Born Beggar!

The song of my life

Is but one;

I’m NOT a born beggar!                    

Laughing out loud, the boy made fun of Usama who had just declared,’ I will also own a big shining black car like that one, one day’’.

‘What’s making you laugh?’, asked Usama.

Ali, still rolling in laughter, mocked him further, ‘And how would you get the money to buy such a car?’

‘The same way that man might have got it’, said Usama feeling annoyed this time with the way Ali was laughing so wildly, displaying fully his pale yellow teeth.

Ali settled a bit from the fit of laughter, patted his shoulder and said, again mockingly, ‘Beware, the next passer-by doesn’t pass you without putting a penny in your bowl’.

Meanwhile he did the same for himself by running after a couple to ask for help.

From there he wandered farther away but didn’t miss out saying, smiling broadly back to Usama from a distance, ‘Hey, go begging. ….. you, born beggar!’, leaving Usama who always felt lowered spreading hands in front of others for money, utterly dispirited and frustrated about the prospects of ever owning a dignified life.                                                                            

Looking up in the sky in sheer despondency only to see the same old sun, the same dull daylight announcing the dawn of another day, he heard his mother calling out loud from inside their mud hut, who had already sent his father and other three brothers to work:

‘Come, have breakfast, Usama. You are going to be late to work!’

‘What does it mean to be a born beggar, mother?’  he asked as soon as he stepped in with his eyes wide open fixed on the mother still carrying the weight of some unknown hopes.

His mother, instead of replying, invited him to breakfast again so that he hurried to work, frightening him slightly that his father was already angry noting him getting late to work every day.

‘Are all beggars born beggars, mother?’  Usama, however, seemed insistent on getting his reply. ‘Why do you bother yourself with such questions?’ said the mother. With a small pause, she continued, ‘Just know that we are a beggar family and begging is all we can do.’ ‘There is nothing wrong about it.’

‘So I’ll remain a beggar my whole life, right mother?’ said he without realising he was giving a real curve to his mother this time who was already a little peevish as she had been confined indoors for few days due to her prolonged sickness.

She, a bit strained about what made him think that way, but still indifferent, perhaps, preferred not to answer further as she got up after putting a small cup of tea with a piece of home-made bread in front of him, advising him again to finish soon and leave for work….                                                                            

Walking away from an area clustered with thick mud huts, looking back now and then to the dejected poverty of his life, he wondered the whole way, conflicted (which now Heavens alone may be knowing the answer to) about woeful realities entirely unknown to his innocent mind.

Spreading his bowl in front of every passer-by along the main city roads, knocking on the window of every vehicle stopped at the signal, he would never miss hearing parents saying to their kids, ‘He is a dirty beggar, just stay away from such people.’ The incidents would be closed but contract life from him bit by bit, leaving his heart sinking deep inside.

Nothing new, though. This was just a routine; however, pushing the question to him: ‘What makes others clean and not him???

A few hours and he would be at the gate of the same school where he would remember coming every day. He would spend some time there looking at the kids wearing clean uniform, chatting, laughing — all full of life, and would never cease daydreaming himself as one of them…wearing spotless white shirt with black trousers, and smart black shoes all dressed up so neatly having a haircut done very nicely, and joyously carrying books on his backpack. Such would be his imagination that would make him steal some moments of bright life out of the depths of darkness.

[Many a times, he asked his father to send him to some school but only to his disappointment.

‘You are a work shirker, that’s why you need excuses. It’s all a game of money. Those who study will also end up earning ,,,,,,,so are you doing already.’’ This is the middle station of life for us and you have got to follow this.’

It was the same response from his father every time. He knew it was never likely that he would ever spend money on him, rather he would be expected to add up to their monthly sum…

Sitting on a footpath, waiting for his other brothers to join him to head back home, he looked up at the sky that was gradually embracing dark, and silently asked many questions his scattered thoughts put here, joined there, breaking in the middle.   

He wouldn’t accept this life of humility.  Six more months and 8-year old Usama couldn’t resist his instincts any further. He was not born for this life. What his destination was, he knew not but what his hopes were, he would only live up to those.

Walking along the road with empty mind, He didn’t know which way was his? It was getting dark when he stopped at a car-wash shop. After walking mindlessly for so long, he started feeling hungry so he asked the master for food.

‘I am hungry, sir. Please give me some food?’  said Usama.

Staring at him from head to toe, the man at the shop wrinkled his nose and scornfully replied, ‘I don’t run a charity shop here, you tiny creature’. ‘Go take your way’, and Usama was forced to walk away.                                                  

A few more miles and he started getting terrified due to the fast descending darkness. It was a bushy and deserted area. There was hardly anyone to be seen. Taking heavy steps along a broken footpath, Usama suddenly caught sight of the gate of a big house open and seeing no one around, he rushed inside and managed to hide himself in the garden. It was a hot night but hardly making any difference to Usama who fell asleep there in no time.

A starry but moonless night that was. He is running as fast as he could, falling sometimes and rising up again. As he reaches the heart of the dense forest, he finds himself in the shroud of mist, completely lost. Gasping in horror, he takes hold of a tree for a while but soon he starts running again.  There doesn’t seem any end to the forest as running and running he was reaching nowhere. Suddenly a sight of a highly concentrated beam of light surrounded all around by darkness, attracts Usama’s attention and he starts running towards that. But as soon as he approaches it, he finds a ruined hut just by its side. No sooner than he would follow the beam of the light that to his distress, he finds many figures appearing from inside of the hut who start laughing loud on Usama as soon as they come out and see him. Terror-stricken, Usama feels his feet as if being glued to the ground have refused to support him anymore and he helplessly falls down. As he desperately tries creeping towards the light, he is now sure of his end seeing himself an easy prey to the horrifying figures advancing madly towards him. But as soon as he gets a little in the beam, to his great surprise, he finds out they can’t see him anymore. They are hitting each other searching for him but they can’t see him lying just in front of them in the beam of the light. Usama feeling relieved, pulls himself up and keeps following the track that light was making which finally takes him out of the forest and brings him to the bank of a beautiful river. The river water was sparkling with the reflection of very big bright stars in it fascinating Usama to the extent that he rushes to catch those stars out of the water.…. He is very cheerful, giggling, running on the bank, just trying to catch the stars in his hands…

Usama woke up hearing a man growling early morning:

‘Hey, who is there, who …?’

He was now standing by his head. Believing him a thief, he grabbed him from his neck and took no time to present him in front of the house owner.

‘I earnestly beg of you, sir. I’m not a thief.’, pleaded Usama, ‘I lost my way to home and just came here to find shelter at night’, explained Usama with fear tossing in his eyes.

The owner looked at him at length and instructed the servant to give him some food instead.

Usama felt relieved; however, he couldn’t understand why the owner was very kind with him.

He was taken to a well-furnished room where he was to stay. A servant gave him food after a short while and he was left to take good rest then. Usama was surprised at this unexpected treatment. However, it was the afternoon two days later when he finally heard the owner talking to someone on the phone….

‘6 o’clock sharp tomorrow morning’, said the owner.  (silence)

‘’Yes, the boy is little and physically fit.’    (silence)

‘No, I won’t charge less …I am not selling you just the body parts, mind you!’    

‘The deal will be cancelled if a single penny less’.  ‘Inform your master!’  (silence)

From beggary to slavery was not what he had wished for. But life seemed to be all in the dark now.

Usama just knew now ‘6 o clock in the morning’ and he didn’t waste a moment not planning how to escape.

Suddenly he saw a man outside with his face half-covered who burst in as soon as the gatekeeper opened the gate.  As the man rushed towards the gatekeeper and started talking to him, Usama secretly made his way near the gate.  Seeing them engaged, he wasted no time sliding out of the half open gate and ran as fast as he could.

Usama knew the men would be chasing him soon and catch him easily. It was devouring dark and the streets fully deserted. Looking here and there, finding no place to hide himself, he took a short detour to a passage lined with trees on both sides. Just at the sharp end of that route, he saw a big tree with its leaves nestled closely together; he swiftly got onto it, however, gasping in horror.

Clearly, the men were following him and very soon Usama saw them from among the leaves of the tree. There were three searching for him here and there but finding no clue, they ran to the other side, but not dropping the possibility to get back to that place again which Usama was aware of. Usama stayed on the tree all still, motionless, barely drawing in breath.

Noticing the men didn’t return, Usama got down and rushed from the place. To his bad luck, one of the men had seen him running. The next moment all three of them were chasing him. Under the dark starry sky, amidst the alien world, Usama was as fast on his feet as his little spirit could.

Moments later, that night witnessed a big crowd gathered on the road surrounding a child who was bleeding excessively as he had been crushed by a speedy vehicle which he could not notice due to being in a hurry to cross the road.  The driver had fled from the scene leaving the child to die. The police took the body into custody. The child was buried a few days later as unidentified.

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Farah Nazeer

A short story writer and a teacher by profession. She believes real fiction slips beyond a writer's grip just as our own life does. Here the knot remains tied: fiction is life or life is merely a FICTION? 
Farah Nazeer

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