I stop at a red light on a hot summer afternoon with other shining boxes and see two young beggars girls, 11 or 12 years old each, making the rounds. One comes up to me and begs for change. I hold my gaze on the road ahead and shake my head. I don’t like giving money to beggars as a general rule, simply because it’s the laziest thing an able-bodied person could do for livelihood. She walks away. The other, clearly the more enterprising of the two, walks briskly from car to car with a bottle of water and a wiper, performing an unsolicited cleaning of the windscreen. She approaches the car directly ahead of me and cleans its screen – and through the reciprocity law the driver is compelled to hand her some money which she promptly snatches and continues moving (the reciprocity law: once a gift has been recieved, the recipient feels a sense of obligation to repay the gift giver somehow). It was refreshing to see; a little girl was using a principle of human psychology which she was probably consciously unaware of. I watch her as as I wait for the light to turn.
She then moves on to the next car, a white Suzuki Mehran filled with boisterous, laughing teens, and begins cleaning the windshield. The driver, a skinny boy with big oily hair of 18 or 19, tells her to stop many times. He keeps shrugging at his friends and shaking his head with vigor, clearly adamant not to pay her. I was interested to see how this would play out, whether he would just drive off having recieved a free windshield wash from someone worse off than he was, or would he fight his ego and give in to the reciprocity rule?
Neither. He lets his reptile brain take over. The girl is on the other side of the Mehran now, out of my sight, probably cleaning away. The kid then blares a long, petulant honk and the Mehran abruptly lurches forward a couple of feet. Then silence. The kids in the car who were laughing and talking a moment ago are quiet, all of them staring at the little girl who I still can’t see. Eventually she comes out from behind the car – limping, shuffling, her face a silent scream, she goes over to the divider and sits down and begins to cry. She tenderly removes her curled up right foot from a tattered slipper. He had run over her foot.
The light turns green at this point, and the Mehran darts ahead. None of the passengers are talking still except for the driver, who is trying to play it cool and chatter his guilt away. I am livid, consumed with rage and confusion and injustice, and consider chasing the car down and doing to that scrawny asshole what he did to this girl. I’m forced to move because of honking fellows behind me, so instead I take a U-turn, then another, till I’m back at the same light. By now it has turned red again, and I get there just in time to see the little girl wipe the tears from her eyes, dust herself, put her chappal back on, and get back up for round two. What a rockstar. This time she is more cautious – she asks the driver in front of me before beginning the cleansing. The lesson has been learned; people are simply too fucking unpredictable.
I make eye contact and call her over and hand her some money. Her eyes are still watery. She takes it unceremoniously and walks away. As she passes the other girl she points to my car and whispers something, clearly having to do with my misguided benevolence, because the other girl darts over and starts begging again. I refuse this one again. The rockstar got money because she needed something positive from the day. She got money because I needed something positive from the day. This one is just another beggar.
And that’s where I leave her as I drive off. She proved in two minutes with her enterprise and her courage that she was a cut above the rest. And she isn’t the only one; there is a silent yet unimaginably massive throng of similar rockstars who are bogged down by nothing more than the incessant demands of poverty, their lives a sum total of their struggle for one more meal and one more day. It blows my mind to think about, as I sit here in my air-conditioned room with high speed internet and endless opportunities. It was simply a roll of the dice that put me here and her out there.
So each time I start fretting over my goofy life ‘problems’, each time something weighs on me which really shouldn’t, each time I give undue attention to a situation or issue which is entirely undeserving, I think back to that 11 year old girl’s badassery. And that never fails to set me right.