The children scrambled below our plastic bags of random purchases, our drenched gritty limbs. There were five of them. Tiny, timid, they approached the counter on tippy toes, dusty little feet poking out from under long Muslim cloth dresses, the rubber of the slippers ground to nothing under their tiny heels.
Little ladies with head scarves and kohl under their deep brown eyes. They giggled as they jostled and peeked back over their shoulders at the disheveled *Obrunis.
They held up their offering to the tall counter, one small coin, and asked in turn for a miracle.
They scrambled into the seats at the plastic table, helping the tinier ones to reach. They waited, and discussed in hushed tones, while we sipped luke warm Pepsis, complaining to ourselves about the lack of proper cold Coke when you want one…
And the old man emerged from the makeshift kitchen, shuffling on his own worn down slippers. He held only one plate that held a small scoop of rice with a matchbox sized piece of meat atop the meager pile. The children exchanged glances – the moment held their hunger, desperation, excitement and fear – fear that each would not be able to carry to their mouth with their tiny little scooped fist, enough of this food to stop the aches in their belly.
The air was tight, tense, with the look you find in children’s eyes on Christmas morning in front of the unopened presents at the base of the tree. But today, like all days for these little ones is no Christmas, it is a day where they need to eat.
There the two podgy obrunis that we were, immersed, we could not look away. We were at once elated by the beauty of their impossible innocence, and humbled by the shame of the haves among the have-nots.
We called the old man and offered up a Cedi (less than a dollar) to feed the children some more. He shuffled away dutifully. His own hunger following slowly behind.
He emerged with a gruff command – shouted at the children and pointed in our direction. His finger poked the air and insisted they file over to us and hang their heads in gratitude.
Like a spectacle, we insisted loudly, awkwardly that they sit and enjoy.
The next plate arrived, this time piled far higher than the first. And we looked away as the children glanced wary at us. We nodded sheepishly. They returned to their task with fervor.
Soon the second plate was clean. The children licked and popped tiny fingers in and out of their mouths and quietly they slipped from the chairs, turned to say Thank you! And they were gone. Back out into the mayhem of the bustling market street.
Back to a life of hungry tomorrows and rough lessons. To heartache and laughter and the mysteries that held them like a dream from us.
We picked up our things and left the troubled dream, enveloped once again by the inhuman sway of the market beast.
*Obruni - white person (or any foreigner) in the Twi language