Running Shoo – Episode 76

A swirl of wind, its curves and whorls made visible by snow, passes between us.

The silence stretches. I’m wondering what to say.

I mean, how do you explain to a child why you shouldn’t just knock someone out and take their stuff? And how the heck did I end up having to do this? Less than an hour ago I was lost in tunnels, hoping not to die. I had a lot of plans and scenarios running through my head. The moral complexities of child-rearing did not feature heavily.

This is something of an awkward conversation for me too. Back home, I once broke another girl’s jaw with a plank because Mondey and me hadn’t eaten for days and she had too many lardberries. I did feel bad though. I’m not sure Nom would.

Screw it. I’m going in.

“Listen, Nom,” I tell the soft leather face with the big eyes looking trustingly up at me. “We don’t hurt people to get what we want.”

Nom slowly blinks as she thinks about this, “Why not?” she asks, genuinely curious.

“Why not? Why not. Wow. Because, um, it’s not… nice, is it?” I say, a little weakly. “I mean, would you like it if someone hit you on the head and took your food?”

“No!” Nom says, sternly. “I would not!”

“There you go then, so it’s better to be good,” I say, as if in conclusion. It feels like I’ve skipped a few points on the way there, but kids don’t notice that kind of thing, right?

Nom’s face scrunches up in concentration. There’s something about her worm face that makes scrunching up a really effective expression. Behind her, the dark of the mine entrance yawns hungrily. Above her, a piece of ice from the lip of the basin snaps off and tumbles down the slope in a mini avalanche. When she finally speaks, she does so slowly, with pauses for thought, “But… isn’t it… good… that I get food?”

That one I can answer, “Different kind of good, Nom” I say, and she looks confused. “Well, it’s good for you, Nom. It’s not good for Pappi if you’ve brained him for a snack.”

“Hmmm.” She concentrates as she ponders this apparently new information.

“Okay,” I say. “Now you’re weighing up good for you versus good for Pappi, right?”

She thinks carefully about this too. She’s a very thoughtful child, I’ll say that for her. Possibly psychopathic, but thoughtful.

“I think I am,” she says.

“Try thinking about things this way: is it better if everyone is nice or everyone’s mean?”

“Nice!” she says, quickly.

“Exactly, so don’t hurt anyone unless you really have to. Be nice. The nicer everyone is, the nicer the world will be, right?”

“Right!” she says quickly, then frowns. “But I’m hungry.”

I sigh, “Nom, being a bit peckish is not reason enough to concuss someone to take their food. Being starving, so hungry you might die, and they’ve got lots of food and they won’t share, then it’s okay. Or, um, less bad at least. Does that make sense?”

“It does,” she nods resolutely.

Thank the gods, I think I’ve got through to her! I look up the path. “Where does-” I begin.

“Shoo?” She interrupts me.

“What?”

“I’m starving and might die. Can we hit Pappi with the shovel now?”

I face-palm.

What has that Pappi been teaching those kids?

“Look, before we do that,” I say, my voice muffled by my hand. “How about we go and check out the market to see if we can get some food there?”

“Okay, Shoo,” she says happily.

I raise my face and look at her, “Okay?”

“Yes. Okay.”

“Right. Right, excellent. Let’s do that.”

“Yes, because,” she says, proud that she’s absorbed my lesson. “It’s gooder to hit someone in the market with the shovel than Pappi.”

Sigh.

I don’t even argue. Technically, she’s not actually wrong.

She’s got a no-nonsense, malice-free approach to selfishness that I recognise. It was shared by all the people who not only did well but thrived on the streets of Footfall. Who am I to stymie her chances?

Okay, yes, it’s mildly evil but I get the feeling that the concept of proportionate response is going to be a trickier conversation. Baby steps.

I’m just glad I’ve got the shovel.

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