The Begging Child

Tell me please…how is it that you speak so well but move in the suburbs?

Well, I go to school and sit by the window listening to people speak.

What exactly is your story little one?

If I start to speak out the words describing exactly how I feel, how we feel, how it feels, we may spend the week here and perhaps the weekend too. However I am obliged by my mates here to give you just a sneak peek of how we survive here daily, how we live just for the day with no hopes of a tomorrow because truthfully, our tomorrow never comes — we only have today.

We come from diverse neighborhoods and estranged homes but somehow we all found a family in each other. I am here with my elder sister — who is autistic and my kid brother. Our poor parents died a very long time ago of some strange illness and our villagers sent us away saying we were possessed. My siblings and I found our way to the big city after several weeks of trekking and eating raw plants in a bid to survive.

I thought that after coming to the big city, my elder sister will become normal once we saw the ‘Man that God sent to Earth’ so that she can take care of my brother and I, but I think my sister’s faith was not strong enough and because she did not believe, she remained as she was. And so I was left with the responsibility of taking care of us.

I cannot start to tell you how many people tried to sell us when I approached them for food and shelter for myself and my siblings and how we always kept running every single day to avoid their angry-money wanting hands but I can tell you how we finally found a home, a home where we all understand each other — this home where you are now looking at all of us.

It was one heavy raining night — when the city of Lagos had gone to bed and people like my siblings and I had been chased out from under the bridges for a cleaner Lagos without nowhere to go. I was very cold but more so, I felt pity for my sister who did not understand what was happening and was crooning behind my brother for warmth, constantly tugging at his shirt. In that swift moment of desperation, I cut my long skirt in half and wrapped her with the half of it hoping she would leave our brother alone but she kept clinging to him. I looked at them with tears unshed as I prayed silently for the heavy rain to stop. There was no way we could find a shelter with the kind of rain that was blowing sand and dirts into our mouth and faces. We ran around looking for shelter in abandoned stowaways and market sheds but at every turn we made, someone else was already occupying it. My kid brother must have seen something because he started running and I grabbed my sister’s arm and ran with him wondering what must have triggered him. Suddenly he stopped, looked at me and shifted back. I knew what that meant, so I stepped forward and walked into the shabby uncompleted building and created a shelter for us all. It was not a covered shelter but it was a place where we could hide by the corners and rest our heads till the morning with the rain still falling on us.

I must have slept off for too long because I felt someone jab me by the stomach, quite intrusively. My first instinct was to fight back but as I opened my eyes, I suddenly closed them because the light shining down at me was too much. I realized it was morning already as I looked up at the young lad who had jabbed at me. I quickly stood up and smoothed my skirt saying ‘I’m sorry, we will leave now,’ as I bent back to wake my siblings.

“Let them be.” I heard him say to me. “Who are you?”

“Nobody,” was my instant reply… “we are not meaning to intrude. We will go now.”

He kept quiet as he watched me wake up my siblings, telling them that we had to leave. I didn’t realize that he had two others standing with him way up in the opposite direction until one spoke out… “they are clearing the streets because of the elections and locking up people like us. Stay for a day before you set out with your people, it is not safe out there today.”

I turned to face who had spoke and saw a young girl just like me looking at us. Suddenly, I realized there were so many peeping eyes from several corners of the building looking at us. I held my siblings closer not sure what next to do. “Please, let us go. We meant no harm.”

We mean no harm too. We are just like you but we have made a home here, and you are welcome to join us after today. Stay and join us for the morning food. The younger boys have gone out very early to get the scraps that the Akara women and the buns seller at the junction feeds to them. It is usually enough for us all to manage till the evening when we all get back from the daily hustle, only that today’s hustle will be different because of the elections, so the girls may go out in the afternoon with some of the boys to see what food they can hustle and I and the older ones will go out later tonight to help with the night meal till we resume work tomorrow, hopefully.”

I looked at them in pity wishing that I could help them all, and then realizing that I was also in the situation, I offered to help. “Can I join the girls in the afternoon…I am sure I will learn from there.”

Take today off and rest. You will need it for tomorrow, hopefully when we start work proper. Get used to the system here. What should we call you?”

Oma.”

And the people with you?”

My sister, Blessing and my brother, Osas.”

Welcome home, Oma.”

That was how I made a home and we grew together in friendship, making sure that we took care of each other at every turn while on the streets hustling and begging and making sure that the 35 of us all returned home safely. That was two years ago.

We used the money from our begging spree to start the business of buying and selling but only three weeks ago, the police arrested Stanley, the head of the house because he was hawking at odd hours. I tried to go with the second eldest to beg the police to release Stanley but they would not listen to us. We pray for him everyday hoping that one day, he will come back to us. We are trying to raise money now to get him out and so we are more merciless with our begging.

Just in case you see me running towards you or towards your car, please remember to put some money in my bowl, it is for Stanley’s bail.

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