Shirt, torn from end to end. Blood stains so deep they left a phantom. Cuts right down his only good pair of jeans. That was what everyone saw. That was his cover.

I saw him every day. I watched how he’d come out of his house, lean against the wall, take a walk to who knows where and return with an extra tear in the back of his t-shirt. That seemed to be his weekly routine. He always looked horrid, as if Katrina was his neighbour and managed to hurricane her way over to him. His demeanour screamed “I don’t care!” but it was much like someone trying to mask his true nature.

What was he hiding? I asked around the parish where he lived and even the generality there seemed to believe he had something to hide. “Just like all the other gangsters with rags for clothes and that ring in his ear,” they’d say. I didn’t understand. Did an earring naturally symbolise an affinity to pillage and steal lives? It hardly seems fair to shade someone who might want the sunshine.

People tend to think that how you appear is all there is to you, but that notion was negated the day I decided to see and not just look. Something about his gently baleful smile intrigued me and if you watched closely, you could see how he walked with his shoulders slouched forward. He had the world on his shoulders. “What’s your story?” I’d wonder to myself every so often.

There was a shooting last Friday on the corner of my road and his, gang related no doubt. “Stay indoors!” were probably the words on not only my mother’s tongue. Within minutes there were red and blue lights dancing outside my window, sporadic on my drape. My curtains were somewhat translucent so I didn’t have to pull them back. I saw a shadowed figure speed by, not in the direction of the chaos on the corner but away from it. The shadow carried a silhouette that seemed to belong to a mere child. I went outside and followed this shadow around the corner. It was him, the boy with the gently baleful smile. His back faced me as he proceeded to put the child onto the backseat of what I hoped was his car. “What are you doing?” I asked trying to mask my alarmed response. “He’s bleeding,” he replied without turning around but I could hear the tears in his voice. He jumped into the car and pulled up beside me, motioning me to get in. He sat on the floor in the corridor of Victoria hospital with his face in his hands.

I still remember every word of his heart-breaking prayer: “Dear God, please guide the hands that operate on that little boy. His life is as sacred as any. He was a victim of the foolish acts of children who pay no regard to the life of another. To take him will be Your will, but I pray You help him stay so he may rise above, dear Lord. He hasn’t even lived his life as a child, dear Lord. Please God. You are the only one who can save him. I beg of you, please save him…”

How did everyone manage to get it ALL wrong? A gangster? He has a heart of pure gold. Those stab wounds are the markings of a saviour, a liberator. The blood that stains his body he bled for the children who lay victim to the inhumanities that rule our lives. His earring, well I kind of like the earring…

All we saw was what our judgemental minds wanted us to see. He is but one of the many misunderstood youths out there who are prey to the judgement of minds smart enough to only see as far as the eye. We often pick up books, only to judge whether the cover is inviting enough but how often do we make time to enjoy the content of its pages? Time and again we miss out on a brilliant read only because we didn’t like the cover of the book. Don’t fall into the trap of the ignorant. Don’t judge a book by its cover.