A woman with starving eyes reached out to me, her hands cupped an inch away from my face. All I could think of was a parallel to Oliver Twist, and how grateful I was for the car window that shielded me from this beggar. “Don’t give her money, she’s probably a crook and doesn’t deserve it,” the driver explained. An elderly woman with bugging eyes, shrunken skin and flimsy bones being accused of fraud seemed absurd; the most startling thing was that he was possibly right. However, I believe in the simple, yet neglected, obligation of being open-minded.
I was about ten years old, and being stuck in traffic was no abnormality in humid, fast-paced Bangladesh. As I waited impatiently for the driver to take me to my uncle’s house, I had nothing better to do than stare with curiosity at the many beggars on the streets. Most tapped on car windows asking for money, while others sold little trinkets made from flowers, bark, anything they could get their hands on. My favorite item for sale was Bill Clinton’s autobiography, “My Life”; hundreds of pirated copies were being distributed, and most households had a copy of it. The former president’s lavish life is probably being envied by most people here, I thought.
Eventually, this one particular begging woman gave up on our car. She went off to a “sidewalk”, or the gutter furthest from the cars, and summoned about four children, many of them with injuries and all of them emaciated. The kids held out a few bills in their grimy hands, and one by one, I watched her snatch their earnings from them, shoving them back into the heavy traffic.
My mind immediately began to wander; maybe she was their mother, and was just keeping their money together. However, even at the age of ten, my mind would tip towards the darker possibilities. I’ve heard of women kidnapping children, sending their own children to the streets; sometimes, they would even injure their own kids so they were more pitiable and ultimately, more profitable. I had never seen such horrors in person, and I still wasn’t sure that I had. I didn’t know a thing about her, and I let the flood of guilt pull me in.
Who am I, an ignorant child plucked from the other side of the world, to judge a fellow woman and her intentions? The driver’s warning was flawed, as no one is justified in deciding the value of strangers. I would not make decisions about others based on little knowledge. My life, the driver’s life, Bill Clinton’s life, the beggar’s life, and everyone else’s lives are their own to be appreciated for all its beauty and worth.
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