Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Embarrassed (07/19/07)
TITLE: Then comes an angel
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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As I stand at the corner holding out the bowl, there are many emotions that I feel. And shame is not one of them. Despair, desperation, a nagging feeling that things would be over by the time I reach home. A whole boxful of emotions, minus shame. Minus embarrassment.
It feels so unreal that I should be here, begging for a handful of money, just enough that my son would not die. And perhaps some more, so that his sisters could eat their first meal in two days.
“Please help. My son in dying. Help me with some money.” They bypass me, more often than not with quickened steps and fearful glances. I understand too well, but understanding doesn’t quell the despair that’s crushing my heart.
A little boy skips away from his mother, towards me, a shiny green note held aloft in his hands.
“Eddie?” His mother’s voice comes out not as a reprimand, but as a shriek. How on earth could her well-fed son go near this stinking, callously-dressed woman? And why didn’t the local council do something and get this beggar off the streets? It seems to me that Eddie is not new to disobeying his mother, because he never misses a step. He drops the money into the outstretched bowl, and says with all the intensity a four-year-old can muster. “I pray your son won’t die, m’am.”
As unbidden tears rush to my eyes, I try to remember the last time someone called me m’am. A lifetime ago, so so long it practically hurts to think about it. Those were the times hope winked from my eyes, when I cocooned myself in confidence every morning, when I was lady of my house.
Before disaster struck.
Before Ben left for work one morning in his Benz, and came back in the evening in a makeshift coffin. Before I learnt he’d mortgaged practically everything we owned. Before I learnt how cold bank managers could be.
Before I learnt that prior to his death, my husband had brought HIV/AIDS home and that I’d received it from him at love’s altar. Before I was laid off work.
My life seems to be neatly divided into before and now. Food before, hunger now. Good clothes before, rags now. Good health before, constant agony now.
“You shouldn’t be on the streets, you filthy woman.” It takes a while to realize that I’m the one a man so neatly coiffed he reminds me of Ben is yelling at. He’s worked himself into an enormous rage, red splotches of emotion distorting his face. “We don’t need people like you begging, just to support your nasty little habits.”
I stare sightlessly, as he spits, the viscous stuff barely missing me. He stomps his feet and huffs away. I don’t have a nasty little habit, I want to yell at him. My son’s dying, my two little girls are hungry. I need money for the hospital, for food. But of course I say nothing. A poor beggar doesn’t rail at a gentleman. No, she keeps her tongue in her cheek, and swallows insults like it were air. A poor beggar cannot be embarrassed. She has no shame.
“Don’t mind him. I hope this helps.” She approaches out of nowhere, an image of what I’d once been. Sharp suit, pumps, permed hair, flawless make-up. As she drops several bills into my bowl, I look up at her. She has the eyes of an angel, my late mother’s smile, and her voice is like that of God Himself. “I’ll pray for your son. And for you too.”
She pats my dirty hands and quickly mingles with the crowd. I stare down at my bowl, even as my mind begins to churn. Enough money for the hospital. The kids would have something to eat for at least three days. I can eat too…and rest. I wouldn’t need to stand on the corner and beg alms for some days.
Gathering in a shuddering breath, I try to find my angel amongst the crowd. But she’s disappeared already.
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