An account of a friendship between the author and a 16-year-old male who lived as a male prostitute and drug addict.

Remi, San José

I first met Remi in Parque Central, the main square, of San Jose, Costa Rica. The area is notorious for its sex-trading and, particularly at night, its drug-induced activities; but I find such areas fascinating. They are a good indication of the real life of a city, not just the type experienced by tourists and – god forbid – travel writers! At just 16 years old, Remi was very much part of that underworld life.

Remi and I spent a good few hours getting to know each other that first day we met. He had a sharp eye for people and knew a lot of the personal histories of the passers-by. We talked a lot, but I could tell he was being very careful with what he was saying; always looking over his shoulder towards the police station situated on the corner of the plaza.

As the days passed, I was allowed to see behind some of the secrets and lies that hold his fragile life together. We would always meet in the Parque Central and chat for a while. It was never at arranged time. One would be in Parque Central and eventually the other would show up; Remi´s lifestyle didn’t suite times and dates.

He always looked and complained about being tired and hungry. It wasn’t long before we got in a routine. While I went wandering he would sleep in my bed for a few hours during the day to make up for the sleep lost when we has doing whatever kept him awake at night. I would also feed him.

It wasn’t easy knowing Remi. He had all the difficulties and annoyances of any sixteen year-old boy. He liked his own way and could be stubborn and churlish. He loved burgers and rap music. He had dreams of being a football player. He came from a town north of the capital, and talked so fondly of his family, it was obvious that he missed them a lot. He left because there is no life there. He had spoken of his brothers; all, including Remi, had been in trouble with the police for stealing.

A few weeks later, I was to travel ride through his hometown and see the grime and poverty for myself. The resilience of the truly poor never ceases to amaze and humble me. Amongst all the destitution that makes such places like an alien landscape to my rich, western lifestyle, there is unbounded humanity; usually in the form of kids, who play and laugh without a care in the world, and the hard-working over-burdened mothers that are the rock of a community in any and every part of the world. Seeing Remi’s hometown was a very uneasy and emotional sight for me. I could just picture Remi as a young child playing, riding his bike, shouting and running about like all kids do, oblivious to the poverty around him.

I had seen that joyful face on Remi in San Jose. The first time I brought him food in the plaza his face lit up and his eyes sparkled. It was the face of a kid: Full of innocent simple happiness, and not someone battling with his life, which is what he was constantly doing just to stay alive.

After one of his sleeps in my bed, he demanded money from me. I said no. I was happy to feed him and give him a place to rest, but I had an idea what he would spend money on.

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