Let me tell you a stories of 3 beggars I’ve encountered in the past few months.
Him, I met on a Sunday night as I was leaving the office. He was a young kid, maybe 9-10, very frail but very energetic. He quickly swooped by my side and said “Please, hear me.” I was partially impressed by the fact that he’d spoken English, but more impressed that he’d managed to walk faster than me. I mean, I’m a pretty fast walker. Impressions aside, I’ve had terrible experiences with beggars, so I gave him bland look and said “What?”
He pulled himself together and began reciting the English words “I don’t want money. I just want food.” as though he had struggled to memorize them. He repeated this twice and the third time he added “for my baby.” My jaw nearly dropped, but before gravity could effect itself he said “Sister.” He then pointed off into a pocket in the wall between a parking garage and a small shop where an older looking lady was tucked in, comatose, cradling a frail infant.
I walked into the supermarket with him. He seemed to know what the baby could eat and he was also targeting what would last longest. He selected some unga and, to my great surprise, some formula. I had to eventually ask where he had learned about it. Not to be crude, but come on; how many street kids would go straight for the Cerelac like “This is the good stuff.” He said a white woman had bought it for the baby a week or so ago. As we stood in the queue to pay for these things, I could see him salivating staring at the shiny wrapped candies and chocolates sitting there teasing his hunger. I could feel – not hear – his stomach grumble. I eventually picked 2 up – one for myself, clearly – and he said ‘No’ and put them back on the rack. The boy then went and got more baby food instead. I had to stare and think “I wish I was half the man this kid is.”
Beggar # 2
This guy, I see everyday. And if you walk between the Laico Regency and Barclays Plaza while heading towards Alliance Francaise, you’ve seen him too. He sits there and will…well, beg. I mean, really beg. High-pitched, whining, musical voice and all. “Baba, baaabaaa, baaaaabaaaaa…” if you’re a man, and “Mama, maaamaaa, maaaaaaamaaaaa…” if you’re of the fairer gender. He’s obviously handicapped in some sort of way, and that Monday, as I began walking down that backroad, I swore to not only give him something, but to talk to him briefly. While I was a good few metres away, a lady leaned towards him while digging in her purse; she blessed him with a stiff 50/= note. My eyebrow popped up. I tucked my humble 10/= offering back into my pocket and stood still to watch the action. Right then, I heard a loud beep that I assumed came from the lady. But she was more shocked than I was. In fact, she looked angry. Or rather, she was looking angrily. She stood slowly and stared at the man who stared back at her, silent.
She stayed locked in a staring contest with him but as soon as she was upright, he was back at it. “Mamaaa, maaaamaaa, maaaamaaa..” as another lady passed him. I was now too curious to give this guy anything, so I maintained my distance. As soon as passers by had stopped providing the beggar with ample targets, and the angry lady was out of sight, he quickly whipped out a cellphone and began SMS’ing. He then saw someone coming from a distance – me – tucked it under his thigh and began musically begging again. I told him to give me his number and that I would send him money to his phone. He considered it and then looked away, denying he had a phone.
This guy trumps the previous two as far as creativity is concerned. This dude is of the same school of
thought thug as those conmen who walk up to you and tell you some sad story about how they don’t have bus fare to go back home to Nyanyuki, and yet you see them around GPO every damn day. But this guy was slick…and vindictive.
He must’ve been in his late teens. I spotted him as I was waiting for someone to materialize near Jeevanjee Gardens. He came out of the KenChic and began walking toward a bunch of ladies emerging from Steers. He bumped into them and then continued on his way. When he got close to the end of the street, he began yelling out “Ay!!” repeatedly and then darted off around the corner chasing some street kids. The ladies heard him, but once he disappeared around the bend, they turned and continued on their way.
A few seconds later, he emerged from the corner triumphantly holding a purse and a cellphone high in the air, jogging towards the ladies. He screamed until he got their attention. One of them immediately began shuffling through her handbag, realizing those were her affairs in his clutch. He had a huge smile on his face saying that he’d caught a street kid with them; explaining that they must have been lifted as the ladies walked around carelessly. She was ever so grateful, although her purse had been ripped and gave this guy the few remaining coins out of her retrieved purse. One of the other ladies gave him a note. All were grateful. They parted ways and our thug walked away, Scott Free.
Later that day, I ran into the same guy on the same road begging a group of gents for bus fare as they walked into Steers. They all said no. He watched what table they went to and then retreated to his corner near KenChic. Waiting. The street kids from earlier also emerged and began loitering near the corner. Waiting as well. This was the most slyly orchestrated of tactics. Give me money, or I’ll make you give it. And it worked. I had to wonder, however, how much this guy made in a day.
That night, as I left the office super-late, I lazily gazed into the KenChic. To my surprise, the pickpocket and his little kids were sitting at the counter feasting. I didn’t know whether to smile or not. Then I realized that somebody had actually bought their food for them. They thanked him as he walked out with a torn laptop bag in his grasp.
Beggars are getting more and more creative because regular people seem to be stealing their job from them. Once upon a time, only guys on the street and policemen would as you to give them money. Now everybody from the guards at your house, to the cleaners in the office, to people on the bus is begging. It’s really quite infuriating. This has in turn led beggars to get creative. Some do it out of dire need – theirs and their loved ones, some take full advantage of their disadvantaged appearance, and some take morality into their own hands…and then give it back to you. The rest just beg. After all, it is our favorite pastime.