“Be careful,” says the guide, “be careful of the children.”
I can hear their tiny fingers drumming against the hot metal of the car door.
I can hear their child voices singing, “please madam, come out madam,
I push open the door against the weight of their bodies, and step into the sun.
Then they’re on me. They squirm against me. So small. Their skin glows like blown
glass. Their black hair blots out the sun. They thrust their wares at me, crudely carved
statues, tiny bits of embroidered cloth.
“Please madam, good price, buy from me.” They bid against each other, their voices
rise. “Two English pounds madam, one English pound madamadamadam.”
And I know if I buy from one, I’ll be devoured by them all. “No,” I say, “no, no,” and try
to sound firm. They touch their own lips with fluttering fingers, they flick their tongues,
again and again. “Hungry,” they say. “Hungry.”
A few yards away is the river and the safety of the waiting boat. I move toward it in small
quick steps, and the children move with me.
Now we’re a traveling hive. They murmur sweetly to me, they stroke me. They want to
soothe their huge, clumsy queen until she relaxes at last and spills her eggs. “Come,” says
the guide, as he yanks me into the boat.
They follow us as we move further into the water.
The girls wade, their skirts float out like transparent wings, The boys are braver. They
swim beside us. As we move further into the current, their brown limbs spin. One by one,
they drop away, until only one is left, nearly in our wake.
With one arm he holds up a statue, an owl carved in soapstone, wet and green and
shining. “Please madam,” he shouts, “one English pound, please madam. Not so much for