Determination – Part 2
By Thiyam Ningol, Dr. Nalini
She had never been in Dar es Salaam. She arrived at night. She did not know where to go. Her cousin worked in a cloth factory. She had forgotten the name of the factory. She was loitering around near the bus stand with Arnold on her back and a small bundle of cloth on her head. The glittering lights from the shops made her realize that she was in a big city.
As darkness started, the type of people in the streets changed. Small groups of dirty looking people, shabbily dressed and without manners started filling up the streets. She had to pass the night anyhow. She joined one group and laid down her bundle and was about to sit down on the space available when somebody yelled at her from the corner “that’s my place. Don’t even dare to stand near, I will kill you.”
Grace was shocked. It was an open place on the wide roadside and someone claiming to be his. Anyway she had come to the city to live and let Arnold live, not to die and kill Arnold. She moved away from there. She was exhausted and hungry. She didn’t even know where and when she could get food. As she had not been breast feeding Arnold for a long time, her breast milk was not enough for the small baby to feel comfortable. He was crying all the time. It irritated some of the people who were trying to sleep. They chased her away. She was becoming nervous. She was afraid of going far also. Somehow, she had to stay near the people.
Someone touched her on her shoulder from behind. She got startled and screamed. She was scolded with abusive words, later was told to go and see somebody, pointing towards a huge man, seated on a broken concrete pillar. He had only one leg. His wooden leg, the prosthesis, was lying near his side. He didn’t try to conceal his invalidity. He rather felt proud to be exposing it. But he had an aura of authoritativeness. He talked with a heavy and slow but distinctive voice.
-You are new in the town? Well, even if you try to lie, it will be useless. Everything is crystal clear from your behavior. Are you a runaway young mother or chased away by your relatives? Anyway, the point is, you are welcome to be with us. But you have to follow our rules. I am the captain of our group in this stretch of street. If you become one of our groups, you will be protected but at a nominal fee. Whatever amount you earn from begging or any activity, you have to part with a percentage. Cheatings are not tolerated. Our rules are very strict. If you get pregnant and a child will be born, the community will take care of the child. You can entertain any customer you get but you are not allowed to be with the people from the other streets. You are young and beautiful. You can easily become a prey. If you will be with us, you and your child will be safe.
Grace did not follow half of what he was telling her. She only prayed for that night to pass safely. The next day would be another start. She remained quite, staring at the huge, one legged captain.
The captain opened a cellophane bag, inside there was all types of Indian cuisine-chicken biriyani, samosas, some broken kababs, all mixed. He scooped some of the mixed food with his large hand and handed over to Grace. She gobbled the food within seconds.
She was shown her corner where she could sleep and was cautioned to report back to him the next day night, at the same place and same time. She would be excused from paying the fee for 5 days; he repeated and emphasized “5 solid days.”
At dawn, everybody was woken up and told to fold whatever material they had been sleeping on and disperse from the scene.
Grace did not see the captain around.
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