Prose, Short Stories

“Poverty had stolen her beauty”

I could vividly recall that faithful day as I waited for my bus to depart for Sukka, a small but industrial town in O’gu, famous for its cottage industries especially shoe making. The fifteen-seat minibus was sparsely occupied and the driver wasn’t going to depart until it was full, until we begged for space, until his mental quota was achieved, and until his bills, rent, food, children school fees, were paid. Time was on my side because it was going to be a long journey. In the meantime, my eyes feasted on the vicinity, on the boisterous activities and madness of the motor park.

The poorly concreted ground was muddy and littered with empty sachets, torn nylon bags, leaves and scraps. This attracted all kinds of domestic animals, insects and flies. They feared no one. Not even the desperate-looking ticket touts and conductors. They besieged the motor park like protesting workers, scrambled for every rubbish on the ground and perched on people’s breakfast. As if the government’s economic austerity measures were robbing off on them, tired of waiting on their owners who had even less to eat.

It had rained cats and dogs the previous night. Commercial vehicles of varying degrees of roadworthiness cluttered the massive motor park. Thick dark smoke that pumped from the exhaust pipes of their running engines, polluted the atmosphere as though the clang on climate change was a mystic sound gonged by sleep-deprived scientists. From the mass of passengers alighting and boarding vehicles, I imagined an exodus of refugees fleeing carnage of their cities, towns and villages perpetuated by senseless government forces firing sporadically at opposition militias. Ticket touts, like ravaging wolves, pounced on potential passengers as if the motor park was their birthright. As if it was hereditary, as if they were lords. With impunity they hustled for ticket sales mindless of their harassing strategies like dragging passengers on their cloths to listen to them. While some conductors loaded their vehicles with luggage, others argued with passengers. They argued about the fare, about the increased fuel price, about stubborn women, about the government, about religion, lazy men, “children of nowadays”, about armed bandits terrorizing motorists and about the inefficiencies of the security forces protecting them.

There were more beggars than the numerous rickety buses. Some were blind, lame, deaf and dumb. Some begged like a Prime Minister fighting for his political life. While other begged with walking sticks, from wheelbarrows and from the muddy ground. If there was an academy of hawkers, I thought the motor park was one. They hawked their tray and wheelbarrow-laden goods as if there was no tomorrow. As if tomorrow was a dream, and as though the certainty of waking up tomorrow was a figment of their imaginations. They hawked with all their hearts and strength.

I saw a man answering the call of nature on the boundary of a mammoth heap of rubbish. It was as high as the length of three men standing on one another. It was the motor park’s waste depot. He was in haste. The trajectory of his urine dangled to and fro. A bus was honing furiously. The conductor was cursing and swearing. I think his bus was about to depart without him. Many others approached to answer theirs too. I think the women went behind the heap.

Within the madness of the motor park, there she was, sitting on the muddy ground with her baby sucking her saggy breast. She was calm and though she wasn’t physically begging, her demeanor and the wretchedness of her cloths, hair, body and the baby made her look like a beggar. She didn’t appear to possess the strength of a ticket tout, or that of a conductor, or of other beggars or any of those ubiquitous hawkers. It seemed her natural beauty had gone, evaporated by the hardship written all over her face. The sight of her broke my heart because she wasn’t just poor her eyes silently cried for help. Her gaze was lost in the madness of the motor park. It appeared to me that money wasn’t her major problem. However, one thing was sure, she needed love. I could only imagine her story.

I imagined she once dreamed a dream, to shine and to be somebody. To be beautiful, adored and cherished. To marry, have a family and to be fulfilled in life. Like a thief, poverty had stolen her dreams, her joy and her self-esteem. It disrespected her. It dishonoured her. A hen or a tuber of yam looked more valuable than her.

She was poor, and it amazed me how poverty had clothed her. It had stolen her voice, her rights and her decency. As I looked into her eyes, imagining her story I could only imagine regrets, pain and “what if”. I travelled through her deep thoughts in my imagination and almost lost my way back.

Everybody saw her wrapped on the muddy ground like a snail – police officers, ticket touts, conductors, drivers, hawkers and motor park officials. But they saw through her. It appeared they had bigger issues to worry about.

Through her eyes I imagined seeing twenty eagle eyes closely watching her. Waiting for the dark night to veil the day. It was their cover. Turn by turn. There was no rush. She was their property. Their pleasure. Poverty had stolen her rights, her voice and her privacy.

If only she was a politician, if only she was a Hollywood superstar, if only a celebrity could adopt her son, if only her son could live in a white house, things might have been different. Poverty had stolen her beauty.

Nevertheless, in her wretchedness, I saw hope – the human essence that things can change.

© Nonso Chukwunonye (June 2009)

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85 thoughts on ““Poverty had stolen her beauty”

  1. Pingback: Sunshine | Part of Living in the Sky Poetry Collections

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    No. 1 I love the title of this post: excellent.

    Stunning, vivid, eloquent writing. This is just so well written. I loved this. Enormous kudos to you, your observations, detailed, intimate, real.

  3. All I can say is WOW to this masterpiece. I’m very glad I broke my routine to do the same here, I would have missed out on this gold mine. Looking forward to more of your updates also let me know if there’s anything you’ll need to make this go viral.

  4. I know by your writing that this is the truth, but I also know by the experience that this is an experience that has happened to me. As a man, I see the beauty of women, it is selfish and ugly on my part to see something different in these women, who as you say: “It seemed her natural beauty had gone, evaporated by the hardship written all over her face” and not to think also of women, in general or anyone for that matter, who have been taken hostage by being poor. I know as the economy restructures the haves and the have-nots that many women are being driven to this place of dependency and I actually think it is intentional or a byproduct of Capitalism. Capitalism reaches for hierarchy. It says that the strong survive and the weak must perish. It honors meritocracy and chooses only the best and brightest, who fit the program. Beauty itself becomes a commodity to be bought and traded. Those in power cannot rely on a natural attraction. They have to alter the fabric of life so that all woman are drawn to the one who can take care of them. As the rich-poor gap widens, less and less men will have that capacity. We stand on the sidelines feeling hopeless to offer our care because we know it isn’t natural that our financial stability puts us in this position. Rather, she should be safe on her own.

    Anyway, I know these moments, where I see someone I am deeply attracted to, but she is on the street and it appears that my motivations are impure. I want to help her but I dare not. I imagine so many scenarios. And so, I don’t want to be put in that situation. I want her to be safe and able to make her own choices, not forced by circumstances to take someone like me.

    I know this story and I hate that it is true.

    • Thank you Mario for your comment. I believe that there are more than enough resources to sustain every human being on earth. Printing more money is not the solution. Increasing taxes is neither the solution. Economic and social crises are artificial. They are fabricated by the special interests of few people, the mismanagement of resources, ineffective leadership and bad governance. We should continue to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.

    • Wow! Thank you Vibha! Your review of my writing style is wonderful. While observing people, things or events we normally see things from our own perspective. However, in my writings i try to imagine the perspective of the world (around the object of observation) and the imaginations of the object of observation.

    • Thank you Jonathan for reblogging my prose. I appreciate it. That’s life. Regardless of what we go through in life we still want to live on. We still believe that things can get better – hope. And things do eventually get better if we persevere.

  5. adelemiranda says:

    Its all to sad and too true, so many people in this world are struggling to keep their heads above the poverty line. Even within Australia many families have suffered great loses in recent years. Of course this doesn’t compare to the standards of that people live o/s. I really hope for world wide equality.
    Your story brings tears and realisation.

  6. This made me think of a Brazilian proverb “Não tem mulher feia, só tem mulher sem dinheiro.” (There are no ugly women, just women without money) The lack of money really takes away power, takes away rights even! Nice piece. Abraços.

  7. Thank you for the glimpse into the heart of God as you relate things about her that the natural man would not see. Despite the surroundings and her circumstances, you’ve presented her as a woman who has value. That’s a gift.

    Thanks for sharing this story.
    \o/
    Praising Jesus who is love!

  8. That is so beautifully written. I have seen so many women like that during my 4 months in India. The children and young people are so beautiful and handsome, but the old people have the hardships of life etched forever on their faces. And people do seem not to “see” them, the least among us. I think that “not being seen” must be so terrible. You are a magnificent writer! Namaste…..Anne

    • Hello Anne, thanks for your comment. I like your article on the caste system. I will study more about it. Indeed, hardship and poverty deprives many of their basic rights. Even though there is enough for everyone. And few people really care for the disadvantaged because most people think their own issues need more attention. They think “what about me”. We should do whatever we can to help those in our world no matter how small the gesture is. Pranamasana

  9. You actually break the barrier of failing to get across to your reader while trying to paint the typical life of an African fellow…. Love your short story and I sure will be looking forward for more of it. Have a nice day.

  10. Very beautifully written and provocative story. We live in a very rural town in Indiana but even here we have the homeless. They do not, however, appear to stand out – maybe because we choose to ignore them and to not see.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and for following me. I’m happy to return the favor. I look forward to more of your writing!

  11. Thank you for following my work, and let me say yours is beautiful, powerful, moving. It takes a poetic mind to write such brilliant prose. I couldn’t find your poetry but again, so glad to have found you!

    • Thank you for reblogging my prose.

      “Waiting for the dark night to veil the day. It was their cover. Turn by turn. There was no rush. She was their property. Their pleasure. Poverty had stolen her rights, her voice.”

  12. Miss Kofo says:

    Hello Nonso, lovely story! I like the way you captured the image of the lady and how you expressed what you saw in her! Keep up the good work, i look forward to reading your stories!

  13. Brieuse Bernhard Piers-Gûdmönd says:

    Thanks for visiting my stories and poems. You have powerful observation skills. Thanks for the writing.

    • Thanks Vashti. No matter where we live, whatever the condition, whether we are responsible for the choices and decisions or not, there is always hope. Things can always get better.

    • Thanks JO. I thought i had replied to your comment. This was an experience I had during my university days. I still remember that day. Nevertheless, my writings are inspired by Chinua Achebe and Ben Okri. Your blog is interesting. Australia is beautiful. I hope to visit someday.

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