Adrienne Jansen

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The Campaign

He has picked his spot carefully, right on the edge of the town, under the first of the large trees planted in the sand all those centuries ago. There is a rug of shade, and he sits on it, cross-legged, charcoal burner in front of him, face black with soot.

You smell it before you see him properly, the smell of hot roast chestnuts, and because you are tired and hungry you’ll buy them, even though you don’t like nuts. He shovels some into a brown paper bag, and as he tips himself forward to pass it to you, you notice that he has only one leg. The other is missing above the knee. He is the fifth person you have seen today. So you lean your bicycle against the tree, squat down beside him, and point to his leg. To your surprise he has a little English, and with his hands chopping in the air, and a finger pointing to your bicycle, he manages to tell you the story. He was just this high – his flattened palm shows a child of maybe eight or nine (he is no more than thirteen or fourteen now). He was riding his bicycle (your bicycle is the prop for his explanation) over there – he waves to where the flattened roofs of the town are shimmering in the heat – in the one safe place where there had been no fighting. So he and the others had bike races, did tricks – he pushes himself up off the ground, hops over to your bicycle and shows how he jumps the front wheel, how he skids the back wheel, his face alight – and suddenly boom! he falls on the ground and covers his face with his hands.

It’s another landmine story.

You open your pack, put the chestnuts on top and take out your notebook and pen. You ask him, very carefully, if you might write it down. You have a notebook full of these stories, ammunition for the campaign.

The boy is wary. There can be danger in a paper. Gently you go over the story again. You give him the pen and he draws himself on the bike. Then he gets excited and draws himself over and over, all his wonderful magical tricks, then he draws himself with one leg gone and blood pouring out of the other. And he lies on the ground and covers his face with his hands again.

You can hardly bear to look at him. But this is what the campaign is about. You go to help him but he has no need of that, he levers himself up, hops back to his patch of shade and squats in front of the charcoal burner.


It’s only when you’re in the town that you remember. You forgot to pay him for the nuts.

You should go back.

But it’s very hot. Your head is aching, and you still have to find where you are staying. And it’s only a couple of coins, after all.


The campaign manager is reading your dossier of stories. His diagnosis has given him some urgency to complete the task, but for all that he works with great care.

He looks at the boy’s drawings and smiles. Then he says, ‘He’s very young. You need to be careful. These people mustn’t feel that we’re using them.’

‘Of course,’ you say. ‘Of course. I bought some chestnuts from him.’

‘Excellent,’ he says. ‘Just how it should be.’

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