He approached me swinging his shoe-cleaning box as I sat in the sun reading a paper. Unlike many shoe-cleaners in La Paz, I could see his grin as it wasn’t obscured by a balaclaver.
"Sir, would you like me to clean your shoes?" he said pointing at my scruffy trainers. Before I could reply, he said "I have some special fluid for cleaning trainers." I politely declined, but he sat next to me and proceeded to ply me with questions.
Where was I from? What did I think of Bolivia? Did I have a girlfriend? His smile continued on his shoe-polish-smudged face as he listened with interest to my answers.
He told me he was 12, and had been making his way down for 3 years from El Alto to polish and shine the shoes of Paceños as they make their way to work, stop for lunch or sit in the sun reading papers. At the weekends, he heads down to work all day. During the week, he heads down straight after school to work for 4 hours to get some money to take back to the family.
"I like it," he said although I didn’t get a chance to ask why. What about school? He told me he loved school too, especially maths. I confessed it was my worst subject. He said he hoped that if he continued his studies, he could become a lawyer. "They earn good money, so I could support my family," he explained.
At that point, a balaclavered friend approached. He said a cheery goodbye, and they left arms around each other in companionship, swinging their shoe-cleaning boxes in their hands.