THE OLD LADY AND THE CORNER
Yesterday an old friend said I’d always been in touch with my feelings. He basically called me an emotional person. I’ve never been called that. I’ve never been accused of being in my feelings about stuff. I’ve always preferred to think of myself as a G; a babe in charge of her emotions. Hell, I’ve prided myself in my ability to compartmentalize like a dude. To lock out all emotions and deal with whatever I have to deal with at that time.
It’s a serious skill. I know girls who’d pay good money to be able to do that. OK that’s a lie, but I wish I knew some, then I’d become a self-styled guru on compartmentalization and share “inspirational” posts on Twitter and Instagram and charge people to attend seminars at swanky town hotels where they can learn to be like me. Then I’d be rich, because the general consensus is that girls don’t have that ability. That’s why we cry at work, in traffic, when our boyfriends suggest we put down the blue dress and wear the black one because it’s “more flattering”. We cry when we think the universe is against us, never mind that most times we’re antagonizing the universe. Yes honey, stop beating your face into something it’s not, put down that contouring brush and just allow your round cheeks to be!
But every G has a trigger – yes that applies to guys too. Case in point (who the hell talks like that regularly??) my pal Biko got emotional the other day watching a (short fat) dad struggle to pick a flower off a tree for his little girl. The guy was jumping up and down in broad daylight trying to pluck a little white flower off this tree on Lang’ata Road, in full view of everyone in that ghastly traffic, just to make his girl smile. Biko got soppy about that. Maybe it’s because he’s a dad and knows he’d probably do that too. He also knows he’s not Zacchaeus and would therefore not have had the same issue, which is why I think he was so touched by this dad’s complete lack of ego and full focus on making his spawn smile.
What’s my trigger? Mine’s Lion King 1. That scene where Scar pushes Mufasa off the cliff and the hunky beast plunges to his painful death, trampled by a rampaging herd of wildebeest. I can never get over that scene. I mean, I know it’s only a cartoon but…hell I’m getting emotional just thinking about it now * inhales deeply *
My other trigger?
If you’ve driven up Waiyaki Way, past ABC Place to the U-Turn, you’ve probably seen the old beggar. She’s there every day, bent over with age, her palms turned up as if in supplication – but not to God, to you and me.
She looks about 70 to me, but I can’t really tell. Hardship will make people look older than they really are. The only thing that keeps her away is rain. Not that drizzle that frightens the city’s weave-wearing women, but heavy downpours. She’ll sometimes try to brave it with an umbrella that barely keeps her face dry, but then she eventually gives in to Mother Nature and leaves.
Her face is lined with wrinkles, her palms hardened with what must be years of manual labour. Her expression is hard to read: it’s not self-pity, or tiredness, or pain, or hunger. It’s something else; something I can’t quite put my finger on. A quiet strength almost: a determination to survive another day.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never actually gotten close enough to look into her eyes. I’ve tried a couple of times, on the days when – and I’m ashamed to say this – I’m not in too much of a rush to pay her some attention. On those days, I dig into my purse to find whatever I can to give her. Or give her the apple or banana I planned to snack on in the office.
But most days I drive past with my window rolled up, just like the other hundreds of drivers who use that route every day. On those days, I stave off the guilt by turning to the Bible. I remember that even Jesus said that we would always have the poor with us. So I shouldn’t feel bad about not giving her anything that day, right? Other days, when the Bible isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, I tell myself that giving her money or food encourages her to stay on the street. Either way, I always feel really shitty afterwards.
I’ve often wondered how this old lady ended up at that corner. What cruel hand did fate deal her? Where are her children, shouldn’t they be taking care of her so she can enjoy her old age? Aren’t old people supposed to have children to do this? She shouldn’t be there on the street depending on motorists’ benevolence; she should be warming her bones under the shade of a mango tree in shagz, smiling at the sunset as she recalls the days of her youth and regales her grandchildren and great grandchildren with almost forgotten folk tales.
I wonder what she was like as a young, fecund lady. Did she get all dolled up and confuse the men in the village with her pillowy bosom, tiny waist and ample hips? Did she ever get married and dedicate her life to her man, catering to his every desire and smiling with satisfaction as he devoured her meals? Did she dedicate her life to raising a bunch of chubby cheeked kids?
I wonder where she lives and who she lives with. Is it a dark one-roomed shack in the heart of Kinoo? Who prepares her meals? Does she have anyone to rub her back, sore after a whole day of standing by the roadside hoping that someone will be kind enough to ensure that she has a meal at the end of the day?
I wonder whether she sits down and wonders how her life turned out this way. Does she pray to God and ask Him why she couldn’t be the one in the back seat of the monster VX dripping in gold and talking on her iPhone 6 Plus? Or at the very least running a small but successful biashara selling fresh fruit and veg at the Kangemi market.
Or does she go to church every Sunday morning and praise God and thank him for life, health and the strength to be able to stand on Waiyaki Way and maintain her dignity despite being ignored by nearly everyone she reaches out to?
Does she lead Bible study once a week, reading aloud verses that speak of prosperity, reminding her small crowd that they shouldn’t worry about where their next meal will come from, or how they’ll raise enough to pay the rent.
She remains an enigma to me. But one that reminds me every single time how fortunate I am, because life has a way of turning you upside down and humbling you.
So as you read this, don’t think you’ve done anything special to deserve what you have. What you got is grace. Be thankful for it every waking moment. And show this by being kind to that old lady the next time you see her.