My name is Aminat and I understand only a few things. I understand that I have to wear a ‘sad look’ to every figure that passes by me and that i have to hold on with a firm grip to their hems so they can bless my hands before I let go.
I hear you people call it ‘begging’. Call it what you will, I do not understand it that way. I understand that not all of these people blesses my hands. Some sight me afar on my tattered clothing and give a wide berth, some shake their heads vigorously at me when I
come close and they move on even though I cling to them like a gnat.
Some pretend not to see or hear me, some even stone me with the ‘blessing’ and then, there are some that scares me; they shout at me, they are ready to bounce and tear me apart if I so much as take a step towards their direction.
This I understand.
Sometimes, I stand in the scorching sun for hours setting the sole of my bare feet on fire. I stand in the rain and I am soaked to my skin, my teeth chatters afterwards and I shake uncontrollably like a leaf. This I also understand.
I am made to follow my withered uncle who is blind. He holds on to my shoulders with a bowl in his hands and a long stick to hold his frame. I lead him through the big city sprawled before my eyes, through market squares, through shops, through the busy streets, through alleyways, through places I can become lost and I do all these for the ‘blessing’ and I understand it.
I also understand that because i am a little girl, people give me more of the blessing, people give me a second look when I wrap my tiny hands around their big arms. Kabiru, my half-brother, says he gets less of the ‘blessing’, he says no matter how much he tries, he is often chased away, he is often given the wide berth and often ignored. He doesn’t understand it but I do.
I understand all these because of what it stands for. This ‘understanding’ gives me food; it prevents the pangs of hunger from hitting me hard. This understanding makes Baba Musa happy, he is so much excited when the blessing is plenty. On such occasions, Mother cooks elaborate and I get to munch to my satisfaction. Otherwise, Baba becomes sour and angry like an active volcano. He becomes like a roaring lion seeking to devour Mother and my older mothers and it un-nerves me. Mother cries whenever he erupts like a volcano and it makes me sad, it makes me cry too.
I feel afraid because of this ‘little’ understanding sometimes. I feel trapped for a little girl of my age. I try to understand more than this little understanding that I know but i find myself continually lost in my perplexity.
I get to see men and women attired in the nicest clothes. Their children, little girls like me are adorned like a princess. They walk majestically and wear a cocky smile that rocks me from my feet when I see them. I do not understand this.
Exotic cars shoots past me like a bullet. I see them in various colours like a rainbow. Some are small and some are gigantic and they are always beautiful. I sometimes stand before them when they pause in their tracks waiting for that man, waiting for that woman sitting regally in them to bless my small hands thrust before their eyes.
I see these things and I like them; I want them. I see these people and I want to be like them. I love the names given to these things, I love the names given to what these people do.
Kabiru would look nice in a ‘suit’. He would make a fine ‘doctor’. He has this uncanny knack for treating my small wounds and bruises whenever I get one; I often wonder how he does it.
Fatima my elder sister ‘sings’ like an ‘angel’. Her voice is so melodious that when I hear it, it calms my fears, it dries my tears and it lulls me to sleep.
Me? I want to talk to people over the ‘Radio’. I love the voice of the lady that talks to people from that black box. Kabiru said she tells the ‘news’ to people. I do not understand that but I love the confidence in her voice, the way she seems so sure of what she is saying; she sounds like someone that isn’t confused.
I want things. I love things. Kabiru probably want a whole lot more than what I want. Fatima may also do too. But I don’t ‘understand’ this. I don’t understand why I can’t have them, why these people aren’t me, why I can’t drive that exotic car I so much love.
Whenever you see me, do not frown or give me the wide berth. Do not see me as the ‘beggar girl’ you claim me to be.
Rather, see me as the little girl who understand so little. See me as a little girl that is limited by this little understanding.
This understanding may stick me here forever. I am scared of it when it crosses my mind. I do not want to end up like Mother.
Fatima would soon be like her; I often see the Strange Man that comes to visit Baba Musa, I do not like the way his eyes rests on Fatima. They seem like a patient predator bidding its time to bounce on its prey.
Kabiru is not left out. He too is to become a servant to the Strange Man; to become one of his many boys who herds his cattles. Kabiru hates him. He told me he wanted to run away when Baba Musa told him about his decisions. He doesn’t tell me about his plans to escape anymore, maybe he understands it.
You see, I fear everyday that I may never understand beyond this little understanding and that is why I cry to you.
Help me to understand so I can become like the little princesses that I see everyday. Can you help the ‘beggar girl’ as you call me?.