Read the previous episode here.

III

 

Rejected by the world and all alone, little Peter learnt how to rely on himself the hard way. He never cried for his mother again; he’d learned to cope with pain, as his mother had managed to cope when she lost her husband. But he spent a considerable number of times by his mother’s grave; chatting with the earth, talking, singing, even cracking jokes. He just had to do something to make him believe that his mother was still with him, even if he didn’t see her.

It was morning already, and Peter was hungry again. He had no bread to eat now; and there was not even any crumb to place on his mother’s grave. The pieces he had placed there the night before had disappeared. Peter thought his mother had eaten them, but the bread crumbs had really been scooped up by birds and lizards that frequented the back compound. He knew what he had to do; he would steal another loaf of bread, a bigger one this time. Because he had gotten away with the first theft, Peter strongly believed that he would never be caught. He was a fast runner; he believed his legs could carry him faster than any other human being. Besides, he had to live, he had to feed his mother. Stealing was the only thing he knew he could do to stay alive. He had seen how callous people could become if their help was sought. No one was ready to be of assistance. Humans had offered him nothing but cruelty. He was done begging for help and getting victimized thereafter. They had made him believe that it was an abomination to ask for help. If he wanted anything, he had to take it. That was the way of life. That was going to be his way.

He stood from his mother’s grave and went into the house to change his rags. As he clad up, he realised that his second pair of clothes was getting too old for him; the tears were expanding, and soon they’d begin to reveal his privates. He needed another pair of shirts and trousers—and he was going to get it; he was going to steal it. He quickly dressed himself up and went out of the house. He didn’t like leaving his mother alone there in the back yard now that she needed him most, but he needed to find some food, lest he starved to death like his mother. But as young as Peter was, he had learnt not to be scared of death. In short, he looked forward to dying and uniting with his mother, but he needed to fulfill his promise to his mother.

He walked the long mile to the crowded street. Walking long distances meant nothing to Peter. He always trekked all the way to school; he could not afford even the cheapest means of transportation. As usual, the town’s street was a very busy one; there were thick traffic jams here and there. In the traffic, all the cars hooted all the time at alternating decibels, and when there was nothing to hoot at they hooted for nothing. Not to be outdone, the drivers of taxi and Volkswagen Beetles yelled curses at each other at the top of their voices. Many shops and film houses blared different kinds of music from cheap radios turned to full volumes with the fateful assistance of sound engines; colporteurs called continually and the harassed pedestrians told them to go to hell, dogs barked and circling crafts screamed overhead. From time to time, all the noise would be swamped by the roar of an aeroplane. This was what Peter wanted, all the chaos would create enough distraction—the traffics, the crowds, the barking dogs, even the aeroplane. He walked without qualms past the first stall where loaves of bread were sold; this was not the same market he had stolen a loaf fromthe last time, it definitely wasn’t the same stall. He walked past the second stall because it was too crowded and it seemed like everybody in the stall was the seller, and it appeared as though they were protecting the loaves with their lives—there was no way he was going to steal from them successfully. But the third stall he found was literally empty and his heart raced at the opportunity nature presented before him. There appeared to be no one watching the loaves, but Peter was cautious; he stood at the farther side of the road watching the stall, he wanted to be absolutely certain that it was safe to steal from this particular stall. The ten minutes he spent standing at the other side gave him enough info about the bread vendor. The occupier of the stall was a young lady who found her excitement in flirting with a vulcanizer whose shop was about three kiosks away. Occasionally, she would come to her stall at every three or four minutes to check and count the loaves before rushing back to continue her coquetry with the dirty old man.

The young boy waited for the lady to check on her loaves again and return to her flirt before taking his action. As soon as she left, Peter went to the table bearing these loaves, grabbed two big ones and ran. He ran in a different direction from where he came; he was not going to stop until he reached home. But he stopped. Something made him stop.

At the left side of the road was a shop where children’s clothes of different types and sizes were sold. Two particular pairs of shirts and trousers displayed on a hangar in front of the shop caught Peter’s attention. Peter desperately wanted these clothes; he could give anything to have them, he could swap the loaves of bread he was clutching in his hands. He could afford to spend one more night with an empty stomach. But he knew too well that the seller of these clothes would not give him the treasures for only two loaves of bread. However, no matter what, Peter was not going to leave here without the clothes, no matter what.

The shop was even more closely guarded than the shops that flanked it on either side. Before this particular shop were buyers pricing the clothes and negotiating with the trader; some buyers were paying while some others people were just checking out the clothes. Peter desperately wished and prayed no one would buy his favourite clothes. He looked around, searching with his eyes for any other clothes-shop that was not as crowded as this one, there was no other shop concerned about people’s sartorial delights. As he looked around, he spotted a kiosk where apples were sold. Then a brilliant idea struck his tiny head.

He was going to create a distraction.

Leaving the spot where he stood, he walked to the table and picked one fresh apple. He was very stealth; and because he was a little boy, no one discovered him take the fruit. Peter didn’t need the apple, no amount of apples would curb his hunger. The apple was just a distraction. He returned to the side of the clothes-shop and waited. As usual, no one took a second glance at Peter.

Then a woman screamed from the opposite road. It was the fruiterer.

In those times, any person being robbed always instantly raised a hue and cry. The victims always expected immediate response from pedestrians, negotiators and retailers alike—and they always got the response from those law abiding citizens who joined in the fracas with alacrity in the eagerness to capture the bolting villain and pass instant judgement.

“Help! Someone has stolen one of my apples!” The woman screamed at the top of her voice. Pedestrians stopped in their tracks, and fellow traders forgot their goods as they all stared at the alarmed fruiterer. Even the hen on a slaughter-table ceased its shrieks for a moment to understand the human’s sudden outburst. The fruiterer was dramatic; she jumped up and down in agitation, she loosened her scarf and tied it round her waist like someone ready for a brawl. The scarf was tied in sucha forceful manner that people watching would think the fabric was the cause of her misfortune. She screamed and wailed. She ran forth and back—she had successfully caught the attention of people around. But there was no thief to chase. Other sympathizing market women held her and attempted to restrain her from harming herself over one lost apple.

Peter watched all these with concentration and a thin smile almost crossed his lips. He had created the distraction he wanted. Every buyer’s attention was now directed towards the lamenting fruiterer. The man selling the clothes was also engrossed in hearing the victim’s sorrowful tale, so he walked towards the gathering crowd, leaving his goods with Peter Black.Everybody was excited about what had just happened—a thief had purloined an apple. This was the chance Peter was waiting for. When almost everyone was looking at the performing woman, Peter quickly moved closer to the shop and unhooked the hangers bearing the pairs; he didn’t wait to hear the shopkeeper’s scream for help. Peter took the path beside the clothes-shop and bolted.

He didn’t stop to look back as he ran. He was very proud of his achievement; he now had two big loaves of bread, two pairs of clothes and an apple. He ate the apple while still on the run. He felt on top of the world. This was a bigger feat than what he had performed the first time he stole a loaf. As he made his way home, he believed he was the happiest person on earth. He had successfully stolen three items in one operation. Peter was gradually becoming a don in the business of thievery. But there was more to theft than the petty larceny of paltry loaves of bread.

The first thing he did when he finally reached home was his regular personal ritual. He went to the back of the house and placed a few crumbs of bread on his mother’s grave. Then he took some bites for himself. After eating to satisfaction, he sat beside the grave and chatted for a little while with his imaginary mother. He wanted to tell her about what he did today, but he didn’t. He wanted to, but he couldn’t. He knew his mother wouldn’t approve of his actions, so he held his tongue. Peter wished he could have someone visible to talk to. The solitude was becoming painful and scary.

He went into the house and held his new clothes. He liked the designs on them; they were the same pairs, just different colours—pink and blue. When he checked the backs of the shirts, an inscription was boldly written on them: BLACK NATION. Peter opened his eyes wide and smiled for the first time since his mother had passed away. What a coincidence, he thought. His surname was Black and he had stolen two shirts bearing the same name on them. He decided to nickname himself Black—his surname.

When Black wore the clothes, they fit him perfectly.

Read the next update here.