The scruffy boy sat in front of our gate today for quite some time. He was waiting for me to get back inside so he could talk to me. He is 16 years old, but I've known him since he was 13. An orphan, having had his father murdered (and with the murderer of his father also murdered), he is a permanent drifter in this community. He is an outcast within his own family and a petty thief.
The first time I met him, he wanted to buy some coconuts. I was quite taken aback, as I never really encountered children who wanted to buy coconuts and who were openly smoking in front of adults. The people here couldn't care less what the children in their community did, not unless it affected them.
Back then, I asked him "Why do you want to buy coconuts and why are you smoking?"
His eyes were blank, shifting from left to right and his non smoking hands were always busy scratching. As is normal in these parts, he replied with an indecipherable mumble with only the word, "rice" being the only coherent word.
I wish I could help this kid, but as a smoker myself, I fully understand how nicotine addiction can very well take over your life. Since I've known this kid for 3 years now, I always see him smoking along with the other delinquents. I think to myself that I am like him in a way.
I remember telling him once or twice to stop smoking. He just looked at me with bemusement, as if saying – "How about you? You're also smoking." After I told him that, I asked some of the elders here who couldn't care less what this kid does. That was when I found out about his story. To add to that, they've also told me how his father once tied him to a tree that was full of "guyam" and "antik" – the nastiest of the tropical ant species you could find here in the Philippines.
Today, I've somewhat given up hope that this kid will change. He is not that smart, and I can't even solve my own problems with smoking. We are both the same, surrounded by a lot of people who smoke, and a lot of people who couldn't care less about the health hazards that smoking brings.
I don't know what will happen to this child in the future. That is as open-minded as I can get about how I view this reality. It's better than what the others here say, that this child has no future.
So why does he smoke?
He probably smokes to fend off his hunger, to forget about the dire poverty he is in, to amuse himself amongst his friends or probably to make himself feel like he is one with the community.
A community of smokers.
Creative commons image via Flickr.