He sat there on the ground with clothes as dark as tar, torn, smelly and with a face darkened by filth. You could smell him from across the street. I never knew his name, I never bothered to ask. I called him Jamo in my mind. For the last 5 years daily as I went to work in the morning I would watch Jamo peel himself off the cardboard box on the floor that leaned against the branded wall.
His routine was the same, he would rock himself up and sit legs crossed and clasp his hands together and shake them, he would yawn and shake his head. And then raise his arms high above his head and yawn again and stretch straight up, side to side and then steadily arise. He would stretch from side to side and let out one final grand yawn and then smack his lips together and yell, “Wapi pesa?” Where’s the money?
I would deliberately walk slowly to see who he would startle each day when he yelled that statement. Jamo had a silky deep base of a voice, very sexy voice. There was something attractive about him that I could never put my hand on. I never knew why I cared so much for his routine, or was curious as to why he got a haircut when he did. In some way, I was engaged in this man’s life.
After the usual morning startle, and my giggle at people’s reactions, I would speed up to the bus stop and head to work. It normally takes about 30 minutes with the morning traffic where I would alight to see Molly. I called her that because like Jamo, I felt best to not get too close and snug to ‘them’.
Molly was pregnant. I had watched her also the past five years at the bus stop near work,she would shelter there every evening and by the time I would arrive every morning she would be folding her cardboard box, slapping the sack she used as a blanket over her hunched over shoulder and tread steadily to her next unknown destination.
Again, like Jamo, I didn’t know why I was so keen to see Molly every morning. I just stared, I never helped, I always argued that, “they are able bodied people why are they living off the street? This is Africa for crying out loud not some Western state; don’t they have relatives they could live with?” And with that I would walk away, silently thanking God that I had a job. I only ‘engaged’ with them at arms length.
The day came and went, and as usual I took the bus home, but one evening, met really horrible traffic. After an hour, a distance that normally took 15 minutes home. I arrived at the cause of the horrific snarl up. I peered through the window to the road, there was something covered in a white sheet on the road. I looked closer, I knew those gunky black hands, I knew the tears on that black sneaker, could it be? Was it? One policeman lifted the sheet to peer in again and jot something in his notebook, I saw the blood oozing out of his mouth. It was Jamo!
I immediately began to weep. I didn’t know why? Why was I moved? Did I actually care? Why didn’t I do anything to help, at least ask him his name? What was his story? My heart began to race. I was wondering what then became of Molly? Was she OK? That night I didn’t sleep at all. I was wondering what to do to help Molly. Should I go to the streets? Should I carry her breakfast? Was she safe? Was her pregnancy as a result of rape? Was I to befriend her? Did she deserve where she was? Was she a drug addict? Would she stab me? Why should I care? I couldn’t wait for dawn.