“The Beggar” by Jeff Cudjoe

The beggar put his bowl on the pavement, there weren’t any coins to shake and his throat was too parched for begging. He adjusted the rags that covered his unkempt hair from the raging sun and tried to make his shadow one with that of the traffic light indicator he leaned on. He had been here for four years, and knew every pavement on the street. He watched the people walk past him, smelling of sweat and whatever perfume they used to try to fight the consequences of the midday heat.

Business suits, jeans, calf-length sundresses. All of them seemed to quicken their pace oh so slightly when they neared him and their eyes just glanced at him flicked back forward, staying that way until they were well beyond him. It wasn’t yet time for people to close from work so the steady flow of cars down the road didn’t result in anything more than a few irritated blowing of car horns when a driver didn’t move quickly enough when the lights showed green.

He decided to try again.

“Obaahemaa me pawokyɛw kyɛ me twenty pesewas ma mentɔ nsuo wae

Said woman in her floral print sundress switched on her selective blindness and walked past him.

“Abrantie ma me sika tɔ nsuo na Nyame be hyira wo

“Obi ntɔ nsuo ma me na Nyame be hyira wo

After awhile he gave up. No one was paying attention to him. He decided to pass the time instead by trying to recall what he knew of his would have been deliverers from thirst. There was Fred who worked in some bank and was flirting with one of his co-workers. He hadn’t taken things too far, since he was actually content with his wife and kids. Maame Adwoa, Miss Sundress, didn’t have any such scruples. There were several sugar daddies who kept her very happy. The only reason she didn’t drive around in a car was so her actual fiancé who she’d lived with for three years wouldn’t be suspicious. He wondered when she’d find out she had contracted HIV. Not too long he surmised, she didn’t exactly live the healthiest lifestyle. There was also Joe, who used expensive perfume to hide his halitosis and the fact that he smoked several packs of cigarettes a day and got drunk on weekends. And Marie, and Esi, Boateng and so on.

Throughout the day the beggar amused himself by attaching a life to a face. It was when he heard the giggling that he picked up his battered ceramic bowl again.

Nkɔla boa me wae na me hia twenty pesewas de atɔ nsuo.

Most of the children on their way back from school ignored him too, some however looked at him with that mixture of scorn and fascination scorn children are wont to give people in his situation.

Ping! A one cedi coin fell into his tin cup. It was a little girl, a bit younger than the others. She had her hair in pigtails and her uniform looked like it belonged to a private school. Their uniforms were always more colourful, if not nicer.

“Thank you, may God bless you.”

The girl continued to stare at him until he became uncomfortable. He was about to push his luck and ask for more money when an older girl, probably a sister grabbed her away. The poor girl received a few spanks on the head for her generosity.

The man shook his solitary coin for a while and got a few notes from older children and adults. Grudgingly of course, the little girl had shamed some of them and so they gave. It was not much but he soon had about five cedis, which was one ball of kenkey and a fish. With water to drink. A good day. He stopped a hawker for the water he so desperately needed. He sat down again and begun to wait

The sun went down and the moon rose, the people on the street eventually trickled into nothing. It was exactly midnight when the person he was waiting for showed up.

He was in dressed in black from his hat to his shiny black shoes and double-breasted long-sleeved shirt. And he was dressed in black, in the sense that if you looked carefully, it was darker around him wherever he went. He sauntered over to the beggar and looked down his nose.

“Hello brother”, the man said. “Do you have the tally?”

He reached beneath his clothes and handed over the scroll he had been sent to fill. Every person, every suburb in Accra, for five years. He’d managed to test them all. It was amazing how many people you could ask for money if you kept long enough at it. The man in black tutted as he unrolled it and scanned it briefly.

“You barely made a hundred souls this time my brother and most of the names on this list are children. What happens when they grow up and get corrupted?”

“They are still a hundred names”  The beggar rose, unfurling his wings as he got to his feet.

“and that means you don’t get to have your little fun. Brother.”

The other man drew himself to his full height, and around him the darkness grew a little deeper.

“Just a hundred names out of the millions that could be here. A hundred!” He calmed down, but the darkness around him began to swirl even more.”They sin and commit offenses against our Father. They take advantage of His benevolence. They must be punished.”

“Rules are rules brother. And just as you are meant to punish, I am meant to find the hundred by which they should be spared. You have them in your hand. There’s nothing for you here”

The darkness settled, and the man in black rolled his shoulders his composure finally resurfacing. He gave a cocky grin and bowed dramatically before turning around. The words that came from his mouth as he walked away were faint, but the beggar heard them clearly

“I’ll see you at the next town. We’ll see if there are any souls worth saving, brother”

The beggar kept standing. He looked around, ingraining every last piece of the area into his mind then bent down to pick his battered tin cup. He started walking in the opposite direction from which the man had come. It was a long way to the next town and a worthy hundred names was not an easy thing to find.

 

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