I did not yet know that Delavan was going to die today. On the scorching March morning, the young hustler and I had taken to the burning streets with our bare feet, hustling towards the center of town.
We traveled through slums far worse than our own, where cardboard shacks endlessly lined the streets. A powerful enough gust of wind blew them apart, crinkling the doors made of only newspaper. While we struggled for clean clothing and education, the people here sought shade and water.
All of a sudden, not a mile from town, Delavan stops on a dime. A girl with faded rags and a dust-caked face sits on the side of the road, tears streaming down her gentle face. She looked no more than six, but lived through horrors that even Delavan, the son of a poor baker, would never have to experience for himself.
With a kind smile, he approaches the girl, who points and wails at the flaming shelter behind her. Beyond the ruins, two men are in combat, one holding a box of matches. The second man is badly burned on one side, with hair singed off his head and face. Perhaps the other, the defendant, is the girl’s brother or father. Each time the attacker lands a blow, the terrifyingly real thud sends the man and the little girl into further agony.
Delavan, nearly always gleeful despite his own poverty, distracts the girl. He opens the large leather bag around his shoulder and pulls out a loaf of bread. Though she does not speak as he places it in her tiny hands, her widened pupils reveal she has seldom, if ever, held this volume of food at once. She gives him a weak hug and begins to eat, as Delavan smiles and continues his journey.
I don’t think I would have noticed the girl, let alone stopped for her. Coming from a poorer area than Delavan, though only slightly, the travesties of everyday life fail to faze me.
As we approach the center of town, time passes in a blur. It often occurs this way, in the beautiful agora that forms every weekend morning. The rich set up stands with umbrellas and patchwork tarps, forming beautifully-faded rainbows that lined the busy streets. Those with a little bit of money, such as Delavan and I, carry as much as we have in bags and begin the routine shouting and selling, trying to avoid competitors who can sell for less. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, we usually arrive with bags full of bread, and leave with bags full of dough.
All the while, the poor lay on the outskirts, begging for money, for food, for anything to stretch their tragic lives another day. The most polite of those with money make no notice of the poorest of the poor. Those without dignity call them leeches and spit in their faces, kicking them away from their entitled path.
Delavan, of course, gives nearly half of what he has to this ever-struggling class in a land of ever-struggling classes. Today, though, the world did not bless him with that opportunity. For as soon as he approached his first buyer, a bomb fell on him, blowing them both to pieces.
I believe that his last thoughts were of how he could further help the poor girl from the journey. But the bomb ensured that she would suffer alongside him.
The blast threw me backwards, and before long, many more came behind it. Though the agora differed greatly in class, we were now all the same, caught under merciless missile fire from above.
As a child, my mother told me of the world’s unfortunate reality, that below the breathtaking skies and beautiful rainbows lived a world of death, hatred, and destruction. I had laughed her off then. I could not possibly imagine breathtaking skies or beautiful rainbows, only endless heat.
Now, as the destruction came from above the rainbows, destroying them on impact, I felt my world truly turn upside down.
As the missiles rained down around me, I fled, faster than humanly possible. Racing through the streets, putting as much distance between myself and the town as I could, I failed to notice the little girl, still eating Delavan’s last gift to the world.
I remember collapsing in the street somewhere, losing my voice, screaming his name until my throat was raw. I pounded the pavement with my fists in fury, cursing whoever was responsible for the attack. The blood that ran from them was inconsequential, and meant nothing next to the suffering of so many that day. Of Delavan.
Tears ran down my face, as they had the girl’s, and as bomb after bomb rained down from afar, I felt about as old, and about as strong.
In the days and weeks that passed, I did not return to the market. When I finally did, some months later, I heard word of a faulty bomb with an American flag on its side. I knew little about America, but now I learned that they were part of a war against us. They killed my best friend, and whether intentional or not, there was nothing in the world that could bring him back.
I began to wonder if it was about the color of my skin. If for some reason, America hated us for who we are, for our differences. But as I later realized, the very man Delavan was about to trade with was American. A tourist from a far away place called Virginia, he had only wanted to taste local bread, before his own country slaughtered him along with my own people.
I do not take a great deal of pride in my own life. Though my family survives and has shelter and food, abject poverty strikes us relentlessly, almost like the bomb struck Delavan. But, unlike Delavan, our lives will continue. I wonder if, back in America, they know about the lives of those who survive, and of those who don’t. I don’t know who makes the decisions in America, but I wonder if they know that they are responsible for his death. They should know Delavan’s story, should hear it before sending more instruments of death to plague us again. But until that day, we all sit under the bombs, waiting for our turn, never knowing when they may come.
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