I was returning from school, blowing big bubbles out of the Big Babol bubble gum in my mouth, trying to decide how I would spend the evening, when I felt a light tug at my knees from behind.
I turned around. It was a little boy of five or six: brown skin burnt in the sun, tattered shorts faded but dark with dirt. Black hair turning reddish; lack of protein, I remembered from biology. Swelled belly. Yep, lack of protein. He produced a small, cupped hand. “Baia, ekta taha than na!”* Dry broken voice. Parched throat: extremely thirsty. I brought out my wallet and fished for all the change; it totaled around five or six taka, I guess. Put them down into the little hand. The sheer magnitude of the offer was a glow in his eyes. Maybe his first earning of the day. Without second thought, I turned back on my way.
On second thought, a few seconds later, I turned around again. He was counting his income. A little, undernourished child: not at school, but in the streets. Not enough clothes to dress properly. No one to take care. I looked up. There was another boy, also five to six. Neatly pressed grey shorts and white shirt. A young lady, the mother perhaps, takes the school bag from the child and gives him a small chocolate bar. He throws it away. I looked to the other side of the street. Yep, ice-cream; that’s what he wants. The mother gets him a big one from the vendor. And then the chauffeur descends from the car and opens the door for the two of them. The car speeds away. A newly washed Honda: polished dazzling deep green.
I looked down on this other boy. He was staring at me. Wondering. About what, I don’t know. I took out my wallet, again. A fresh, twenty-taka note. I gave it to him. He was more confused and amazed than ever.
I turned back and returned home.
Being a citizen of this Third World country, where a majority of the population lives in abject poverty, in conditions worse than that of the boy mentioned above, I could never justify the differences between the rich and the poor. Why is life so fair to some people that they have enough money to spend on lavish ice cream and candies, while so unfair to others who can hardly eat even once a day? Why is it that some people have to sleep in the open air, on the footpaths, while others at luxurious Home Sweet Homes find it hard to decide which side of the huge, soft, bed they’ll sleep on?
I never found the answer.
A dirty little child, or an old hobbling beggar is something I never wanted to face when I go out into the streets of the city. It sets off thoughts in me. I start calculating. If the 120 million people of the country were to give one taka each, we’d have 120 million taka. That’s a lot. No, maybe only 60 million people can afford to give just a taka each. Sixty million bucks. That’s still a lot. No, why not just 5 million people give ten bucks each. 50 million taka. We could use that to feed a lot of the poor. Save some lives.
Nah, won’t work. People don’t care.
Is it just mere chance that decides whether the boy I mentioned above is not the one that goes to school and that the rich kid is not the one that begs? Is it just by a mere game of chance that some are born in marbled palaces while others are doomed to slum-life? The persistent, irritating beggar who asks you for a little money or food, do you think it is his fault that he was born to do this job?
Do we just let it go like this?
Don’t you think we could do something?
* – “Just a taka, please?” (The author is a citizen of Bangladesh, a country of the Indian subcontinent with a population of 120 million. Taka: Unit of Bangladesh currency, equivalent to approximately $0.018 at the time of writing.)