It had been a rare uneventful journey to work. I’d got to Bridge early, hopped into a trotro, dropped off at Ridge. No drama.
I was only a few steps away from the sanctuary of the office. My mind was in a million places. I was day dreaming again, flitting between thoughts of the past, future and the make-believe, when all of a sudden I felt a smaller hand grab mine. Looking down, I saw this cute little girl, one of the Chadian children. If she spoke Twi, it wasn’t evident, but then, the universal language of begging is not limited to known human linguistics. A coin exchanged hands. My good deed for the day done, I walked on with a spring in my step … till I saw who I believe was the kid’s father sitting with his legs crossed on the sidewalk sipping tea while he loaded credit onto his phone. I was boiling hotter than his kettle.
Too many times I’ve been taken in. Good intentioned, maybe, but surely, I’m being swindled on a daily basis! I don’t mean to look down on how the underprivileged get their daily bread, but I just can’t help feeling rather dumb sometimes.
I’ve heard all sorts of tales over the years.
There was the guy who stopped me just outside a fast food joint, said he was stranded. He had the saddest look. They always have some far-flung place that they’re headed to – the further the better –and they came to see some brother, and he wasn’t around, and … you get the picture. This guy said he didn’t want my money. (WHAT!) Yep, he was adamant about it. Said I should stand with him and wait for the trotro headed where he was going, pay the mate and go my way. Surely, he wasn’t serious. Stand with him for what? I handed him a note and wished him a nice life. It took me the best part of two days to figure out that that was the scam. Who wanted to wait with a total stranger just to pay his fare? Some weeks later, I met him again … with the same sales pitch. That’s me walking on.
It’s a career. It’s an art to be learnt, and each has carved their own niche. One guy came up to a trotro and made his presentation in flawless Queen’s English. I kid you not. It worked. He made me part with a coin. Ka-ching!
One guy would rather beg than be healed. He walked up unknowingly to an eye doctor in traffic and was begging for alms. Obviously, he was no biblical Blind Bartimius, ‘cos one look from the doctor and she had diagnosed his problem. There was hope for him. Hooray! She gave him her card and a note, and asked him to come see her. He’d got an appointment in the streets! That’s right, he never showed. Why see properly while you can beg? He was back the next day.
Years ago I met another who had a whole song to go along with his appeal for funds. “Hu me mmobo, na me ye mmobo …” (Have pity on me, because I am pitiful). For real?! You wonder why he doesn’t put his creativity to better use. The person next to him was asking for money to buy koko. He still is. By now, he should have a lifetime’s supply.
Another dude, after I’d waved him off, challenged me to give him a reason why I wouldn’t give him money. I stared on stunned. I should just have told him to buzz off, but he clearly wasn’t going to leave without a fight. He was very comfortable to debate. In the end, I got him closer to his daily financial target. Ka-ching!
I heard these folks are pretty rich. Mansions, cars, kids abroad. But then again, it’s probably all rumour. After all, how much can one make in coins, right? (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)
Two events, though, softened my stance towards people who begged for help. The first was in Kumasi when I was a broke university student. I realized that the trip from Kejetia to Tech was ¢400 (a measly 4 Pesewas) more than I had. I couldn’t bear the indignity of asking the mate for mercy (I could already hear him in his moment of glory, “These university too-know people, they don’t have money blah blah blah.” He’d have a field day at my expense). I turned to my right and swallowed the lump that was in my throat. I told the lady sat next to me that I needed a bail-out. I’m surprised she could hear me, ‘cos I was so ashamed that I could barely speak.
However, the second one carries the cake; my biggest embarrassment to date. But to cut a long narrative short – and these are all the details I can give – very late one night, I held a half-gallon of petrol around the University of Ghana, wet from the drizzle, and red-faced with shame, asking passers-by for help to take a taxi to the spot where the car I was driving had left me marooned. Just like that. I told all those I approached how embarrassed I was to be doing this … and looking back, that sounds so much like the way all these men scattered around Accra start. It was a long painful walk back to the car.
However, I changed my mind again, and I’m now a regular old scrooge. It was after an encounter around Circle. This young man was frantic and distraught. He begged, “Brother, please help me. I can’t believe this; I’ve just been picked. I’m a student at Legon, and I need to go back, please …” My mind went back to my own date with disgrace when nobody helped me. I would make the difference in his life. No more would he have to bear the humiliation of begging to go back to school. The transaction was made. He thanked me profusely and went his way. Three months later, he was picked again and walked up to me, frantic and distraught, and begged, “Brother, please help me. I can’t believe this; I’ve just been picked. I’m a …” I could’ve shot the bloke. “Too bad, buddy, you’re on your own.”
Too many times I’ve been the fool. Not anymore. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to discern the conmen from those honestly in need, so, what do I do when I see a beggar these days on my daily commute? Walk on, walk on …