Photo Courtesy: Salem_Beliegraphy

Rashid sat by the window as his fellow passengers continued boarding the bus. It was already getting dark and his mind was far off. The smile on his face was clear even with the dimness of the lights at the crowded bus stage. He was finally heading to fulfill his dream and it was only his introverted nature that made him to not scream out of excitement. A young boy of about twelve was roaming around the bus restlessly, his lips looked so dry and his kinky hair seemed to have not touched water in ages. He finally found his way to Rashid’s window and very sadly, he extended his hand. Rashid looked at the hand for a while; debating with himself. His mother had always discouraged him to give beggars money. ‘They are just manipulative conmen‘ she would say. If someone heard her rather dis likable comments about the beggars, you would think she is just an arrogant lady with wealth and thus doesn’t know what struggle is. Totally opposite to that, Rashid’s mother had raised him singlehandedly. She worked tirelessly to ensure Rashid had a comfortable life but to this stage where Rashid was now going to university, it sounded like a miracle. She would always tell him how ugly it is for a human being to beg while they have limbs to use and a brain that is functional. It all made sense to him but even as he looked at that small hand still stretched out to him, his heart gave him a pinch.
“Shikamoo…chakula…chakula” The small untidy boy repeated the statement thrice; staring directly at Rashid.
‘I’ll just do it for today, he thought…it’s my best day anyway’ He searched in his pockets and gave him his last coins. His smile had now broadened. He felt accomplished; satisfied. He had restored humanity.

The boy was now smiling too as he moved away from the bus towards the one at the back. Rashid went back to his day dreaming as his face beamed happiness. There were just a few more passengers remaining to board before the bus would leave to Nairobi. This seemed like an unrealistic dream. Once he arrives at Nairobi, he was going to get a plane to UK for a scholarship program. ‘UK? Unbelievable!!’ he remarked to himself. Just a few days before he had given up that he will ever get to university and here he was…‘It is cause of mummy’s prayers, i’m sure’. He smiled once again and he seemed so confident that nothing; absolutely NOTHING would spoil his night.

Suddenly there was chaos from the bus behind them and some men were cursing in Kiswahili. Everyone in the bus was now peeping from their windows as a crowd formed. “Mtoto mkorofi!” someone shouted as several other people asked, “what is going on?”
Rashid stuck his head out, peeping over people’s heads. A man came out from the crowd and Rashid quickly asked, “Kuna nini?”
“Some young boy here stole a passengers wallet after he refused to help him and insulted him on his bad behaviour of begging,” he answered in kiswahili.
“Did you see the boy who stole? How does he look like?” Rashid quickly asked.
“He was a begger; a bit short. Looked really untidy,” he said with disgust.
Rashid immediately knew that it was the same boy who had come to him. He bit his lower lip hardly as he felt a cocktail of emotions. First it was rage; ‘perhaps what mummy said was right. They are just thieves and conmen at the end of the day.’ Then came the pity and guilt; ‘perhaps if I gave him enough money to eat he wouldn’t have stolen.’

Another yell interrupted him. It seemed like he was the one who had just been robbed off his wallet.
“Sasa mimi nitasafiri vipi?!” Rashid clicked. Whom is he asking that? But in Mombasa you never miss the sympathizers. A few people came in and handed him some money to take him through his journey. ‘Ironic right? He was no any much different from the beggar boy now. They both needed help and both of them had gotten money from other people. They were now equals. He definitely has no right to talk about the beggar boy anymore. Perhaps if he had helped him, all this wouldn’t have happened.’ Rashid snapped loudly. The old man seated next to him looked at him strangely, maybe wondering what this young man could be so angry about.

His phone was beeping in his pocket. He took it and glanced at the name on the screen ‘mama’…‘She must be calling to ask whether I already left.’
“Yes mama?”
“Have you left already?”
“Not yet…but about to.”
“You have to come back.”
“What do you mean?” Rashid sat upright.
“You have to come back immediately. Your father needs you…he is on his dying bed.”
“Father…which father?!” His tone rose.
“Your father… I lied to you. He is not dead.”
“Mama…what do you mean?!”
“Just come back home son. Right away.”
The phone went off. His hands were shaking now. He waited for a moment on his seat; as if comprehending the whole conversation. He took out his passport and the ticket and stared at them for a while. His dream had just been shattered. By whom? By a father he had never met. He ran his fingers through the ticket once again and cursed in a whisper. The old man turned to look at him once again, only this time it was a glare. Rashid ignored him, pulled out his bag and alighted from the bus.

He walked slowly and his shoulders weighed down. All he could see now were the blurred lights of the streets. The more he walked. the more his steps became more of a stagger. He met a few more beggars seated by the road with empty plastic containers. He opened his bag and pulled out the appetizing dinner that his mother had made him for the journey. When she first gave them to him, he was too delighted. There were several samosas, kebabs and ‘mkate wa sinia’. She had packed so many of them with the claim ‘you will stay for so long without tasting these special delicacies by your mum so make sure to eat them all’. But now it didn’t matter anymore; he was going back home and will get to eat them forever. He approached the old ladies seated by the roadside with their children and gave them the lunch box. They were now all crowding towards him and for a moment, Rashid thought they would get into a fight out of excitement for the food. This time he did not feel accomplished or even satisfied. It felt no different than throwing away the food in the dustbin…

Right ahead of him was their home. His cheeks still round in a frown, he stared at their house like it was the first time he was seeing it. Time had witnessed a lot of struggle in that house. Time was the only living proof of the mud house that was about to fall down at it’s own weight. The house was nearly swept off by rain more than once. And while everyone stayed safe in their homes from the floods, he and his mum were not saved from it. They would sit by their tiny table and float like in a boat; busy fetching the mad water from the floor and pouring it of the house. Only God knows how they survived. Only God knows how they lived through hunger and poverty for days. Rashid sighed and moved towards the open door.

Upon entering the house, he saw a few familiar faces seated next to the bed. It was a bit crowded and could barely see the faces clearly. Their living room was also their bedroom and everything they ever had. Every night he would spread some two to three cotton blankets on the floor to avoid the hard touch of the stony floor. His mother would sleep on the bed; the only bed. His eyes narrowed as he recognized his two paternal aunts and three uncles. He hadn’t seen them since he was very young. It was almost that same time when his father disappeared and his mum had told him then that his father had gone to heaven.

“What is happening?” Rashid broke the silence. He dropped his bag and took the small diminishing candle that was lit near the door. He moved closer to the bed and raised it high to see the face of a very frail, old man lying on his mother’s bed.

“I asked what is happening. Who is this?” The silence was loud. “And where is my mother?”
“My son…” the old man started.
“Rashid!” His mother made a quick entrance into the room. She was carrying some herbs which she dropped on the table before pulling Rashid outside the house.
“Rashid..my dear son…I will explain everything. Please don’t be angry. Just listen to what he has to say.”
“Why now? Just when I was about to kick off my studies. When else will I get such an opportunity?!” He said slowly yet in a firm voice.
“And when else will you get a chance to meet your father? Your dying father? He just has a few days left. Please come in…” she pulled him back inside before he could say one more word.

At the bedside, Rashid sat next to his father. They were on the same bed yet so distant. Everyone else had gone out, leaving them alone. The candle lit in a feeble way as their shadows displayed on the old curtains. The old man stretched his hand and placed it slowly on Rashid’s hand. Rashid pulled back his hand without a word but the old man was not about to give up. He held his hand again; firmly this time. As firm as his weak shaky hands would allow him.
“My son…”he started.
“Don’t start it now. Stop ‘sonning’ me. I am only listening to you because mum asked me to.”
“I…you have every right to be angry at me. I have been a bad father. And a bad husband too…but life teaches us the greatest lessons…”he stopped to cough. It was a painful cough. More of a groan.
“When I married your mother, she was that kind of woman who sacrificed her entire world to create our own small world of me, you and her. But I betrayed her. I was still young and started getting rich. Money deceived me. I remarried and left your mother. But I was still so young my son. I was very young to know that money has it’s end too… My second wife empowered me to continue building my empire. I forgot all the sacrifices your mother made to get me there. It is only after I was filthy rich when my second wife did the same thing I did to your mother. She left me. But she didn’t just leave me; she left me penniless. She made me richer than ever so that she can have the entire kingdom to herself afterwards…” he breathed loudly and Rashid could almost feel how slow his heartbeat was.

He paused a bit to catch his breath.
“And where were you all this time after she left you? Didn’t you regret? Why didn’t you come back to us?” Rashid said in a bitter tone.
“Kwa uso gani?…how could I come back to your mother after all that I had done? After hurting her so badly?…how could I face you after you already knew I was dead?…I was poor once again and nothing to offer to you two.”
“You are still poor. Why did you come back now? Today precisely?! Just when I was leaving to UK?! Do you know what it meant to me? That scholarship?!” He snapped.
“Please forgive me my son. I came back so that I can see you, see how you’ve grown and…apologize to both you and your mum. I have countable days remaining…”