Sun, 02 Mar 2003

From one beggar to another

Leo PN Landep

The sun was shining at full blast on that particular scorching hot afternoon -- a rare weather during the rainy season.

The old blind woman sitting in her regular corner of the pedestrian crossing bridge wiped drops of perspiration running down her wrinkled cheeks. She could hear the sounds of coins dropped into the tin cup lying next to her feet. "Bless you ... may the Almighty reward you ...," were continuously uttered from her puckered lips. "Everyone is being extra generous, probably because it's Friday," she mused.

Some ten meters away a boy looking dishevelled and pale stretched out his trembling hand that could barely hold the plastic cup. His almost colorless lips managed to say "please, sir or ma'am" now and then. The only three coins in his cup cruelly served to prove how mysteriously unnoticed he was by the dozens of well dressed people hurrying by.

He licked his dry lips. He forced his buckling legs to stand a while longer. Still nobody seemed to care for him. With tear covered eyes he looked at the three coins and torturous images of water and warm rice stabbed his almost numb brain.

Then somehow a decision took shape in his hazy mind.

Slowly he walked to where the old blind woman was sitting. Squatting close to her, he whispered to her ears, addressing her "grandma" as he often does.

"Grandma, I'm very thirsty ... very hungry ... Maybe I'll die. Please let me have some of your money ... I'll return it later, I promise," he barely managed to croak.

Some more coins jingled into the "grandma's" tin cup.

Slightly cringing, she replied, almost shouting: "Shoo! Go away! Do your own job correctly. Stop whining and never grandma me, you born loser!" Some passers by dropped their money -- some were banknotes -- onto the high mound of shiny coins.

Another decision formed more clearly.

In a burst of mixed feelings, he snatched the old lady's money as much as both of his hands could get hold of. "Sorry, old woman ...," he whispered rather loudly this time and scurried with all the speed his weak legs could muster.

Her face dark colored in rage, waving her hands in no particular direction, she kept screaming: "Thief! Thief! Somebody get that boy. The son of a bitch, that scoundrel has run away with an old blind woman's money. Somebody help me, please!"

Almost nobody paid attention to what was happening.

The boy kept on running until he suddenly bumped into a well dressed executive-looking man. The man grabbed him by the arm. He raised his right hand as if intending to spank him.

"Come with me, you little thief!" he reprimanded the boy who was attempting to explain in unclear words referring to his thirst and hunger. He dragged the boy back to his "grandma".

"Now, boy, what's your name?" he asked with a stern expression.

"Iqbal, sir," came the sobbing reply.

"Put back all that money, return it to the rightful owner, this woman here," he told the boy and also asked him to apologize to the victim for the wrongful deed he had committed and to promise never to repeat such a sinful deed again.

"Thank God you caught this rascal. This no good boy should be put away and that will teach him something and you, Iqbal, do your job in a more sympathetic way or do it somewhere else," retorted the old woman.

"Now, this is for both of you," he said while putting a thick pile of thousand-rupiah note bills in the boy's trembling hands and also threw a few of them into the old blind woman's tin cup.

He went off in a hurry while the expressions of gratitude trailed behind him. He ran down the steps of the pedestrian crossing bridge and squeezed himself into the crowd waiting for a bus, adjusted his dark colored spectacles, surreptitiously turned to his left and right as if trying to lose someone pursuing him. He could not help muttering softly: "God, have mercy on me ..."

He stopped the first taxi he saw. "Airport. Make it fast. I'll make it worth your while," he ordered the driver. "It sure is my lucky day," the driver thought. Soon the taxi was cruising in fifth gear at breakneck speed.

Iqbal wiped his hand across his mouth and belched loudly. This was his best meal and he felt alive again.

Then his friend, Sadar, the newspaper boy sat next to him in the almost deserted foodstall.

"Made a lot today, Iqbal? You look contented," he asked, putting down the balance of his merchandise on the bench next to him.

Iqbal told him the entire story, the story of the mysterious and benevolent gentleman.

"Well, you can't depend on such luck every day. Now, look at me, you knew me from our begging days. Change your fate, work like me. Find any job and get some education," the wise Sadar tried to transform Iqbal's mindset.

"All right, all right. I'll buy you a drink. And tell me, selling newspapers is not tough, is it?"

"No, not at all. Though an orphan like you, I'm making ends meet. I can even pay for my school fees. I dream of becoming a reporter, or better, the owner of a newspaper."

"Well, you have often told me that you can sell more when there is a kind of, you know, what you call bad news. Is that what you want to write or sell when you grow up?"

Sadar was stunned for a moment trying to analyze the future state of the world he would be living in. "Well, I don't know, maybe yes, maybe no, I don't really know."

He finished his free drink. "Thanks Iqbal, see you."

The next morning, within minutes, the entire batch of Sadar's newspapers was sold out.

Iqbal curiously asked him: "It must be another bad news, no wonder you're a successful small entrepreneur!"

"Well, in fact, it is. I have one newspaper left for you, it's free, in return for the drink you gave me yesterday."

Iqbal looked at the front page. He could not read much, but he recognized the photograph. It was of the well dressed gentleman of yesterday. The headline read something like: "Embezzler of Funds for the Poor on the run."

The afternoon paper sold at a more rapid pace. The subsequent news was on the corruptor hijacking the plane.

Sadar's wallet and both his pockets were full with money. He still recalled some of the conversation he had with Iqbal the day before.

Dark clouds were forming in the sky. He saw someone -- someone that he was certain he had never seen before -- lying on the pavement, partly covered with sheets of newspaper.

If that guy's asleep, he must wake him up, as it is going to rain in torrents. He hoped the man was not sick, or worse, dead.

A gust of wind blew the newspapers off the body. Sadar got hold of one. He could not recognize the newspaper's name and that was weird, because he was familiar with each and every newspaper published in the city. The headlines on the front page were rather blurry. Larger drops started to shower from the sky. Sadar could only make out some words like: "Seeds ...... deeds ....."

The gray skies became pitch dark. Sadar felt a bit dizzy, he thought he was hallucinating when he momentarily saw something like a rainbow in the black "ceiling" above him. In the next fraction of a second he also realized that there was no one lying on the pavement.

That night, the city was another gigantic ocean of murky waters of the floods. Even one of the advanced man-made technologies, the electricity, could not shed a light.