The voice was feeble but cheerful. “Hello.” My training in cat-call management kicked in, averting my eyes even before I had figured out whose voice it was. “Nice to meet you,” the voice went on, still very feeble, still very cheerful. Curiosity got the better of me, so I stole a glance from the corner of my eye. The person I saw – or what I could make of them – inspired my feet to move even faster.
An old man, dressed in a shabby coat that was once black but now looked like it had survived as many Christmases as he had, was looking at me. His unkempt hair, dusty face and general dirtiness are what scared me away. He could have been anyone: a relative, an ex-con, a war veteran. There was no way of knowing because I was fifty metres away, fleeing.
I’m embarrassed to say this has happened to me more times than I care to remember. This time, however, the experience stuck with me. I was engulfed by a heavy wave of sadness and guilt. I was sad because the man was old, seemingly without shelter and probably without a family, or worse, abandoned by those he deemed family. This is probably why a lot of people, myself included, are afraid of old age. The feeling of guilt lurked in the shadow of this sadness and has remained with me long after the sadness left.
I felt – and continue to feel – guilty because I was in his position just a few hours before, offering my feeble but cheerful morning greeting to the Lord. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Three times I offered this greeting, and three times the Lord answered me* with warmness, love, and excitement for a new day. There I was, next to my bed, covered in the filth of my sin from days gone past, but still offering a cheerful “Hello” to One more immaculate than I could ever be, and He responded. Then, just a few hours later, when someone offered me a greeting, I rejected it because they were not clean enough to talk to me. That night, when I was back home and sitting in the dark alone in my room**, I resolved to try harder. I was going to be a better person.
A week later, I find myself in a similar situation. This time, a bunch of street kids are huddled around a street light, casually chatting while they wait for someone to approach. As luck would have it, I unwittingly become that someone. My brain begins the silent chant, don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me. “Sister ndokumbirawo coin.” Damn.
There was no escaping – I had to wait for the traffic light to turn green before I could cross the road to safety. “Handina,” was my reply, accompanied by appropriate hand gestures for emphasis. The problem with having a strong conscience is it never lets you get away with your sin, even if it’s just a little white lie. Immediately she (my conscience) said, Really? Then she went on to replay the scene earlier that morning when I had taken an extra 50c because I would probably need it later on. The stubborn side of me tried to battle with her, arguing that if I gave that 50c away these urchins would just buy drugs. Not to mention my personal grudge with their kind. One of them had stolen a Calvin Klein watch from me. It was fake, but it had pleather belts. I loved that watch. The scene of the old man began playing in my mind, and I knew I’d lost the battle. Damn. I turned, gave the dusty kids a smile as I reached for the 50c, gave it to them and walked away. I didn’t wait for the traffic light to turn green.
As I went on my way, replaying the events that had just happened, a sentence gradually formed itself in my thoughts. When the full-stop came, I gasped.
You Are The Urchin.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised it was true. I am the urchin, the only difference is the rest of the world doesn’t see it. I am covered head-to-toe in the filthiness of sin. I wear the tatters of self-importance and indifference. Yet I have the audacity to come before the throne of the King of Kings and ask for gifts. And when He gives them to me, I trade them in for the opium of worldly validation and acceptance. I am the urchin.
I don’t yet know what I’m going to do about this. I don’t know if I have the courage or the strength or the will to do it. But now I know, the street kids are me, and I am the street kid…
*When God talks to me, it’s not a booming voice from above frightening me into doing the right thing. It’s normally an interruptive thought, and for some reason, the thought has a male voice attached to it, which is weird because I think in my own voice. It happens in a split second and sometimes I miss it. But sometimes the thought is too disruptive to ignore.
**I just really, really, REALLY love sitting in the dark. For one thing, my eyes are affected by intense light (hence the specs) but what I enjoy most is the darkness gives me a chance to focus on my thoughts and reflect on myself with no distractions like wardrobe handles or the pile of books I keep next to my bed. My sister finds this super weird and thinks I’m crazy.