Early one Monday morning Lisa is awaken by her mother. It’s time to get up and prepare for school. Lisa doesn’t want to get out of bed, she was up late last night playing her Nintendo DS. A while later she finally manages to crawl from beneath her blanket, slip on her house shoes and robe, and lazily stride into the kitchen where her mother and father are sitting at the table having coffee. Before she can take a seat at the table her mother commands, “Go brush your teeth, Lisa”. In the bathroom she laces her electric Sponge Bob Square Pants toothbrush with bubble gum flavored paste that is supposed to fight cavities, and brushes her teeth.
That same Monday morning Nell is awaken by the crying of her younger brothers. They are a hungry three year old and one year old who depend on their older sister for everything. She throws off her tattered and dirty blanket and wraps them in it to stop their crying. It doesn’t work. From the fly covered kettle that still sits on the fire pit just outside the tent door Nell scoops a bit of cassava root soup with the wooden spoon used to stir the pot and feeds it to her little brothers. A few more scoops and they are quiet… for a while. She takes a few scoops for herself to ease the hunger in her own stomach.
Later that morning Lisa is dressed in her school uniform; tan khakis and a blue Polo. Her stomach is filled with microwaved waffles, scrambled eggs, toast, and orange juice. She doesn’t like the crust on her toast so she carefully peeled it off and left it on the plate for trash along with some of the egg. She wishes her toast didn’t come with the crust, that way she wouldn’t have to bother with peeling it off. With backpack in hand Lisa and her father climb into the family sedan and drive the half mile to her school where she routinely receives the highest marks in her sixth grade class. Lisa has lots of friends in her school and all the teachers know and love her. Last year she made the principal’s list for academic excellence and for perfect attendance. Her father kisses her good-bye and heads off to work.
After feeding her brothers cassava root soup which her mother taught her to make before she and her new husband abandoned the children, Nell lulled them back to sleep so that she could walk the two miles to the river to collect some water. Nell can’t take her brothers with her to the river because she can’t carry the bucket of water on her head and hold their hands at the same time. When she arrives at the river the sun is already very hot and there are people all along the banks collecting water and bathing and washing clothes. Nell knows that she is one of the youngest in the crowd and she knows that it can be dangerous for her so she finds a place near a group of women and away from most of the men. She finds comfort among the women… most of them. The women give her no special greeting but they acknowledge the twelve year old and give those men, who seem to be interested, looks that keep them at bay. Looks that say, “We are watching you so don’t you try anything.” Knee deep in the river, Nell holds an old shirt over the mouth of her bucket to filter the water as she dips it in the river. The shirt will also serve as the buckets cover on her journey home.
Lisa had been waiting all weekend for today to come. Today is when her class is performing their dance recital. They have been practicing for a long time and are eager to perform for their parents. Lisa loves to see her mother and father in the crowd while she’s performing and they have never missed a single recital. They are thinking of enrolling her in a performing arts high school when the time comes but for now they will continue to encourage and cheer her on.
Nell has rested from her trip to the river and must now leave her brothers again to go into the market place to beg and steal. If she didn’t have to care for her brothers she could survive without going to the market, or at least get there earlier before the other children beat her to the best pickings. The market is a dangerous place for a thief adult or child. The merchants will have no mercy on her if she is caught so she only goes once or twice a week. Nell only steals food or small trinkets that she can sell to passersby on the way home. Some of the other kids make a living by picking pockets and working in groups. This is too risky for her, besides she doesn’t like having to steal anyway.
On the way home from the recital Lisa’s reward for an awesome job was a peperoni pizza dinner which she devours, except for the crust. It’s been a long day for her and she is very tired but she fights her sleepiness anyway. In her bed she plays her Nintendo until she falls to sleep to be ready for another day.
Nell can only stay away from her brothers for a short time so nothing will happen to them, so she often has to leave the market empty handed as she does today. She has to feed her brothers and cook more cassava root soup because the kettle is nearly empty. She will use some of the water she collected earlier to bathe the boys before night falls. Nell hates the nighttime because she is small and cannot defend herself against the badness of the night. She prays before bed every night, usually for her mother to return someday.