Speak to me once
26 November 2017
Her hands were filthy. It seemed like the grime of a lifetime had been packed upon them. Her nails were broken and uneven and seemingly chewed upon repeatedly. Her hair was as filthy as her nails and hands and her face wore patches of filth and smears where she had attempted to cleanse it. Her outstretched hands begged for a living that was scarce to come. Sometimes she wondered whether people would give her more money if she were to be cleaner but then thought the better of it. If she were to clean herself, which would take a lot of trouble to accomplish given the lack of a stable abode, then they might simply think that she did not need the money.
She sat with her hand outstretched in front of the church every day and ostensibly holding her hand out and shaking the jug she usually left at her feet every Sunday. She had noticed that at least on Sundays she got more coins and sometimes even notes. It was as if the Sunday sermons finally reminded people of judgement day and of the need to be kind to the downtrodden whereas the rest of the days their work and other preoccupations mattered more. Sometimes on Sundays she would shuffle in after everyone had gone in for mass and sit at the back of the church listening to the sermon. While some sermons would bring tears to the eyes of the assembly, she would sit there dry-eyed, watching carefully those who let tears flow so as to insist more with them and get some coins when they were on their way out.
She did not care how she looked nor did she care what people thought of her. There was one thing that bothered her though and it was that nobody would address a word to her. It was as if by being forced to beg and looking haggard and unclean she had ceased to become a human being entitled to be part of the living, conversing human beings. She had tried once to talk to a man walking by and he had barely moved as if her voice was totally absent although he had stooped down to put a few coins in the jug in front of her. Another attempt to speak to a young woman had also gone unheard.
One Sunday on her way back to the shelter she realised that more than her lack of means and comfort, it was that human voice addressed to her that she missed the most. She felt like a ghost living in the midst of a flurry of people who hardly had the time to stop by her jug and fill it. She could hear them talk to each other but none graced her with a sentence towards her. That feeling of being a part of something bigger than just herself was what she lacked. That identification with a larger part of the population and validation as a fellow human being was what she craved for now that nobody would look upon her as equal. Her eyes brimmed with tears that blinded her. She stepped down the sidewalk.
The driver rushed out of his car to see whom he had hit. He recoiled at the sight of her bloodied dirty body sprawled at an ungainly angle on the road. Realising she was not dead he kneeled on the ground to see if he could do something. Blood was slowly leaking from her mouth and dripping to the side of her cheek. She seemed to be mumbling something so he put his ear close to her mouth. “Speak to me once”, she said. “Just talk to me like my life matters and you’re sorry”. “I am sorry”, he said. He held her hand. She smiled and closed her eyes. He felt her hand go lifeless as she slowly breathed out her last. He slowly let go of her hand as the ambulance came by to pick up her body. He wondered whether there would be someone attending her funeral and made a mental note to attend. She looked at him from behind. It felt normal now not to be looked at nor talked to.
Sahalé – Djiin (Original Mix)