Young, strong and cap-in-hand

It seemed to confront him everywhere he went that day; either en route a location or at the destination .

At the ATM, he noticed the absence of the expected queues as he manoeuvered into a suitable parking spot.Two people waited their turns.

Parked to the right was a car with its bonnet opened and its owner, a woman, leaning on it. Not part of the money- withdrawing category, it was obvious what had happened to her car.

The sparse gathering made it easy to notice the oddity amongst them. A woman – youngish, agile, alert – with a baby strapped to her back. Odd because she seemed to be loitering. Neither coming nor going. Just there, like an indecision.

He thought nothing of her as he headed towards an unoccupied machine, but noticed from the periphery of his vision as she suddenly accompanied the man who had just vacated the space he was about to use.

Minutes after he was through with his business, the lady appeared again; this time by his side as he made to re -enter his car. The leaning lady by the car was witness as he pointedly ignored the one by his door. By now, he had deduced why she hadn’t quite fit into the scene, why she stood out.

And she was bold about it as her fingers, firmly wrapped about the door handle, prevented him from closing the door behind him, requesting (no, demanding) for a minute of his time (in grammatically correct sentences to his observation).

‘I don’t have a minute.’ He told her evenly before shutting the door and kicking the engine to life.

There was a church right next to the ATM; how about she approached its members and plead her case? He thought as he slowly reversed onto the road. And as for lady leaner, she could save her disapproving stare for someone who cared. Or better still, proffer help to her fellow woman.

At the bakery, the young man who accosted (for want of a better word) him was brash and arrogant about it. ‘Gimme money make I chop!’ Like he’d saved some of his with Dele a while ago, and was merely requesting for that which was rightfully his.

Dele didn’t deign him with a reply, or a glance. It wasn’t worth the effort. This second encounter had the hairs on the back of his head on the rise. 

On the way to his final destination, well – tarred roads made short work of the drive until about 1000yards to go where an aberration occurred. A sandy patch housing two dangerous -looking depressions slowed his pace. He came to a halt in front of a flimsy rope that acted as a barrier.

One of the three young men, at the end of the rope, stuttered towards him, greeting in the Yoruba language. Scratch that. He hailed him loudly. ‘Baba ooo!’ 

This was not the first , second or third time he was taking this route. He knew it like the back of his hand. 

Initially, he had wondered about the bad spot. The even stretches of road before and after it. Then there it was like a sore on an otherwise smooth forehead.

By his next trip, he was certain it was no coincidence – the patch, the young men- and decided not to fund any slouchiness amongst these who had proclaimed themselves guardians of the spot. When in fact they were responsible for the continued state it was, and always would be if not stopped in their tracks.

No praise- singing or ethnic alliance was going to make him part with a single naira. And he told them that much: ‘kosi owo lowo mi ni bi yi’. Then he slowly eased his foot off the brake pad.

He didn’t begrudge their right to solicit for alms; it was their prerogative. It was the fact that so many young , agile people – men and women alike – were resorting to it out of, in his opinion, laziness. It was becoming a vocation of sorts amongst them. In less than two hours, he had come in contact with five. 

Hard work never killed anyone

The vulcanizer on his street was in his late 40s or early 50s . Yet the scrawny – looking man was at his corner,under a tree, from Sunday to Sunday fixing tyres.

The woman who sold fruits at the beginning of the street was no spring chicken either. Probably had teenage children to care for but she was exposed to the elements daily while selling her goods. 

Amongst the market women were grandparents. Some with limps, waist pains or hip issues using their last strength to eek out a living.

Then why, for heaven’s sake, were so many blessed with youth and vitality begging their own way to daily living???

If he remembered correctly, hard work still paid. And it hadn’t gone out of style. At least not yet. 

When he was growing up and helping out in his mother’s shop, she’d always warn him and his siblings: Never give money to any beggar who appeared at the shop’s entrance with his mental and physical faculties intact. Tell him to go do sort of work. Earn a living. Preserve his dignity instead of looking for handouts, that were sometimes disdainfully given. 

And that would form his response the next time some young, able-bodied person begged across his path.

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