The coffee shop has a feeling of being out of place, the brand new seats in the small garden at the front of it, the flowers and plants giving it colour, making it stand out from the other grey buildings and the dusty, grey streets. Well dressed people sitting drinking cafe lattes and cappuccinos, reading newspapers and playing with phones that are brand new. Across the street is the river, one that flows from high in the plains of China down to the tropics, passing cities, towns and people as it flows.
“Money, money, please give me one dollar!”
I have no idea how old the boy is, he looks about six but he could be ten. His eyes are dark and tired, world weary at such a young age. The man at the table ignores him, the kid repeats the only English he knows again but the man still doesn’t react, emotionless. The kid looks down at the floor and walks away, sitting down next to a small girl, his sister? She is playing with a doll, battered and torn, the doll’s clothes are the same dusty grey colour of the streets.
I take a sip from my coffee, feeling slightly guilty, almost extravagant for drinking something I take for granted. I avert my gaze, not able to look at the two children. The man gets up to leave, taking his complementary water that he hasn’t drank back into the shop but leaving his empty coffee cup still on the table. He leaves the garden and climbs into a large car and is taken away by his driver. The small girl is still playing with her doll, talking to it, the boy has his head in his hands, staring down at the floor.
Behind them and in front of the river is a fair, rides and games, big teddy bears stuck to the walls. They are all bright colours, clean, waiting for someone to win the as a prize. There are families walking about, laughing and smiling and eating ice cream cones. A father throws rings trying to win his son one of the teddy bears, his son standing next to him eating an ice lolly, he makes a face, not liking the taste and throws it to the floor, the father takes no notice, carrying on his quest to keep the child happy.
The little boy sitting by the road takes the doll of his sister and brushes it with his hand, admonishing her for it getting so dirty, he stands up and gives it back to her, she carries on playing happily with it, oblivious to everything else going on around her. The boy walks back over to the entrance of the coffee shop, alert, looking to see if there is anyone that will stop him from coming in. The garden is empty now, just me and the boy. His eyes dart from table to table, looking for something to take.
I pick up my full glass of water and hand it to him, he drinks the glass in one go and puts it back on the table, his tired eyes look a little bit brighter. I point at the piece of cake that I bought but still haven’t eaten. He picks it up and then looks back at me for approval, I nod my head and he runs off back across the road. I watch as he breaks of a small piece for himself and then hands the rest to the girl. She puts the doll down and eats it all in one mouthful.
The boy comes back to the garden, he picks up a water bottle that has been dropped on the floor and runs back to the girl. He takes the doll and covers it in water, rubbing it, the grey turning a lighter colour. She takes the doll back and drinks the rest of the water, her brother takes her hand and they skip off together down the road, revitalised. The man behind them has failed to win the teddy bear, his son on the floor, crying, kicking and screaming in disappointment.
This is based on a time I was sitting at a coffee shop in Vientiane, Laos.