I’m watching her from the window of the rickety bus as I make my one hour (or three hours, depending on how the traffic god decides to play on said day) commute back from work. She is sane. That much I can tell. You know, one thing about Lagos I picked up quickly when I came here was how difficult it is to tell a crazy, homeless beggar from a homeless beggar.
She has two kids held on both hands hanging on her hips, old-fashioned style as she gesticulates with her palm face-forward at the wound-up screens of the cars waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. They are twins and I remember them clearly, from when they were babies and she had to sit with them sprawled on the floor next to each other in pink blankets on the demarcation that split the Mobolaji-bank Anthony Way in half.
They are grown now, no longer babies and can join their mother in soliciting for funds by the roadside, all day every day.
Like I said, she is sane. I can also tell that she is able-bodied; has no ridiculous wound or deformation that leaves you wondering about how fate deals terrifying cards on some people. Her alibis are these innocent kids, kids who weren’t asked to be born, kids who have become her pass to daily meals.
And I wonder; why is she here? Isn’t there something better or more honorable that she can do? Where is the father of these kids? If he was the provider and bread winner as society told him he ought to be, would she have been here with her kids? And what if he was doing all he knew how to and still was struggling to feed these mouths that he had become responsible for by choice?
It is very important to note that all this while, I haven’t seen anyone drop anything into her bowl or wind down their glass to hand her miserly 50s’ or 20s’. It seems infinitesimal but I guess it adds up somehow.
Let’s say she ‘resumes’ at 8am at her spot and leaves at 9pm at night. That’s a 13-hour time frame. Assuming 8 people drop in 50naira into her bowl every hour, she will have made 5,200 naira at the end of the day. Maybe my answers are unveiling themselves naturally, right?
Sane, able-bodied individuals beg sane, able bodied individuals in Lagos for money, because it is easy! Not because it is necessarily the only option or because they would rather beg than steal. It is an easier route to making some feeding money day in day out than it is to actually go about and do some actual work.
I stopped to buy boiled groundnuts from a woman who was hawking on a hot afternoon and in the conversation that ensued, she vehemently opposed the idea of begging to make ends meet. She would rather work and take care of her home with the little she earned than subject herself or her children to such conditions.
Nonetheless, for some select few, feeding off the yearning need of humans to feel charitable and noble by giving, have gained them easy access to amounts of money which though meager still, may not be earned with a day’s work of labour, sweat, and exhaustion.
Whatever the excuse is, I still think there is honour and dignity in labour.