When her smile came, it did rescue me from the millionth curse I had just served my phone screen. I would detach my face from a disappointing mail on my phone and look at her. Beethoven’s Sonatina in F major slowly caressing my eardrums, I would unplug my left earphone when she wouldn’t say anything. Her two hands stretched towards me and the smile lay as if plastered on her face, she said nothing yet a second look at her from top to bottom spoke the unspoken, ‘’do you have any change with you? Look, I’m hungry, I’m tired, I’m dirty, I’m everything that you’re not. Spare me some coins’’, the words that never came out of her mouth. I shook my head without thinking for a second.
And she would walk away, three years if less and maybe four if her body size betrayed her years. ‘’What was that?’’, I would ask Shem. ‘’She’s been sent, look over there, her mother’s over there,’’ he would reply pointing at a woman plump enough to raise a hoe with her little finger, sat and whose mass selfishly overflew on the bench so that she occupied it alone. It was an adjacent bench to the one we sat on, waiting for Hillary and co to descend 15 floors off KT.
She now advanced a little quickly, having spotted her next customer, a man in tuxedo. Hands stretched and face looking up at this man. She would remain in this position on the sidewalk as the huge fella shoved her out of the way. Another look at her mother on the next bench and anger now overcame pity. What drives man? Or woman in this case to such limits?
‘’If she doesn’t deliver she might not have supper this evening’’, Shem says, ‘’It’s just that, the way of the world, she’s likely to fetch a tidy sum in that manner than her mother’’.
A tidy sum.
She’s moved a couple of meters away now, and I suddenly feel afraid for her if she enters the alley that looks so welcoming at her front. She doesn’t. A young couple emerges from it, and she repeats her wordless verse of trade. I doubt they will lend her an ear, no they won’t. They would whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears so this little angel here won’t get an ear. That’s what her troubles have been reduced to in the past few minutes I have watched her pace about, in calculated steps to encounter her next customer; getting an ear. I haven’t seen her get one, save for my own when I interrupted my music and looked back at her, shook my head. I then wished I hadn’t, because at that rate I imagined the kind of beating that would descend on her that night, from the woman on the adjacent bench.
I would think of Nyaumuri’s little angels back home and suddenly feel bitter as if it was one of them I was watching face this magnitude of rejection at just four years there about. At four, she’s faced so much rejection in the past few minutes I wonder what in the world she’ll be unable to take when she’s come of age.
Hillary’s back, and the disappointment registered on their faces is testimony enough that our weekend match allowances will have to wait a little longer, perhaps into the coming week.
I recall the little girl as soon as everyone rises from the bench to leave, and she actually runs towards me. She won’t have to deceive me with a smile this time, but even if she does, I’ll still fall for the deception, to believe that she can only amount to that, that she can only stretch her hands out to strangers rather than raise it in class. I will fall for these lies, for the simple fact that they are not her lies but the woman next door’s.
I press a note into her tiny hands and her million dollar smile that looks back at me will keep the boys safe on their way back home. It’s my turn to pay fare back home this evening, but I haven’t told Hillary and co that tonight, we are walking home.