If I had to guess I’d say the boy was four, the girl six. I’m not good with ages though, and am new at navigating these strong Andean faces. I assumed they were brother and sister but I didn’t check.
They got on at the same stop as me, and off when I did too. The whole time they kept looking at me, especially the girl. I was the only white guy on the bus, and they knew I’d probably have a larger wad of folded notes in my pocket than the average passenger on Quito’s public transport. They were right, not only that I had my smaller, cheaper camera, which only cost as much as their whole family saw in several months, hanging on a short strap over one shoulder, inside my jacket like my mate Giovani taught me in Cairo. They have to get the jacket off you to steal it that way.
I couldn’t understand the Spanish, so when they got on behind me and the girl started talking to the passengers as if addressing a school assembly hall to introduce a Christmas play, I assumed she was just giving them all a sob story about how her brother and her needed money to get home to their village or whatever.
Then the beat started, booming out of a tiny little square speaker box, slung over her shoulder in much the same manner as my camera. It was something from a commercial hip hop track that was big a year or two ago, but I couldn’t quite place it. Then the four year old started rapping. It was in Spanish, so I couldn’t follow it, but he was fucking tight. So was she when she joined in doing back up vocals and then the second verse, which I could tell involved a joke about the stingy gringo at the back, after a long and probing state from her calm, intelligent, hardened, beautiful little black eyes failed to produce the intended result.
My first instinct was to pull the camera out of course, this was gold. I could drop them five bucks and have an absolute stunner of a -check out this authentic third world awesomeness- youtube video. People would love it. But suddenly I felt sick and wanted to cry. These kids should be in school. Instead they were out, dirty faces, tired eyes, hopping from bus to bus performing not for joy or creative personal development but for my spare change. I could throw them $5 for a 2 minute video, or $20. or $100. They could easily have ended up being the money shot for a piece about the street performers of Quito that my wife and I have been looking to sell for a while now. But in this case showcasing their incredible little talent would have been cashing in on their suffering.The kids were like coal turned into diamonds, crushed into perfect sparkling form by the mountainous weight of society above them, pushing down.
To keep operating as I have been, and as is the mode of most journalists, would have been to focus on these shiny little diamonds, these incredible examples of human beings’ creative ability to survive.
Not me, not any more. My story is about the mountain, about what it is they have had to survive.