The brute in me

Published: October 9, 2010
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When children beg on streets sometimes I feel like I am under attack

Like every young gun in Pakistan who has recently graduated and started a job, I too have become a drone, hell-bent on acquiring as much wealth as possible.

The indifference to every other value of life seemed outrageous and inhumane at first, but even that feeling has slowly ebbed away to an occasional rant.  There has been zero opposition to this life of comfortable nihility, until a peculiar incident occurred and brought my life to a standstill.

I was driving to work one morning and had stopped at a traffic signal; the counter above read sixty agonizing seconds while a group of beggars made its usual route around the pool of cars. Following protocol, I rolled down my window and started handing out spare change to as many outstretched arms as I could. The beggars began to move on towards the next car, all but this one kid who just stood there unmoved. I reached for the window handle and began to roll it up when I saw her and stopped. The girl had no expression on her face; her dark brown eyes did not register a single emotion. There was no despair, plea, dejection, anger, fear or hurt – nothing at all. Yet, she stood there staring at me, with her little arms held out, palm-open.

“Go away, brat,” I said to her in an annoyed, gruff tone, yet the kid didn’t budge.

I grew tense with each second that passed, the girl was attracting gazes from passengers in the other cars. I brought out my wallet, hurriedly rolled down the window and emptied all the hundreds and tens and fifty notes I had into that wretched palm. It was an impulsive move, one that I immediately began to regret, but the girl had me completely disarmed. I had no idea how to deal with her.

I was relieved to see the girl turn around and walk away, seemingly ‘bought out’. But what she did next damn near yanked my heart out: she’d gotten onto the sidewalk, opened her palm and let the notes fall down to the concrete.

Almost menacingly, she turned around and met me with her stare again: the girl had dealt with me the same way I had her, with brutal apathy.

The beggars on the other end of the road saw what was happening, and broke into a run towards her. She was pushed out of the way as they scrambled onto the sidewalk and hurled themselves at each other just to get at the notes. Pandemonium broke loose outside, beggars screaming at each other as they clawed at the money. People jumped out of their cars and ran towards the brawl; the crowd was getting bigger and bigger by the second. Almost mockingly, the girl held her hands out palm open again. Without even a second thought, not even a glance at the counter, I jammed my foot down on the gas and fled the intersection.

You know the world is in trouble when an eight year old can start a riot at a red light, that too in a nation as volatile as ours. I still don’t know what she wanted. Yet I couldn’t help but see my country in her. She just might have echoed the sentiments of a million people with that one, senseless gesture.

ibrahim.shakeel

Ibrahim Shakeel

A blogger based in Islamabad who writes about politics, music and literature

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.