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to make a few bucks

published: 2013-05-04

Curacao, the Caribbean. Here, teenage boys make a few bucks by packing your groceries for you and carrying them to your car. You give them one florin, maybe two, for all that. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember.
There have always been tourists who tell them to not bother. “We can do it ourselves.” It could be out of stinginess. Or it could be out of egalitarianism. It’s hard to say.
The boys used to be younger than they are these days. Scruffier too, and darker. They’d hardly speak any other language than the local one. And they’d hardly look at you. These days, they speak at least three languages and they look South American. They’re taller too. I’ve been trying to figure out what this says about the changes this society has gone through.
On paying for my groceries today, I realized I didn’t have a single florin. I asked whether the cashier could add one or two florins to the bill for the boy who was packing my bags. I discussed all this in our local language. The boy turned to me, gave me a defiant look and said in a polished Dutch accent that it didn’t matter, he didn’t mind. And he continued packing.
I minded though. So I asked him to wait for a moment and went outside looking for a bank. Two ATMs were out of order. After I had finally found one, I needed to change the bill into coins. And so I went to a local snack-bar and bought myself a bottle of water.
On returning to the boy, I was sweating profoundly. The moment I saw him I realized he could have helped at least three other people as opposed to wait for my florin.
When we walked to my car he said he felt sick. I felt the pang of injustice in my gut I so passionately embrace. Then he added: I shouldn’t have gone out so late last night.

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