Fire engines are seen at the site of the explosions at the Binhai new district, Tianjin, August 13, 2015. Two huge explosions tore through an industrial area where toxic chemicals and gas were stored in the northeast Chinese port city of Tianjin, killing at least 44 people, including at least a dozen fire fighters, officials and state media said on Thursday.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj



He is at his usual spot, sitting despondently, next to the burnt out PHCN transformer. Every day he sits there, hungry and ragged, alone in the company of his own thoughts. People walk by him in a hurry while he sits there, blatantly ignored, with no eye contact from any of those scurrying by, themselves also buried in their own troubles, no greetings, no acknowledgement of his existence, nothing at all. It’s like he’s invisible or just a mere part of the landscape in human form. Nobody cares how he feeds or where he sleeps, nobody bats an eyelid when he raids the dumps for scraps to appease the demons of hunger, and nobody spares a thought for where he hides during inclement weather. This is the City after all; where everyone had their own worries and burdens, no one had time to spare for any other.

It is eight o’clock in the morning and Johnson Street is a cauldron of activity, as is usual. Day in day out, week in and week out, pedestrian and vehicular traffic – sometimes animal too – struggle with each other for the right of way on the paved stretch. There is no discrimination; every one of them has a destination to be reached now, hurry is the operative word. Shoes slap pavement, bells and horns ring and toot – a bark or two – all part of the varied ingredients simultaneously adding to the noisy soup of general confusion.


But he sits there, marooned on an island of aloneness, right in the midst of the rush hour crowd.


Then the convincer came one day, with his beautiful hair, piercing brown eyes and a warm friendly voice, bringing with him food, drink and best of all, companionship, that for which his lonely soul has especially sorely thirsted. It is the convincer who looks at him and sees a human being sitting forlornly beside the burnt out transformer – in need of a friendly ear and open arms – where others saw nothing. Every day for hours – him and the convincer – together they sit right there beside the transformer, huddled in conversation like kin. Every day the convincer speaks of a Land of Promise where love flows and life is different, where food is abundant and every man had all his needs sated. During that interlude he forgets his homeless stature and his poverty, loneliness ventures afar from his heart and copious laughter flows outwards from his soul like a river in flood destined for the sea. Every visit leaves him glowing and longing; wishing him and the convincer could always be together.


The convincer keeps coming in a daily routine until; one day out of the blue he makes a proposition.


At first he is outraged and refuses. The proposition sounds dangerous, fatal even, but the alternative as spelt out by the convincer is too painful to consider, a total break, for them both to part and never meet again. Since he has grown to love the convincer very much, the prospect of returning to his erstwhile solitary lifestyle – as will happen if he chooses not to go along with the plan – is not one his mind is willing to consider. So he says to the convincer, “I will follow you; just tell me what I need to do.”


The convincer smiles and hands over to him a small box – one of the pair he brought out of his black back pack – which looks like a radio with wires attached. A lid on its back covers a small rectangular compartment where a red button blinks with metronomic regularity.


“My brother, this is the box that takes us to that Land of Promise we always talked about. Come next Monday at exactly eight o’clock in the morning, when the traffic is thick and the people arrogantly rush by you as they normally will, close your eyes and press this red button. Where I am, i will do exactly the same thing and we will finally be united, never to be separated for eternity, free to live like a real family with our abundant rewards in the Land of Promise, just like you always wished.”


Really, that was all he had ever sought, to be loved and cared for, safe in the bosom of a family, amongst people who cared.


But he has a question.


“These people, what happens to them when I push the button? Won’t they be hurt?”

The convincer laughs out loud, his laughter as always, beautiful and infectious.

“These people? These people are like sheep answering the call of an invisible shepherd. To them you are like paint on a wall. They didn’t notice you all this while, even right now they still don’t. Worry not my brother, Monday won’t be any different. This is the City, their lives are too busy and you’re too inconsequential. Just do as agreed and they won’t matter.”


His worry calmed, he takes the box and bids the convincer goodbye. Monday waits, just around the corner. Soon he and his brother were going to be together, forever.


Today is Monday. The time is five minutes past the hour of eight in the morning.


Johnson Street is deathly still. There is no traffic, no bustling, in fact there is no street, only carnage. There is no burnt out transformer too. Where he used to sit is a giant crater. Bodies, whole and in parts lie askew and blood patterns the ground for meters around. Nearby walls cracked by the force of the blast gape in astonishment, while powdered glass from shattered windows litter the area like confetti. The choking smell of cordite and smoke hangs heavy in the air, as the strident wail of the first set of sirens can be heard in the distance, approaching at speed.


Something momentous has just happened. The one who lived in a world largely unaware of him, his pains and problems and his secret desires, had pressed the red button.


This time the entire world noticed.

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