Keita is unhappy and listless. For the last few days all he does is sit and clutch the old soccer ball, his only possession. In the straw covered “piute”, he prays for a little breeze through the open sides but it isn’t happening. He looks over the red, clay-like, sun-bleached dirt, the graying weeds, and waits. He knows any day now the rains will come.
His keepers, people he is forced to live with since he lost his own family, yell at him and force him outside.
“Go and run boy,” they say wanting his space. “Play with the other children, don’t hide in here.”
Curled up like a lazy kitten, trying to make his thin, lanky body vanish doesn’t help. Swats on his backside convince him to leave the spot He takes up the same position on the outer walls where the shade not only keeps the sun from his body but also keeps him hidden. Limply he settles like a mound of old cloth.
Hearing his name called by the voice of the only person who has ever shown him any respect or affection brings him instantly to his feet. His Madame, the giver of the
cherished ball has need of him. She is his only experience of love. Sometimes she pats his head, holds his hand and even hugs and kisses him hello.
For the small jobs he does for her there is always water and food at her gate. He knows her treats of bread, jam, fruit and occasionally cookies are what keep him strong. Once, for a special occasion, she even gave him a Coca-Cola. He almost choked drinking it so fast. Afterwards, he spent so much time bragging about it that the other boys in the village started to tease him and call him Keita-Cola. He didn’t care. They had never tasted one and he had..
He runs toward her voice and finds her at the edge of the village. She is calling him to come help her take her dog for a walk. She has told him that she feels very safe with him and Oma, her big black African dog. Keita hides his fear of this huge monster but the animal senses it anyway. He stares at Keita, wearing a snarling grin on his snout. Clearly a warning!! Madame shushes her pet with a pat on his side and in an instant the animal changes from fierceness to loving silliness. Both boy and dog have a shared affection for this woman, which binds them as long as she is there.
It has been a long time since she touched Keita as she touches her dog. He knows why. Everyone knows. The “Fotays” meaning white people, dislike the smell of the African body. Why that is he doesn’t understand yet everyone knows it to be true.
Anyone who is hired to work with the Fotays such a houseboy or guard are all made to shower before they can start their work. All the white people have showers both inside
and outside of their houses. The outside showers, of course, are built specially for “their boys.”
The river is so far away that he cannot go there and back without having his body become so sweaty that it defeats the purpose. Using well water for anything but the most needed uses would bring him a beating. He just goes about as everyone else in his village.
Keita’s madame hasn’t hugged him for a very long time and he yearns for her gentle embrace. Soon, when the rains come, he knows he will be clean again.
Praise be to god! The very next day his wish is granted. The rains are back. His joy is huge. Grinning, brimming over with happy feelings he strips off his tattered faded shorts and his grubby torn t-shirt and he runs.
Naked, kicking his ball through the rain and feeling the mud oozing between his toes makes him laugh out loud. Running, leaping, white teeth gleaming, happy face raised to the heavens, water running down his black, slick, now clean little body the six-year-old boy knows joy. Soon he’ll be hugged again….very soon!