Blossom Chukwuma 2 years ago
@TheSheThatWrit... 12 min read View comments 2 #short-stories

The Tale Of A Beggar

Every second, a pair of legs walked past, sending up wisps of dust that settled unto his skin. He would’ve counted their feet but he didn’t know how to count.

So, he did the next best thing: studying their footwear, one by one. If it was enough to distract him from the torrent in his stomach, he would’ve continued for an eternity. But he got tired of it, slipping into an abyss of nothingness. The smell of fish and drying vegetables was gone. The buzz of the crowd attacking his ears, the pairs of feet slapping the ground, the horns blaring from vehicles, everything faded. Lost in his mind, he was painfully aware of the blistering sores on his feet. His throat was as dry as the flaky ground, and his lips tore into a million pieces. The shirt hanging over his limp bones was an ugly sight, and the stench made people avoid his corner. His stomach… was a bowl of acid, eating his insides raw.

He hung his head, eyes glued to the ground. They were always on the ground. If he looked up, he would’ve seen the eyes filled with pity and, worst of all, scalding disgust. He thought it was hatred. They hated his existence. The times he managed to look up, it was to ask the sun, “Why are you angry at me today?” It was always angry. Others didn’t seem to notice. Was he the only one who felt its heat roast his skin? Beads of sweat ran down his neck, soaking the shirt full. The world must have seethed in anger when he was born. It didn’t want him to live. It made him suffer instead. So, he would say immediately after, “I’m sorry.” “Mubarak!”

His eyes flew open. A woman dragged a wailing child behind her, muttering insults under her breath. Did the child also bear his name? It was the only thing he knew. His name. He had no memory of how he ended up in this place. As far back as he could remember, this was his life. If he were reincarnated, this would probably still be his life. It was all he’d ever known. The only other thing he knew was that he had always been with Dano. Dano was his guardian and shield. He followed Dano everywhere, through the markets with their small bowls brimming with money they’d gathered. When the others wanted to bully him out of his share, Dano would stand up for him. Everybody respected Dano.

But the tides had changed now. Dano was dead. They told him. He didn’t see it, but they told him. He never saw the body. He didn’t know where Dano had gone, but Dano never came back, and he had to accept it. He was alone now. A nobody. He escaped his thoughts immediately after he saw her. That woman. She smiled at him. Every time. And each time she did, it was like a brand-new experience. Dano’s eyes were soft with an understanding and yet firm. But he never smiled.

He was used to pitying and disgust. His brain barely knew how to react to such an exchange. Mubarak would stare blankly and watch her drop a thousand naira notes in his bowl. He didn’t totally hate it. In fact, he didn’t know what it was, but there was a swelling in his chest when her lips spread wide and her eyes sparkled kindly. It was warm. Something he felt only once a week because she came once a week.

She was nearing him now. He thought of her like a mother hen. He always wanted to run after her and curl up under her wings, yearning for warmth. She carried an aura of wealth that she tried too hard to mask. There was nothing strikingly different about her from the crowd, and yet, he could sniff it out. Only the poorest people like him could notice it. He lifted his tired eyelids when she stood in front of him. There was a smile, but this time, it was small. Her eyes that usually sparkled were dull, oozing sadness. He shifted backward. He expected something else. He wanted to feel that warmth like he used to. But there was nothing. She pitied him now. What was he expecting? It was obvious to everyone that he’d become a hollow shell since Dano died. His fist tightened over the ends of his fraying shirt as he stared hard at the ground. The one thousand naira note slipped into his vision, and she left like she always did.

He didn’t take it. Something about being the youngest and most vulnerable meant he got nothing. Almost immediately, the thought came, one of them — he so despised this man — appeared, swiped off the money, and, without a word, walked away. This was his fate. To die clawing at his stomach, watching the life seep out of him until he drew his last breath. Was it today? Tomorrow? He waited. He was just useless. The weight of his head on his neck was like a boulder, but he managed to raise it. A few feet from him, a woman was buying something from a shop. His eyes caught the bag of mangoes in one hand. A beautiful shiny yellow that lured him. His mouth watered with a longing thirst. It was the only thing in his field of view. Nothing else mattered. He needed to satisfy this craving. His fingers began to unravel from his grip, extending towards the direction of the woman.

His stomach growled in protest, his cells buzzed with temptation, and his weak bones began to find strength fuelled by an unquenchable desire. He’d always been a beggar. Now, he was about to become a thief. Just once. He wanted to remember what it was to have food in him. To not have to sleep to the lullaby of your own hunger. The woman’s back was to him. She was a kind woman. Kind people were merciful people. That was why he would steal from her. Slowly but surely, he rose to his full height, steadied on his feet, feeling the strain of his bones on his joints. Then, he lunged, grabbed the bag with a skilled swiftness, and fled. Many things happened at once. His feet pounded on the ground as his bones rattled, heart hammering in his chest. First, it was the eyes of the woman, wide in total shock. It sparked an apologetic pang in his heart. Next, it was the cry of the shop owner.“Thief!”

He drew on every fiber of strength, and his pace increased, meandering through the crowd as they parted. The commotion behind him was loud and muffled. He was expecting it. But something was now different. It was angry and furious. He should be leaving the commotion behind, but it was drawing near. And he could not outrun it. There was no way he could. Days of hunger and fatigue began to bear down on him. A barrage of horrible thoughts invaded his mind, and tears stung the back of his eyes. They were going to catch him. The realization slammed into him. They were going to catch him. He gasped, drawing in quick breaths as his vision began to blur with warm tears.Any moment from now…

His grip on the bag began to loosen. He grabbed one of the mangoes with trembling fingers and let the rest fall, clutching the one to his chest. He just wanted to eat. He wanted to taste it. Mubarak sank his teeth into the fruit, and instantly, a juicy sweetness burst on his tongue. It was wonderful. So wonderful he could fly. It traveled through his throat and settled into his stomach deliciously. He had tasted it. He bit off the flesh of the fruit again and swallowed as if it was going to disappear. As if it was a dream. What if someone wrenched it out of his mouth? He buried the mango deep in his chest, this time running without direction. His tears were many, and they clouded his eyes.

But… he was smiling. His chest was light and warmth spread through his body, reaching into his toes. Even when one of the men had caught him by his collar, even when one had punched his eyes, so it swelled, the warmth never left. Somebody slapped him. Someone threw blobs of spit in his face. He staggered into the furious hands of angry people tearing him apart, but the warmth still stayed. He tasted the coppery tang of blood on his lips; his shirt had now become bloody strips of cloth. Yet, he savored the taste of the fruit on his tongue. Somebody slammed his leg with a stick. Broken bone pierced through his skin, and he staggered to the ground, curling into a ball. Their furious hands never left him. Blood pooled from his forehead, streaking in separate lines down his face, and pain racked his whole body.

Even still, he protected his mango. His escape from his reality. He pressed it into his chest. The sounds seemed to fade and roar. Some muttered, and some shouted. A lot of horning. Insults too. He could hear them. They had to get rid of a useless human being taking space on the earth. When he felt the weight of the two tyres on his battered body, a fresh tear slipped from his eyes, mixing with the blood, sweat, and sand. Why are you so angry at me today? There was a sharp stinging smell. A fuel that burnt with unrelenting wickedness. Don’t worry. I will go. With all the strength he could muster, he pushed the mango to his lips and touched it with the tip of his tongue. Grains of sand settled on his tastebuds with the juice. A wry smile broke free. He was going to die, but not as a hungry beggar. The smoke reached his nose-first.

An envelope of heat cocooned his body. Through the flames that danced, a memory surfaced. Clear as day. The village was burning. His hut was on fire. His home. Mama, Baba and Mutmaina. They burnt. He was crying. Everybody was running. Somebody dragged him away…That was the last time he saw them. An agonizing sob rang from the depths of his heart, followed by a blood-curling scream as the flames hungrily licked his skin. Before his eyes closed, the last thing he saw through the fire was that woman. She broke through the crowd, her face rife with a panicked urgency, and a group of policemen following behind.

Editor: Precious Alamu.

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