The Beggar’s Child: (Story)By: Jude Ifeme

Meena watched her Mama dutifully re-open the large infected wound on her left leg; she carefully scrape open the darkened incrustation with her fingernails and pinch them away bit by bit leaving a fresh lesion sprouting fresh blood and pus. Meena did the best she could to suppress her revulsion.

“Wouldn’t you rather lie to eat than steal?” Mama finally responded, her eyes rolled awkwardly to the side to catch Meena’s, but that did not erase the furrows of pain engraved across her forehead.

Meena looked away from the crooked look, her heart pounding. She knew it was time; her mother seemed to edging closer to insanity with her desire to attract more pity to herself. Her father was more decent at least; he did not inflict injury on himself.

“Besides, we don’t force them to give us alms. Meena, would you not lie to feed your sick Mama?”

“But Mama you are not sick, you are the one scraping your wounds every night so it wouldn’t heal.”

Her Mama recoiled with a frown.
Meena felt like they have had this conversation a dozen times already and each time her Mama would simply react the same way – shocked, maybe disappointed, and then nothing happened.

“Now child, it is time to get ready for the day,” her Mama suddenly snarled, a furious scowl in her eyes.

Everything had been normal with them – that meant they’ve once had a normal roof over home, normal neighbors, struggled to pay rent, she had also dreamt of going to school – until papa had a motorcycle accident, in which he broke an arm and a leg. Since papa was the sole breadwinner, the family’s lifeblood halted.

She remembered vividly how it all started, though she was just nine. They ran out of the savings papa had made as a bricklayer, and then the goodwill of neighbors tickled out, too. And papa decided they should try supplicating for alms in front of their home. It all felt like a temporary measure. The takings were good at first, and then they began to fizzle.

Meena could hardly understand until her parents decided they should go into the streets. She lost all her friends, and the comfort of her tiny form on a cement floor, but she did it for her papa. That’s what Mama said they had to do.

That was six years ago. Her father died eight months later because his wound was allowed to deteriorate so they would get passersby’s sympathy. Now the trend continued with Mama and she knew she could not stand it anymore, but for how long she did not know, she did not know how to make the break.

“Take Abiu across the road, I have my eyes on you Meena, I have my eyes on you because you are beginning to disgust me” Mama called at her.

Abiu was her half brother; Mama had started entertaining men at night soon after papa died. The men would come one after the other to their zinc shack beside the overhead bridge. She could not see the men’s faces but with a little discernment she knew them when she saw them during the day, they were beggars too.

Sometimes she would hear them whispering about her when she passed by, they were either blind or lame, but agile at night and doddery during the day; drinking, chattering and chasing women – beggar women, they kept their exploits to the community.

Indifferently, she lifted Abiu from Mama’s back; her wounded leg was now dressed with a fresh white cloth and some oil to highlight its severity and educe kindness.
“I don’t know what use you are to me if you cannot support me to take care of this family. Your father is gone, don’t you realize that?” she shouted hysterically.
Pity and attention meant the same thing to Mama and she would do anything to get them, and Meena was tired of the sop g and loyalty.

Normally Mama would carry Abiu behind and sit in the sun with her condition to increase her pity hit, but she had noticed Meena’s earnings were getting drastically low because she was fast becoming self-conscious and people just didn’t give to a fourteen year old with no deformity or burden.

Meena didn’t know what it meant to be fourteen, but she knew she was helplessly changing; she could feel the swellings on her chest and she was becoming rather too aware of them. The lewd stares and winks from the male folks were another source of disturbance.

Mama had told her about the periodic passing of blood which she now awaited with a rising worry too, though not fully understanding what it would mean for her. Nothing really felt graspable anymore.

She strapped Abiu on her back and wandered aimlessly along the road, thinking. In the past, she would sing and plead for help and people would give her money, not because she was pitied but because she has a beautiful, tiny voice that rang out like a tight guitar string.

But now she felt ashamed in her rags, ashamed of her name, ashamed that she even existed, but above all, ashamed of her mother and her pranks. She felt ashamed of Abiu, though she saw him as younger brother but she didn’t know who his father was, that he was one of those charlatans separating people from their money was as upsetting she felt about herself.

In one of her arguments with her Mama, she had aired her wish to go to school and Mama had called her a little fool. “So you want to be like these people,” she had said, “look at the way they run around, jumping from place to place, buying and selling. Look at us here; we don’t have to be troubled like them. They make their profits and savings and they give them to us. Don’t forget that. Yes, it is a low but a better life. We don’t have to steal like a lot them do.”

She thought of Mama’s self-inflicted injury, her father dying of a curable injury because he benefited financially, she thought there was another route out of her poverty. She thought of Mama and Abiu and sighed.

On their way home, she took some money from her secret savings and bought two rolls of bounce. She passed one over to Abiu. Abiu was only three, quiet and patient, he only ate when fed. Most times they ate only when they earned.

She looked back at huge bill board obstructing the dusky skylight, on it were two little kids returning from school, the smaller one had a big bag sloughed behind him, the other – a girl – had hers drooping from her shoulder and each of the bags have books poking out, the kids looked tired but hopeful. There was something written next to them, she only wished she could read it.

Each day she walked past the bill board her wish seemed to rise till she felt like she was suffocating. She wished she was the little girl in the bill board.
“Meena,” Mama called, “There she comes,” She exclaimed, unusually excited.

“Good evening, Mama.” She greeted as she unstrapped Abiu, she also greeted a man she knew as one of Mama’s many acquaintances. She didn’t know him by name but she knew he played blind in the day. In the community they knew what everyone did, and sometimes it was a matter for brag.
“Greet him well, Meena. He is our new in-law.”

“Our in-law…” Meena asked askance.

“This is your husband, Meena.” Mama replied flatly.

The man seemed thrice older than her, tall and dark, his teeth contrasted with the darkness as he beamed excitedly. Meena walked past them without another word, her whole body was shaking. She sat Abiu, who rarely walked, on the mat in the dark shack and lay down quietly beside him.

Later that night when Mama said farewell to her guest, she came in, lighted a candle and sat on the mat opposite her.

“Meena, my daughter, I know your desires. I know that soon men will want you and you will also want them in return. I am your mother. I know what is best for you.”

“Mama, he is a beggar.”

“And you are a beggar too. I am a beggar – what difference does it make?” Mama retorted.

“Thank you, Mama.” She muttered after a deep silence.

She felt a wave of joy sweep over her as Mama’s hand tenderly rubbed her shoulder. It’s all made easy suddenly, she thought and stared blankly for eternity. Finally, she watched Mama blow the flame away from the candle before she closed her eyes and coiled around a snoring Abiu.

She heard a distant crow. She opened her eyes, stretched out her limbs with a yawn and smiled broadly at the twilight. The most powerful intentions are those not aired. She thought of all the places she knew, the nooks, the corners, streets and highways. The world was a big place; she thought, braced herself and waited for a little while.

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Proverbs Africa


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great story, I really enjoyed reading it! Look forward to reading more.


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