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A Conversation with a Child Beggar

I recently found myself standing near a popular shopping spot in the city center. I had left my cellphone in a taxi that frequents the area, and I was trying to get it back. While I was waiting for the taxi to show up, a little girl came to me. She looked eight, and she had small, expressionless eyes. “Salibonani bhudi, ng’cel’uncedo,” she said, a bit nonchalantly [“Hello my brother, please lend a hand”]. I was actually beginning to walk away when she asked me, making my way to a nearby restaurant to buy bottled water. I was very thirsty. “Angila mntwana,” I replied [“I don’t have anything”]. It was a pretty standard response from me. But she wouldn’t take my answer. She continued to ask me, almost blocking my way as I walked. But her resolve finally broke down as I stepped into the restaurant.

I had some change when I came out, water in hand. I called out to the little girl and gave her all the coins I was carrying. I then found myself a spot to stand and wait. Another child – an unkempt little boy this time, came up to me and asked for help also. I declined, explaining that I’d already helped her friend, but he didn’t understand my response. After a few more futile efforts, the little boy turned away and immediately approached another person. I stood there, watching the children ambush more people. Once in a while someone would toss them a few coins, but they were mostly turned away. The more I watched them, the more I became curious about them. I wanted to know about their background, or at least talk to them. I called the little girl, and she came, still with an expressionless face.

She surprised me. Although shy, she answered most of my questions confidently, with a bit of enthusiasm. I asked quickly, imagining that I might be taking away precious time from her. She told me she lived in one of the city’s high density suburbs with her mom, and that she was doing Grade 3 at a local school. She even gave me the names of her three best friends at school. At some point I said to her: “One day you’ll have to do something for your parents, right? They’ve done so many things for you, I can imagine.” “Yes, indeed,” she replied. I then asked her about the prominent scar on her leg – it looked like something had sliced through her skin, leaving a very prominent line extending over half her leg. “I survived a car accident,” she said. “My mom survived too.” At that point, all the little suspicion I had left – that she could be part of a scam ring – vanished entirely. I asked her where her mom was at the time, and she told me her mom was with her dad, and that both parents were at another spot in the city, asking for money from passersby too. “They’re both blind,” she added.

Her tone hadn’t changed a bit throughout our conversation. She just spoke like any other child her age. She had long accepted this was her life. She didn’t speak about any of it like it was a tragedy – not her accident, not her parents’ blindness, not her begging. She simply told me what she did every day. She spoke without tears, without a breaking voice. And she told me more than I asked: “You may have seen me here today, but some days you can find me at two other spots. So if you come there you’ll see me.” I suddenly felt helpless, and selfish. I had asked her all these questions, even stealing some precious time from her in the process, yet in the end I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t pay her school fees. I couldn’t give her clothes. I couldn’t give her a way out of begging. I couldn’t…

I watched her as she talked to more passersby. I also observed the other little girl she had introduced me to. This one must have been four, and she had been all too excited to show me how much she had received that day – a tiny bag full of silver coins. She, too, walked up to the shoppers as they emerged from the large grocery store, asking for money. I occasionally heard all children giggle, or make small talk with some vendors who were sitting outside the store. Standing there, I felt unsettled by the way the children went about their work. They all seemed normal – their situation appeared normal, somehow. You could almost forget these were little children begging in the heart of the second largest city in the country.

The taxi finally came, and I was very glad to have my phone back. As I walked away, I couldn’t help but think of those children. Should I look for them again? And if I did, what would I do? Would a few coins suffice? Or could I…

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4 thoughts on “A Conversation with a Child Beggar

  1. I like the story.it sheds light into some things that never cross our minds.it makes me wanna do something to help.there are many people out there who need our help.We should help not because we have more than we need but because we have the will to change our world.i love your writing bro.keep it up!!!

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    • Thanks Shelter. Yes, you’re indeed right. I think we all ought to help others…and it should be more than isolated acts of kindness – it should be more like an attitude. An attitude to change the world, as you say 🙂

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