An English Samaritan
She was quiet, she was tired, it seemed she was all head without a brain-she had gone frozen in the head- and to worsen her situation, she was hungry, homeless and it was January and the winter cold had gone insane and it was not going to be cured for another long months to come.
Her situation seemed hopeless and it seemed she was going to lose it if something was not done to fix her very desperate deprivation that had befallen her before she would finally not realise that an incurable madness had set in to stay. Forever. Tears.
She got up from the papers spread on the floor from inside the hide-out she had now decided to call a home for the past one year now. Every day she got up from those papers and made to go out, the prayer on her lips was for her not to be seen by anybody coming out who had thought she was a mad woman who needed to be reported to the council or any person in authority and what she had hidden from all these times would come to be revealed. Truthfully, there were times when she thought, indeed, she was mad because it was only a mad person who would be in this place she called a home.
She walked to the door, stood there for some time to make sure that nobody was on their way from either side of the road. The whole place was silent. She opened the door. She came out. She prayed silently that her day should come with blessings; it was a prayer she had prayed for for the past five years and with expectant blessings that had become an illusion. She must continue to pray nevertheless if only to keep her sanity intact.
She came out, locked the dirty door behind her and breathed out. Life, she thought. Incomprehensible. The dramas and the tales. And the disjointed poetry! She wondered why it had to be so all the time. She had been told that life would not be worth the salt without all these ingredients; but it was a bore. Her forced madness, when would she get to the end of it?
She asked and started to walk down the road. She tried to smile to hide the strain on her face, but it seemed the strain was much stronger so the effect of the smile was defeated. She put her hand in the right pocket of her winter jacket and brought out her only savings. It was a five pound note. Dirty and worn out; even the note would have complained if it had a voice. She had kept it with her for the past two weeks until it would become very useful when she could not tolerate the hunger any more. Now was the most useful moment to spend it having eaten only ones everyday for the past two weeks. Who says the devil is in one house and not in another house!
From the left side of the road, she made a u-turn and headed in the direction of a chicken and chip shop. She got there and stopped by the side of the shop while she watched two young white kids walked towards her. She managed to smile, she wished she could afford their free spirits and wondered if those kids have had to save the money they had with them to take to the shop to have their stomachs desire all their lives. She did wish. Some were unfortunate. Life.
Before she went in, she brought out the five pounds and examined it yet again; its rough edges, the tiny holes and its life that had almost gone, gosh, the Asian shop owner had better not tell her that he would not accept the money! It had better not be rejected! She had had to bury her pride once and went into the street to beg. Thinking about it now, she knew she would never go down that road again no matter how bad the circumstance was; it was shameful and worse than dying of that same hunger.
People had been generous to her with only ten deep copper coins, one had shouted at her to go and get a job and the third person had admonished her that she had better return to her native country instead of begging on the street while her people back home would be thinking she was abroad doing fine and making all the money in the world and one day she would return home a success and an achiever who had returned home to put a smile on their faces. She had vowed never again to be a prey to the down side of humanity even though not completely, albeit those she was familiar with.
That Asian had better be reasonable; she tried to console herself before she walked in. The two white kids bumped into her as they made to go out. They apologised. She smiled and walked to the counter. There were times when apology was sweet especially when it was genuine and this was the moment. People had offended her in the past without a blink and they believed the offences on her were a package she deserved and that she was just another jerk amongst the lots who should be ignored.
She asked to be given two chicken ribs and chips with plenty of tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and vinegar. When the Asian asked her if she would like any drink to go with it, she thought deeply before answering. With a can of soft drink, that would mean an additional fifty pence, and without it would mean yet another savings for her. She decided she should go for the drink as a little treat for herself. I deserve it, she told herself. I cannot save all my life while I die everyday. She allowed an uneasy smile to dance on her face with savour.
She finished her buy and brought out the miserable five pounds note with the photo of the Queen’s crown faded and almost disappeared to pay. Her face was hard, her eyes harder and it seemed the Asian saw the desperation on her face and eyes and said nothing after he had turned the money in his hands several times before he opened the till to lodge it in. He was familiar with this kind of case; the glaring face of poverty and the desperate calm determination to conquer it. If he thought the customer in front of him did not deserve to be poor and strive rather too hard to address it with the kind of beauty she carried and in this place she found herself, and the immoral den curtained in so many fundamentals and rights, he did not show it. He thanked her for her patronage with his funny accent and concentrated on another customer.
She sat down and started to eat. Inside the shop was warm. She wished the whole of the United Kingdom would be this warm, umh, but the UK could not be warm at this time of the year and her enjoyment of the warmth was only to last for some few minutes before she had to walk into the cold again. Again. She ate thoughtfully and silently. After her meal, what next? She finished her food, the temptation to request for another ration with the two pounds ninety-nine pence left with her was high, but wisdom decided otherwise; she had to save to eat another day.
With that in mind, she got up and prepared to walk outside into the cold before she would have to be reminded that other customers would need to use the seat since she had spent up to one hour after she finished her food and continued to stare at her own life in front of her without the slightest clue on how to fix it.
The cold hit her on the face as she opened the door. She sighed. She looked at the faces of the passers-by who walked to and fro with the formation of their faces to tell the story of their states of minds. The faces that had genuine emotion on them were those of the children who played scantily everywhere in the near-by park under their mothers’ watchful eyes. Not many of them though, she knew their mothers must have taken them out for shopping and had insisted on playing in the park. Why did she ever grow to be an adult instead of being a child all her life without the need to worry and bother? She wondered. Especially in this cold, chilly unsympathetic winter! And a humanity so disappointing.
She walked further onto the street, deep into the park where she was sure she would not be noticed by anybody. She thought as she walked along. She knew what common sense would have suggested to her if her mind was open enough; stay indoor at home instead of been out here in the wickedness of this weather. She thought she smiled to herself, common sense must have been callous and stupid not to know that to be outside here and been surrounded by the seas of these faces and the motions that she bathed in her was ever much better than to remain in the dark of that wickedness, which she could never call a home; the place was colder and was always an invitation for her to the world of further darkness and emptiness where hope would continue to delve into hopelessness.
How long? She continued to think along. How long? She raised her head to look above her. Is it up there they said God lives? Is he so far away that he is so deaf to the wailing that burns inside of her? How long? God, how long? Many a time she would have loved to ask some deep and provocative questions, but many a time still, the rebel inside of her was silenced by another force inside of her that was always there to put a stop to her rebellion. But how long? But how long would she continue to live on dreams and hopes and the torment of both? How long? She finally arrived at the far end of the park and found a seat on one of the park’s seats covered with dead, dry, green fungi and made to sit down.
When and how did she come to this state? She asked herself as she sat down. Has she allowed herself to be paddled to this state by some stupid principle and devil obeisance? She closed her eyes, she opened them and there were wells of tears that soon escaped and started to roll down. A police officer pedalled and stopped faraway in front of her, there were some white and black kids at play nearby. The police was the last thing she wanted to see at this moment or to be questioned by one. She quickly wiped her eyes dry and tried to put on a brave face.
The police officer looked in her direction and her face became stony. She stared at him as if to tell him that he should not come near her that there was nothing wrong with her. It appeared the expression on her face was enough for the police to make up his mind; he put his feet on the pedals and pedalled in the direction of the kids, cautioned them and pedalled away.
She breathed a sigh of relief. For a police officer to come and question her with his jotter and pen in hand about her state, even with the best of intentions, would mean to reveal a lot she thought might jeopardise her state of mind. She was already battered emotionally and she would not wish for another battering. She gnashed her teeth. The cold had begun to crawl into her; she pulled her tattered jacket to her neck and burst into tears.
Is it a crime to be principled? Or a crime to be chaste? She tried not to think about it, but she could not help it. Despite the fact that she had lost a significant amount of flesh, she knew that she did not need the mirror to tell her that she still had that style and beauty any man would die for and pay anything to have. But here she was in the cold, good as being homeless, poor and hopelessly miserable and jobless by the dictate of the state. And was it the decision she made at the age of ten to blame for all this?
Before she came to the United Kingdom from Africa, her mother had planted it in her head that there was only one thing she had that she could ever be proud of and people would be proud of her for. Her chastity. Do not throw it away, never, my daughter. Her mother had told her. As soon as you throw it away, you lose everything that defines you as a woman and your respect dashed forever and you may not know it, but the truth is, you would have lost your self respect and dignity as a result.
She lived with her mother’s admonition until she was twenty-five and migrated to the United Kingdom through an auntie who promised to help her only to leave her alone to carry her cross because it was the custom in the United Kingdom according to her since she herself walked that road once; that she was old enough to look after herself, and moreover, she had her beauty to be grateful for and to take advantage of that would profit either way to help the men in the United Kingdom to quench their loneliness and be able to take care of herself from the proceed of that service rendered. But that road-though she was not one to criticise-was one she would never ride.
There were times when she had had to ask herself if she stood a chance with her conviction or the conviction of her mother in a world that had gone morally bankrupt where chastity was regarded as a punishable crime melted by the loneliness she was now subjected. Many a time she would have given in to the many temptations that that dangle their dirty claws at her, but those words from her mother would not stop their echoes in her ears. Chastity pays, the only time it does not pay is when one is in a hurry. Be patient and surely you will reap the fruit. Those words, their echoes. And their pains.
She was now thirty, thrown out of her house when she could not pay her rent, turned down by the generosity of the state because she did not qualify for any such generosities and now she was in the cold with only just two pounds ninety-nine pence; when would she have to reap that fruit her mother spoke to her about? Patience must be a vice, she thought, but she was prepared to be virtuous despite all the apparent difficulty.
She breathed down and looked in the direction of the children who had defiled the police officer’s order that they should be cautious while they played, smiled and soon drifted into sleep in the cold. She shivered in the cold and there were tears in her eyes even as she slept. Perhaps she did not know that she was in the cold or perhaps she had just gone to the point of madness where to climb down that mental rope was impossible. Or was it the destiny of what was to come- the fruit of her long patience?
Passers-by walked passed. Some did not bother to look in her direction while others who bothered only felt pity for her and that was how far it got, to them she was just another human being who had lost it and if she had, she should be the responsibility of the government and its good or bad politics. Who needs their two-face pity!
A few meters from where she slept, there was a passer-by who did not just walk away or looked in her direction without a place in his conscience to be pricked and stirred. He stopped, walked closer and continued to stare at her. Something told him to leave that he might just have walked himself into trouble. He smiled at the thought and funingly too, because the odds were too wide that he would ever land himself in trouble against hers. He just stood there and watched. He fought the temptation to go to her and tap her on her shoulder.
He knew the human being on that chair, folded to generate heat from her own body to drive away the cold was a familiar story he had had to deal with for the past eight years as a humanitarian who works for the Rotary Society. If this was the case he had been used to over the years-which he was certain it was-he would stop him to do his job. He walked much closer.
As if she felt the presence of somebody closer to her, she opened her eyes and tried to clear her vision to see what she thought was a male figure who stood rather too close to her now for her comfort. She sat up. She wrapped herself round her arms. She still shivered and dry tears were on her face.
“I am suffering!” She burst oblivious to why she had to even though the figure in front of her had not yet registered on her blurred vision.
“I know.” the stranger said and came closer to her after the encouragement of her outburst.
“Do not come near me!” she burst out again and withdrew further into the chair.
“I want to help.”
“You cannot help me.”
“Perhaps my little help could get you out of this cold. At least this little if you would allow me to, you are indeed suffering and I want to stretch my hands to you!”
“I am not in the cold.” she said and shivered forcefully this time.
“Yes, you are not, but you are shivering; let me take you out of this place to somewhere warm.
“Do I call the police?”
“Alright, I will not call the police or anybody if you would allow me to handle this. I am a humanitarian and I work for the Rotary Society. You do not have to worry about who I am or where I work, you need to get out of this cold, my dear. Let me help, it will do both of us a hell of good. Me especially.”
“You?” she looked into his eyes for the first time. Despite her state of mind and health, she knew those eyes were pure and goodness came out of them like a violent fire that wanted to consume the world of evil. The eyes were deep green and pure white. And calm with an invitation to his peaceful world.
“Yes, me, “the Rotarian smiled. “I do what I consider good and it makes me a better person and a happy person. Should I?” he put his hand forward. She did not give him hers, instead she stood up. He put his hand in his pocket and brought out an old fashioned Nokia phone. “I am going to put a call to one of those nurses or social workers…gosh, you are a wreck and you need all the help in the world!”
“No!” she exclaimed. “God will help me!”
“No? Lord God, you look pathetic and unwell! I might just be that God.” He said with intent of a joke.”You just might fall dead!”
“I am still alive. I will always be alive.”
He smiled assuringly. “I believe you; anybody who can sleep in this cold and can still say she is alive must have the eternal gift of life. I am not a nurse or a social worker if you must always be alive.”
“A humanitarian, I thought you said.” She managed a smile.
“And not God.” He said and returned the smile.
He turned and looked at her-not in the way of a humanitarian- and thought she was strangely beautiful. But he could not understand-but not surprised because his job had thought him many things, that people think and react differently- why she would not want to be attended to by either a nurse or for a social worker to be called upon to her case.
“There is nothing I can do for you without a nurse or a social worker, and especially if it gets out that…”
“I thought you said to do good makes you happy and a better person. And I do not look like one who would cause you any trouble, do I?” She said without any knowledge why she had to say those words, but she realised only these few minutes with him that she felt much more comfortable than she had ever been and he was not a man she should be afraid of as she had been afraid and suspicious of many other men.
“I do not think so. Alright.” He said. “But you definitely need something hot inside your body to keep you warm. I am sure life still needs you, especially to satisfy your determination to be alive always.”
“I am sure too, yes. Thank you.” the tears started to flow down again.
“To help, if you would grant me that honour, will make me a better and happy person.”
“Help me please, I need help!
They both walked away…