Childhood Joy


Our lockdown ended yesterday, but we’re still in the middle of Eid al Fitr (the week of celebration following Ramadan), so Abu Halen has been home anyway. It’s nonstop vacation time here!

This evening we drove to another compound to meet with friends at their swimming pool. Once there, our baby discovered a toy pitcher and spent quite a while pouring water from the pitcher into a bucket. Then she discovered what fun it was to pour water on my arm. Then she tried pouring in on Abu Halen’s head, and she found it absolutely hilarious.

It’s not until you’re a parent that you realize that baby laughter is one of the most delightful sounds that has been presented to human ears. When it’s your own child’s laughter, you can’t get enough of it. Which is why Abu Halen can spend an uninterrupted twenty-five minutes playing one-two-three toss, one-two-three tickle, or one-two-three hug, but he can hardly bear to spend five minutes doing mundane tasks like, say, making a sandwich for lunch. An utterly exhausted parent can manage to stay awake a surprisingly long time to watch his slap-happy baby playing gleefully. Children are precious.

In Jeddah some Sudanese families live on the streets. That is, Sudanese women and children do—I never see fathers. The children sit on the medians of busy streets, waiting for streetlights to turn red. When traffic stops, the children wander among the cars, tapping gently on the windows and holding up a finger that means, “Just one riyal, please.” Now and then, a driver rolls down his window and hands over a few coins.

This money transfer needs to happen at least half a dozen times before the kid has enough to buy a piece of pound cake from the corner store or a schawarma and a coke from a street vendor. This is their daily routine—a routine that beggars follow all over the kingdom.

But today the routine was oddly changed at one semaphore where we stopped: just behind the Sudanese kid on the median was an olive-skinned, chestnut-haired boy carrying a box of chewing gum. “Is that a Syrian kid?” I asked Abu Halen, my jaw slack.

The boy quickly caught me wondering at his Levantine features, and he made his way to my window. Trying futilely to pretend that he hadn’t startled me, I looked the opposite way. But then he held up his box of gum for sale, and instead of giving me a pleading look and extending a mendicant finger into the air as is the routine, he grinned. Hilariously. Like, the way my own kids grin when they’re engaged in fun. 

Two cavities were making headway into the boy’s front teeth, but they didn’t dim the delightfulness of his smile. I smiled back, seeing my own children in his face. I rolled down my window to offer a few riyals, more to recompense him for joy than to offer charity (or to buy gum), to tell you the truth.