Begging has a lot of patterns, but the first one you’ll notice is this:
The complexity of a beggar’s story is inversely proportional to how visible his ailment is.
This law places beggars on a spectrum with those who are healthy but simply less fortunate on one end, and those in visible physical discomfort on the other.
So on one end, you have this.
At a stop, a man gets onto the bus and you think, why is he begging, there is nothing wrong with him. Then he launches into his story:
“My brothers, my sisters, once when I was a child and even before that, the elders in my village told me that I will always tumble from trouble to trouble. And as if you will not believe it, as I matured, this very thing happened. Pray that this will not be your portion.”
His story unfolds, your mind drifts, but when you return, he is still at it. “Unbeknown to me, that woman who was my first wife, was really my step-mother, in disguise, and even though my mind had told me otherwise, I did not recognise her, because of the curse.”
There will be a collective gasp from the passengers in the bus, everyone listening in rapt attention. He finishes up the story with either him or one of the main characters in it needing a medical operation.
“My second wife, the only one who has ever loved me right from the beginning, they finally got her.”
“Brothers and sisters, anything you can help with, whether one naira, whether two naira. I only need seven million.”
He will then dip his hand into his pocket and bring out a crumpled collection of five and ten naira notes to show you how far he is from his target.
Some people will pass money forward to him. “Thank you, my brother. Thank you, my sister,” he will say.
But every time, as soon as the man gets off the bus, the murmuring starts from the passengers. “Useless man, why can’t he get a job.”
Even the people who gave him money will turn on him. “I’ve seen him many times before. Last week it was his son that needed the operation, this week, his wife. I just pitied him today. Shameless man.”
Compare that with this man seen at a busy intersection.
He was wearing beige trousers and his shirt was off, it was slung over his shoulder.
He must have been in an accident because his stomach had been sliced open, a horizontal gash under his navel and his intestine was sticking out.
I’m not a doctor so I couldn’t tell you if it was his large or small intestine, but there was a fair amount of it poking through, enough to hang up to his knees.
Cars were lined up waiting for the traffic warden to pass them.
The man walked between the rows of cars with the length of flesh dangling in front of him like an elephant’s trunk. All the drivers who saw him stiffened, their hands gripping steering wheels avoiding eye contact, praying, God please don’t let him pick me. Or pretending to find something of interest on the floor of the car, “Ah so that is where I dropped that groundnut last week.”
He approached a grey Toyota real slow, trunk swinging *swish, swiish, swiiish*
And when he got to the driver’s side, he flicked his waist and swung the intestine onto the bonnet. *plop*
The driver was a woman wearing a red jacket over a black top. She had a short haired wig on. Business formal. She was doing that thing people do when they are faced with beggars that have problems too severe for them to handle. Her eyes had taken on this faraway look, staring straight ahead at an imaginary spot in the distance, her mind was in its happy place. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me, and even if I can see you, if I look through you, maybe you will let me go.
The beggar leaned towards her, he didn’t say anything. He pushed his cupped hand forward, *tap* *tap* tapped on the window and raised one eyebrow as if to say, “So what’s up?”
They were locked together in that moment, both not moving, her pretending not to see him and him confronting her with painful realities. Time stretched…
Then she cracked.
She made a tiny movement with her right hand, and *twip* *twip* the windshield wiper came on and swept his intestine off the car.