An unpalatable truth

(Wrote this story back in college for the college magazine.)



Sitting on his sheet, the cobbler has been trying to polish the old collection of shoes he had. Suddenly a pair of dirty shoes appeared in front of him. His hands stopped. He had been waiting for this moment since morning. His fainting heart finally started beating again. He, at once, asked, “Polish, sir?” And then looked up.

An untidy hand drew closer to cobbler’s face. It was a beggar. “One rupee please?” He begged.

The happiness on the face of cobbler vanished at once.  He yelled, “Get lost! You would only get dirty shoes from here”.

The beggar moved ahead. He moved towards government clerk whose long dry hair were stuck in his glasses. “I am a patient. I have not eaten for a day. Please give me some money for food”, he begged. A dry smile appeared on the face of clerk. A calculated dry smile…

The beggar begged again. The clerk moved forward with that helpless and simpering smile.

The beggar was hungry was hungry for a day. The clerk was hungry for two days!

The beggar then begged in front of an old lady, “Mam! May you and your children live long. Please give me some money for food”. The old lady stopped for a moment. She whispered to herself, “Children?” Some tears rolled down her blank eyes. She moved forward. His eyes followed that lady till she disappeared. “Did she not have any children? Or, they left her for their family? Or, they moved abroad to visit her after years?” he kept thinking.

His hunger was growing. His frail legs were unable to carry him anymore. He moved towards a restaurant. The manager, with only his face visible from his cabin window, was counting money. The beggar drew closer and begged, “I am hungry. Please give me something to eat for God’s sake”. The money counting hands stopped. The manager scowled. He could only see the beggars face in front of his window. He started counting the money again and yelled “Why are you begging when you are so healthy. Don’t humiliate yourself. Work here and earn with honor”

The beggar turned back and moved out of hotel. The manager, while counting money, shouted, “Work shirkers. You people are good for nothing. You will die on streets but will never work.”

This was not new but his face was red with anger. The anger was not for the manager. It was for God. He tried to calm himself down. A smile appeared on his face. A helpless smile. “I am healthy but don’t work?” He laughed at himself. He looked at his weak body, and of course, the missing left hand. And then his attention moved towards his infected leg. It was festering. The doctor had advised to cut it off. He lost his arm while working in the factory and the leg got infected after a dog bit him. His legs were giving up by now. He could feel the blood in his veins, struggling to keep him moving.

He saw a boy briskly moving out of a bakery. He gathered all the power left inside him and moved towards the boy. The boy hurried up to his car as he saw the beggar coming. The beggar drew closer. The boy opened the door of his car to sit inside, which pushed the beggar and he fell down. A stone pierced into his infected leg and he started wriggling. He crawled towards the floor of a closed shop. The boy had left. It was his birthday party and everyone was waiting for him.

The hunger was killing him. The leg was bleeding. He vowed, “I’ll never beg again if I get food today!” He struggled up again when he saw an elderly man closing the mosque’s door. He crawled towards him but then shouted “I have been hungry for long. Please buy me some food!” The man pulled his prayer beads out of his pocket, wiped hands on his white beard, and started walking. The beggar begged again, “May God send you for Hajj. Please help me”.

The old man murmured,”He wished that I may go for Hajj this year. Had it been a student, he would have wished him some exam success. They all know our weak points. Bloody begging business!” The beggar saw him disappear. “These guys spend all day in mosque but don’t give anything in God’s name. Don’t they question themselves why God has given them money? May be they think that it is just a reward of their prayers”, he thought.

The beggar slowly started crawling back to the park where he sleeps. Suddenly he saw another beggar sitting under a light post, with his back towards him. He saw a bowl full of rice in front of the other beggar. This was the moment. Now he knew he had to work. “If no one is willing to help me, it’s time I help myself” He thought. The plan was to pick the bowl and run. He tried walking towards the other beggar and realized that he can’t even walk. In despair, he slowly moved closer until he saw that the other beggar had no legs. This was the best thing that had occurred to him for weeks. His God had responded to his misery. It was late night and no one was around.

He gathered up all the energy left in him and moved towards the other beggar. He was moving slowly as his legs were trembling. The heart was pounding. He saw that the other beggar has started eating by now. He struggled to move faster. He drew closer to the other beggar who had seen him by now. He was about to pick up the bowl when the other beggar said, “Bismillah brother! Come, let’s eat”

His body started shaking. He felt as if he was smashed to the ground. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He started shouting, crying in agony. He fell down on the ground next to the other surprised beggar, and threw up. All they could see was blood flowing out. The other beggar tried putting some rice in mouth but to no avail.

The next morning, people found a dead body of a beggar under a light post….


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