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Text extract: Trash

I was a trash boy since I was old enough to move without help and pick things up. That was what? – three years old, and I was sorting.

Let me tell you what we’re looking for.

Plastic, because plastic can be turned into cash, fast – by the kilo. White plastic is best, and that goes in one pile; blue in the next.

Paper, if it’s white and clean – that means if we can clean it and dry it. Cardboard also.

Tin cans – anything metal. Glass, if it’s a bottle. Cloth or rags of any kind – that means the occasional T-shirt, a pair of pants, a bit of sack that wrapped something up. The kids round here, half the stuff we wear is what we found, but most we pile up, weigh and sell. You should see me, dressed to kill. I wear a pair of hacked-off jeans and a too-big T-shirt that I can roll up onto my head when the sun gets bad. I don’t wear shoes – one, because I don’t have any, and two, because you need to feel with your feet. The Mission School had a big push on getting us boots, but most kids sold them on. The trash is soft, and our feet are hard as hooves.

Rubber is good. Just last week we got a freak delivery of old tyres from somewhere. Snapped up in minutes, they were, the men getting in first and driving us off. A half-good tyre can fetch half a dollar, and a dead tyre holds down the roof of your house. We get the fast food too, and that’s a little business in itself. It doesn’t come near me and Gardo, it goes down the far end, and about a hundred kids sort out the straws, the cups and the chicken bones. Everything turned, cleaned and bagged up – cycled down to the weighers, weighed and sold. Onto the trucks that take it back to the city, round it goes. On a good day I’ll make two hundred pesos. On a bad, maybe fifty? So you live day to day and hope you don’t get sick. Your life is the hook you carry, there in your hand, turning the trash.

Extract from pages 5–6 of Trash by Andy Mulligan, published by David Fickling, reprint by permission of The Random House Group Limited. Extract from Trash may not be used by users in the USA and its dependencies, The Philippines or Canada.