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Behind the blurred shadow of a stunted tree
A three-year-old black boy
Was scratching his right buttock
With a bottle top
Sweetly and softly

I watched him pressing it on his bare bottom
Enjoying the free, fresh air flowing in and out
Through a flap in his torn, brown shorts
He cleared his throat, eh-eh-hem!
As he sat down on the dusty ground

With his bottle top and two tomato-tin cups
He measured sand into the bottle top
Put some in the tomato-tin cups
Then went for some dry leaves
To use as money

A friend joined him: yellow in skin with an Afro haircut
Different coloured slippers on his feet; red and blue
He bent down, hugging his knees
His shorts were badly worn too
As if he was at war with dogs

He asked his friend; ‘Can I sell the rice for you?’
‘No! Let the buyers come to meet me,’ the black boy snapped
‘This is my shop; I don’t trust you, you are a sheep, a rat
So, I will not put you in charge’
They both made a few jests

Standing on the veranda
Watching this kids’ drama
It all made me feel good; like a kid again
It brought back memories of my childhood
When I wore those same torn shorts

We used to call those torn shorts
Private windows
Playing fields
Government roads
Stadia, and many childish names

I remember, when an angry ant
Bit me on my bottom very hard
I wanted to retaliate but it rushed away
Ran into its house and left me peeping
Grumbling and rubbing the swollen spot

Torn shorts were our childhood dress
I feel joy when I see kids in torn shorts


Cleffy is the pen name of Sierra Leonean poet and musician Ibrahim Sorie Bangura. Born in 1992 in a subsistence farming village in the Northern province of Lungi, he grew up speaking Themne, Susu, and Krio as well as English. In 2011 he migrated to the capital Freetown to escape rural poverty. After surviving on the streets for several years he joined WAYout (Worldwide Arts for Youth) where he now studies creative writing and music production. In 2017 he was shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers Adda poetry commission and in 2018 he had a poem published in the international online literary magazine Write the City. He is currently working on a poetry project supported by the Prince Claus Fund. Cleffy’s writing reflects his deep affection and respect for the oral story telling traditions of his village home overlaid with the rhymes and rhythms of urban street youth culture.

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