"Coke Cans" - Florence Swallowbard


I am in the outskirts of Mumbai, India, walking with my wife and son. It’s Bernie’s summer break and we told him we’re going on vacation to meet his new sister. He is either ignoring the sister part or stopped listening after “vacation.”

“Daddy look, they have a car!” Bernie says, pointing his finger at a small, black coupe in the distance.

“Who has a car?” I ask, lifting him onto my shoulders.

“The people,” he says.

The dirt is still wet from this morning’s rain, yet children sleep beneath thin blankets on the side of the road. They have tattered clothes and seem shriveled like they’re much older. Can’t adopt them all, I think, looking down to my Birkenstocks as one child, a wide-eyed boy with long, tangled hair, catches my gaze.

Even in the overcast weather I’m sweating profusely, but in this neighborhood, a small, iPhone-sized section of my thigh seems wettest. I can’t think like that, though, or I’ll go crazy. I’m doing a good thing, adopting a two-year-old girl, Katrina. Otherwise she’d be out here one day, making some tourist feel bad about his cell phone. Wouldn’t she?

I pass a pile of garbage that is shoulder height. If I were any closer I might faint at the smell, but I walk on, only a bit lightheaded.

“Daddy! Woah! Roller coaster!” Bernie says from my shoulders as I stumble. I regain my footing and bring Bernie back down to the ground. I kiss his head as he counts the Coke cans in the garbage pile.


Florence is a Sophomore majoring in Astronomy. She enjoys sewing and star-gazing.