whizz past. Orobo was small and round and had a squashed look, like some malignant force had pushed his body down onto itself. He normally moved with a slow, rolling gait, but with the right motivation he could become quick as lightning. The right motivation could be one of two things: danger or food, and either way it usually paid to follow him. Catching up with the fat boy was not easy, even for the skinny D’boy. His chest heaving, he wondered why the boy was so fat. He couldn’t be that well fed. Maybe his parents were fat. But D’boy couldn’t know; he’d never seen Orobo’s parents, and neither had Orobo.
“Orobo, wetin dey happen?” D’boy managed to gasp.
That was all the breathless Orobo could manage. It was enough. Rule number one: opportunity comes but once.