Man, boy, donkey

There is a woman who stands at the intersection down the road from the used electronics market. She has a tumor or something on her face that makes her nose elongated and droop all the way down to her neck like a trunk. This tumor also affects the rest of her face. The lower parts, chin and lips, dangle, swinging loosely and her eye socket is soft and swollen with excess fluid.
It is impossible to describe her beyond what you would glean at a glance because to look at her for any longer is to have the image scrawled permanently in your mind. She must know this because she keeps her face covered with a shawl wrapped around her head leaving a hole in front for her to breathe out of.

On Monday morning, she stood at the junction with a bucket at her feet and her face hidden but holding up a laminated photograph that showed her uncovered. She had helpers, two men, and they both carried the same photograph in one hand and a bowl in the other hand.
The men orbited her, approaching passersby. They would show you the photo then shake the bowl at you. And if you avoided them or shirked away from the picture, you would steer right into the woman herself. She would raise her hooded head to you and give a sad nod as if to say, “Sorry o, fine boy, don’t let me disturb you.”

On a bus crawling by in traffic, a man was observing her and her two helpers by deliberately not looking at them. He dragged out a long sigh and said, “What a pity.” Several people on the bus grunted their agreement. Hearing their support and by extension, apparent interest in his opinion, he continued: “But if those two helpers instead of standing there, if they went and worked, big strong men like that, they would make more money for her than just begging.” His congregation on the bus nodded. Preach it, pastor.

Two days later, the woman was there again as usual. Her helpers this day were two boys, both less than ten years old. They were more efficient than the men. The children would dart low between the cars, invisible until they popped up at a car window and stuck the woman’s unveiled photo in the faces of those inside. The passengers would gasp, and find their hands clawing for their wallets and purses, plucking out notes to throw out of the window and warding off evil. The children would weave between the vehicles to pick up the money and circle back to deposit it in the woman’s bucket.

A couple was in a car waiting to turn at the intersection. The man was driving, the windows were up, air conditioner chilling the inside. His wife was staring out at the children. She said, “Poor children. They can’t go to school so they won’t be able to support her when they grow up.” Her husband reached across the gear island and squeezed her hand.

On Friday, the woman was at her regular spot by the bus stop. She was alone. Using one hand to hold her head wrap closed, she held her laminated photo in the other hand. People walking with the hurried steps of city dwellers would stumble upon her. Their eyes would jerk up at the hidden face, then quickly away as they steered around her.
She wandered too close to the gutter; then too far out into the road. People stretched money to her and she didn’t see them. They called out to her. She drifted into the street in the direction of their voices. Cars honked disorienting her and compounding her confusion. She tilted the mass that was her head towards the sound, the flesh on her face swayed. She removed the shawl and exposed her face. She raised a finger to her face, lifted the skin flap covering her eye, and looked out at the world.


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