By the time we disembark in the town we have travelled most of the day. The streets are a desert in the empty way of a Sunday afternoon in the country. We need to buy food supplies but all is quiet. Nothing moves. The air tastes hot. Breathing becomes an effort.
Up and down slow wide streets we prowl, looking for a supermarket. Hello! This is Woolworths. A cluster of cars baking in the carpark. Signs of life. Or recent life.
We tumble out, one grizzled grandfather, two ratty ten-year-old twins. Woolies is open! In the course of the following twenty minutes I load a trolley with fruit, vegetables, cheese, pasta, milk, yoghurt, confectionary bribes, cans of tuna, smoked salmon for the sybaritic grandsons.
The boys have disappeared. All other customers have disappeared. Someone turns off a lot of lights. I wrestle the trolley to the check-out where the twins lie face down, arms outstretched, fingers groping in the narrow cracks beneath the checkout counters, Their long curly hair wears a diadem of dust. Their once-clean shirts from long ago – this morning – are grimy. Their faces are coated in dirt. They wear expressions of intense concentration. When I call their names they do not respond. They pay no heed. Business as usual.
I pay a distracted-looking checkout person who asks me whether the boys are mine.
Technically they are not. But I admit to the connection.
Checkout person says: ‘That money doesn’t belong to them.’
‘What money, I wonder?’
I call the boys and advise them I am about to leave, the store is about to close, and I will collect them at opening time tomorrow. If I remember.
The boys surface, faces aglow with dirt and triumph, their hands full of coins. ‘Look Saba! We found all this money under the checkouts.’
‘That money doesn’t belong to you’ – checkout person again.
‘It doesn’t belong to you either’, says one cheeky voice.
‘Who does it belong to?’ – challenges another.
‘No it doesn’t.’ – two voices in chorus.
‘It can’t belong to the shop, Saba. The people paid the shop. The people dropped the coins. It’s not the shop’s money.’
‘Whose is it, do you think?’ – asks the grizzled grandfather, who isn’t really too clear on the legalities or the morals here.
The boys have an answer: they’ve spied a tin chained to the checkout counter. The tin has a slot for coins in its top.
The boys are busily feeding the coins into the tin, counting as they go. ‘Twenty two dollars and thirty-three cents, Saba! All for charity.’
The boys were unerring in their reading of the moral landscape: the label on the tin reads: HELP DISADVANTAGED CHILDREN.