The (beggar) who does not beg.

I want to give it to her, yes I do. I want to fill the emptiness of her bowl, yes I do. I want to tickle her bowl with a jingle. I want to… wait; just so we are clear, I am talking about this lady I meet every day on my way to school.  She seats by the pavement and waits for the silver help of passers-by; who mainly pass her by. She is a beggar. Now, back to my want to give it to her: Yes, I want to give her this ten shilling coin in my pocket. I really do, every time, but I don’t.

This lady is not your typical sirikali nisaidie beggar. She does not lift her empty bowl at every person who troops by in some great hurry. She does not plead to the smart phone wielding masses that stream past her, calling to them as “sista” and “brathe”. She does not shake her bowl to make you uncomfortably aware of her presence. No. She sits there and watches with a neutral expression on her face; a face that does not plead, a face that does not speak of subjugation, a face that does not beg. It’s a face full of…full of dignity.

She possesses a sort of dignity that makes it possible to picture her as somebody else away from the street with a normal, ‘non-begging’ life. She has the dignity of a lady seating in a cafĂ© and ordering a meal she will pay for by herself, she has the dignity of a lady walking in shoes she bought with her own cash; she has the dignity of any lady out there who doesn’t deign to forge her existence by depending on others.  I can’t help but feel compassion for her. Looking at her seated there makes me think of articles I have read about people who use beggars as ‘vitega-uchumi’. These articles generally advise us to be aware that the beggars on the streets may be part of a fraudulent scheme to get into your pocket by using your sympathy as a back door.  The way this lady carries herself makes it hard to imagine that at the end of the day she may be giving some beggar-running baron a share of her earnings. If that were the case, wouldn’t she be begging incessantly so that she has something left after the faceless baron takes his/her ‘fair share’? However, that is not the case. In fact, she makes seating there on the pavement and begging look like her side-hustle.

Moreover, what makes this lady stand out even more is the fact that she shares the pavement with this other beggar who seats on the other end of the street. He believes in the beggar way. He shakes his bowl, he pleads hollering “siste” and “brathe” to all who pass by, he begs and begs, begs and jingles the coins in his plate—he is a ‘jingle-beg’. This guy has a plastered leg, around which he has tied a black paper bag. It’s really a pitiful site compared to the lady since she has no physical signs of malformity. Beyond her tattered khanga, there is nothing else that hints at the need to pitch her bowl by the pavement. The man, on the other hand, has many features that emphasize his place there on the street as a beggar: His unkempt hair, his torn and dirty trousers and most conspicuous of all, his demeanor. He's a beggar through and through.  The pair are just so severely juxtaposed that the whole set up seems like something from a fable. Yeah, a fable about two beggars; a begging one and a dignified one that probably ends up with one being off the streets.

Yes. This lady is remarkable if not unusual. Without being 'beg-ful' she manages to get some alms. Day after day of being on the street doesn’t reduce her into indignity. She has these eyes that hold you when you look at her. They speak of strength and of other things I am not quite sure about. All things considered, she deserves that ten shilling.

So why do I not give her the ten shillings in my pocket; because there is this brief moment when I have just passed by her and I feel so guilty, that I turn back and look at her, and she has this look on her face, and I can't help but think of faceless beggar-running barons.


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