The undesired fate

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The picture of the family taken by the author, near a market end in Karachi, Pakistan.

By Haniya Shoaib

“Two hundred and fifty rupees is that last price for this sister,” quarreled the shopkeeper.

“What makes you think that these pair of sandals are worth two hundred and fifty rupees? I will only pay for this if you reduce them to two hundred rupees,” negotiated my mother with the shopkeeper.

At this point, I was infuriated with the constant bargaining between my mother and the shopkeeper. I started clenching my jaw with frustration and dug my nails deep between my palms. I hover my eyes around in the market space and I see every individual in the busy, yet enraptured crowd walk as if invisible hands were dragging them in different directions, drawing their attention from one item to another.

I despise constricted places where there is no room to even breathe. The terror surged in my chest as I sensed the wave of a bigger crowd approaching. I grounded my feet, hoping that I do not get trampled by them.

I took a deep breath in and just as I was about to grab my mother’s arm for support. I got pushed by the wave of the crowd. I drifted two stalls ahead of me. My mind spiraled like a raging tornado and I lost sight of my mother. For a second people’s faces were like a bokeh to me. Their faces were undefined, they were blurred between the market lights, floating in the thick air.

I walked slowly towards the sidewalk, trying to get a hold of my consciousness and intake what just happened. Suddenly, a cry was heard. A baby’s crying began with a single screech, then a brief pause, which then continued with a persistent enormous wailing. I could feel the high-pitched waves slamming into my eardrums. I then hear the baby’s mother comforting her with words of affection and a soothing lullaby.

“Go to sleep my little child, may God take away all our hardships very soon,” grieved the mother.

I saw the mother swaddling her little angel, tucking her pillow-like legs tight and wrapping a warm blanket against her soft skin. The mother placed her pale pinky in her baby’s palm and marveled at the sight of her baby’s palm coiling around her pinky. She can sense her soft delicate breath just on the side of her hand, which seemed moist due to the humid climate. I was awestricken in this intimate moment, which was shortly interrupted by a little girl who approached the mother.

“Look Ma, someone just gave me fifty rupees. Can I now go to the store and get my favorite sweets,” beseeched the little girl?

“Patience my dear Amina, once we save more, I will get you anything you want my child,” said the mother.

The mother and her little family were poor and homeless and were trying to get some money for survival. I wanted to help. I wanted to bring a smile to their faces. I went and got some sweets for the little girl and a fulfilling supper for the mother who needed all the nourishment to care for and provide for her little ones.

They were sitting in a corner that they called home. The floor was scuffed and had cracked tiles. The air around was thick with the stench of rancid food and isolation. I approached the mother and handed over the food. The aroma of the freshly baked bread made us drool. Her smile was bizarre, and it caused her nose to furrow, not because she smelt something foul, but simply because she was so delighted that her entire face wanted to join in and smile along.

“Thank you, dear, may God bless you with happiness and success in life. You have no idea how hard I have been struggling to feed my kids,” sobbed the mother.

“Helping you and your adorable family honestly made me feel so happy and I am so grateful that I could be of some help,” I thanked the mother.

I kneeled and brushed my fingers through the baby’s hair and continued to ask the mother her baby’s name.

“Her name is Nadia, she’s four months old,” she said.

“Do you mind telling me what your days are usually like?” I asked since I got curious about how she survives as a beggar alone with two children.

“I wake up early in the morning, I reach out to the roundabout near my area with my girls and I start going from car windows to shop windows hoping to get money. However, since the sun is blazing early in the daytime it becomes tough and, on some days, we don’t even get anything,” explained the mother and her sentences fell apart, while she made rambling noises.

She forced her eyelids closed tight in the hopes that her flooding tears would cease streaming. I could hear her uneven breath while watching her wet eyes lingering for a while as she sat silently and immobile like a statue. 

My heartbeat intensified and I was startled; I could not react, because I just did not know-how. It was like an internal explosion of adrenaline in my bloodstream, and all I could do was stand there stunned. This was odd and overwhelming, so it was utterly new, oblivious since I am not used to seeing all of this in my everyday life.

I kept noticing that people were shrugging their shoulders and averting their gaze. Many people assume they are superior to beggars. They keep them out of society and make them even impoverished by avoiding communicating with them instead of acknowledging their existence. A man walked across from us and he looked right into my soul. His stare spoke a million words to me. I could tell he was judging me for even being near a beggar, let alone interacting with one. I felt my gut wrench because I felt helpless and overwhelmed.

I donated some money to the family and the mother instantly refused to take the money. I was stunned. How can someone reject that much money as a beggar? I insisted she take the money, but she kept refusing repeatedly.

“You’re one of those special people God sends our way, and the fact that you fed my children’s empty stomach tonight is more than enough for me. I know good people exist and He will be the one to give you what you deserve, which is the best of the best in life,” said the mother.

I smiled as I realized how important it is to be humble and grounded in life. I gave her my blessings and prayer. It was time for me to walk away, so I did. It almost felt like my perspective about life changed completely three-sixty degrees and I started noticing and seeing things on the streets that never came to my acknowledgment before. Maybe being humble and grateful is a powerful weapon after all in this life to make this world a better place, rather than using a superiority complex to get ahead of everyone else.