DCC Nnewi could boast of a good number of beggars, adults, children, Igbos, Hausas, Fulanis, even people from Chad with their lovely long hair. Each time someone walked pass, they would plead with outstretched hands for alms.
Sometimes, sympathetic passers-by would fling ₦20, ₦50 notes to them, while the less sympathetic ones would fling off the beggars’ hands off their clothes, shake off the dirt, mutter an acute curse and walk off.
It was a normal event till… Till…
It was a Saturday afternoon, the bike man I boarded his bike to drop me at New Age Computers had some ideas in his head, so I shouted at him to drop me at the Roundabout. I calmly deducted ₦50 from his money and gave him the rest. He made to complain but the look in my eyes told him clear enough to keep off. He grumbled loudly and took the money. It is not Viktoreeah that you will kill with neck-breaking speed.
“Aunty please give me money,” a child beggar said, tugging at my dress. Wait, did I say tug? She wanted to pull off the dress or tear it.
I was surprised. She was bold.
“Madam, no tear my clothe biko,” I said, “and besides, why must I give you money?”
“Because I could have been your younger sister.” Came the reply.
Jesus! Somebody pinch me!
She couldn’t be more than 10. Whoever taught her this line?
“Why are you not in school young girl?” I asked.
“Ask my mother, she is there,” she said, pointing at a woman sprawled on the dusty ground, houseflies feeding on an open sore in her leg.
I knew what I had to do. I knew I had to give this woman a good talking-to.
“Good afternoon ma,” I greeted the mom.
She opened one eye and gave me a ‘what-is-it’ look. I knew the formula, I reached into my purse and put some naira notes in her bowl. Immediately, a change occurred. She transformed into a smiling young woman.
“Why is this girl not in school?” I asked without preamble.
“Aunty, no money oh.”
“Government school nko?”
“Aunty, ah, ah, she’s here helping me.”
“Help? By begging? Is this what this child will do for the rest of her life?” I asked, my temper already rising.
“Aunty, I did not ask God to keep me like this.”
“This is not God, madam. This is you and your laziness. You’re not handicapped in any way, you have your whole body intact. Yet you are here lying down day by day, month after month when you can get up and work,” I said. I was already shaking with anger. Anger that this beautiful girl was being prevented from being a pillar in the society by this poor excuse of a mother.
“Get something doing woman, at least for the sake of this beautiful girl, for your daughter’s sake!”
She was shocked. I might have been the first person to speak to her that way.
The young girl stood nearby staring intently at me.
“If this girl becomes a nonentity, God, Nature and the world would blame you forever. Good day.”
I went over to her daughter and said to her in Igbo, “Rapụba, you’ll be great one day.”
She smiled and said, “Afa m bụ Onyinyechukwu.”
“Afa m bụkwa Onyinyechukwu,” I replied.
She smiled and said shyly, “I’ll call you Big Sis Onyinye.”
Then I knew it was no coincidence, we were namesakes!
I motioned for a hug, she hesitated.
“Don’t worry, it’s fine,” I said. She buried her face in my bosom, I held her in my arms. It didn’t matter. All of a sudden, it didn’t matter; her dirty hair, smelly clothes, unwashed body, the looks passersby gave us. None of them mattered.
She was right. She could have been my younger sister.
“Thank you Big Sis,” she whispered.
We parted and she walked away. Not before I saw the tears of her face.
Tears gathered in my eyes too as I watched her go.