Walking into the Mall, our eyes met. Albeit for just a brief moment, I felt like shit. I felt like I was a high-minded, pompous, scum-of-the-earth bag of shit.
She must have been at least 80 years. Old, wrinkled, homeless and begging. Seated right outside the Lavington Mall. She knew her place was outside, far from the opulence, faux pas and loftiness inside. But her presence was not something anyone there could ignore, whether inside or outside. Except the guards at the gate, hard at work guarding the entrance from people like her so that people like me don’t feel like scum-of-the-earth bags of shit when our eyes inevitably meet.
I went into the Mall and did my business. Walking down the stairs to the landing, I recalled that I’d asked the guys at the office to tell the lunchlady Jacinta not to leave food for me today since I was not sure how long I’d be out for. So I walked into this cute little sandwich bar (that has a name eerily similar to Subway, kind of in the way “Nokla” and “Samsing” are supposed to sound like Nokia and Samsung) and surfing through the menu, her image pops again into my head. Here I am doing inky-pinky-ponky for my pick of what $5 dollar lunch I want to have while she is probably sitting on her house, that tiny piece of cardboard that multitasks as sofa and bed. Anyway, like my scum-of-the-earth self, I swat that pesky thought away and order a meaty pizza and a smoothie, you know, gara stay healthy. But again she pops into my head. Relentless.
Half-way through my lunch I figure that the meal was way too much for one man and I should have it put into a doggy bag. Yes, I could move around with my smoothie but what about the pizza? And shouldn’t I buy her something to eat, I mean…?
Now, I like to consider myself nice. Yes, in past lifes I have been a high-minded, pompous, scum-of-the-earth bag of shit, but I like to think of myself as less shitty now. Like those little baby poops. That’s me now. I buy the guards at my office building coffees on occasion, my workmates books and sugary snacks and generally try to be a nice person, like we all do, more or less.
Buying someone – who really needs it – lunch should be no big deal. To anyone. I walked out of that sandwich bar with a warm box of pizza in one hand and the weird feeling I was now getting because of my privileged upbringing, in the form of my brown leather Subi Homme bag and car keys, in the other. I handed her the box and asked her to enjoy her lunch. She looked up at me as if she was drunk. Almost like she could not believe it. I handed my leftovers to her with one hand. She received a meal, better than anything she had been praying for or could ever imagine, with both. Our eyes met, again, but this time I held her glare. She said “Asante,” then motioned as if to summon something from above downwards and said “na ubarikiwe sana.” I felt like crying. I felt like I could have given her a hug and apologised for having never helped her before.
Why does it feel weird or uncomfortable to help others? Not your friends or folks in your social and economic class, but those who really need it. The guy with jigger infested feet asking for 10 bob outside your estate. The physically handicapped man by the corner near the Vida e Caffé in Lavington that I drive by early in the morning with the coffees for the guards at my office building. Is it because it shows that you care? It reveals your weak and vulnerable heart? Is caring that bad?
I don’t know. All I know is that I walked away feeling a little less shitty and a lot more like a human being. I felt like my two dead grandma’s would have looked down at that from heaven and smiled. Just like she did.
PS: Thank you Mbete