He spells out his name when I give him a blank stare for the third time.
We’re standing in the middle of a busy street because he stopped me.
But every word coming out of his mouth further blurs out the world around us.
“Excuse me, Madam? Can you help me?”
He switches easily from Kiswahili to English and back. Having ascertained I can understand both.
“I need some money…for food. For me and my brother…I didn’t get a kibarua today…You can buy me food if you don’t want to give me money. Even if it’s just unga and sukuma wiki….”
Everything hits me all at once.
God, what do I do?
My mouth opens.
My brain hasn’t decided what to say.
My heart speaks instead.
“Let’s go to [the supermarket less than a 100m away].”
Well…I guess that’s what I’m doing then.
He stops short of letting out a whoop.
“You’re the first person who’s stopped.”
“Some guy even ran away from me. He called me Al-Shabab.”
Can my heart break any more?
“Our parents died in a road accident. We live in a small room in – . We don’t even have water.”
Apparently it can.
I hold my silence for a moment. I don’t believe in meaningless platitudes.
“What’s your brother’s name?”
Their names intrigue me. I get a much needed smile out of them.
“How old is he?”
“I do vibaruas at -. I really don’t like begging. Promise. I just didn’t get one today…”
Is this a con? Am I getting conned? They’re always talking about how women are more gullible than men when it comes to such things. I’d like to think I’m somewhat logical. But my heart pummeled my brain a long time ago.
“You know this is God’s money right? If you’re lying to me…”
“I’m not…Siwezi cheza na mali ya Mungu.”
I don’t know. He sounds sincere. I can’t tell for sure. Holy Spirit’s gone quiet on me. We’re outside the supermarket now. There’s no going back.
If he’s lying to me, Lord, may this money lead him running straight back to You. That’s the perfect vengeance.
His attitude is nothing like his appearance. There’s an air of pride that masks the need only evidenced by his dirty but untorn clothes. His English is schooled. The kind you pick up with a certain quality of education. His Kiswahili lilted. Like someone from Coast.
We walk up and down the aisles. An unlikely pair. Him taking a few seconds to read every poster we pass by. Me trying to steady my erratic heart.
“Which one should I get?”
When was the last time he got to choose anything?
His thick uni-brow goes up in surprise. I nod in encouragement.
“Is this okay?”
Will you pay this much? The unspoken question.
I nod again. My voice is trapped somewhere in my throat.
We have the same conversation. I’m doing the math in my head this time. Maybe I should have made a withdrawal at the bank earlier. I hope I have enough.
“Do you need anything else?”
“Maybe sugar? And rice?”
He makes me pick out the rice this time. Indirectly. He asks me which one I eat at home…then takes it.
I almost pick out the sugar too. But as it turns out that he doesn’t agree with my preference for white sugar.
The lines at the counter are a nightmare. I’m not the only restless one. His hand goes up to his face for the umpteenth time. Pinching his nose, rubbing his eyes, yet again. Like a weary old man. But he can’t be more than twenty. He hardly looks seventeen.
“Patience…” I chide gently.
…is a virtue,” he completes with a wistful smile. His tone is one of familiarity. He’s had this conversation before. With a loved one now gone?
Then I remember. His brother.
“Where is your brother?”
“With Mama -. She agrees to stay with him when I need to work or go somewhere.”
He pinches his nose again. He must be worried about overextended her kindness.
“Where do you live?”
A question I wasn’t expecting. But then again, nothing in the past hour has been expected.
I tell him.
“Will you take my brother?”
Everything in my mind comes to crashing halt. He can’t possibly be serious. Why would he want to give away the one connection to love he has? But his life is hardly ideal for him much less his young sibling.
It feels like an eternity before my mouth is working again.
But even as the words tumble out of me I’m rearranging my house in my head. Looking for all the corners I can fit a little 4 year-old boy.
“Why?” So brutally straightforward.
“I don’t have room….” A measly excuse that makes me wince as I give it. God is speaking in His silence. I can’t take either of them with me. But dear God I want to. I rearrange my house some more. This time for two.
The final tally is much less than I expected. I have more than enough. So much more.
We walk outside. Back to reality. We have our separate ways to go.
I hand him the change in my hand.
“For the sukuma wiki,” I explain. Remember?
He nods. He remembers.
What more can I do? What more can I say?
He needs more than a handout. So much more.
“I pray that God would keep you…and lead you.” My words tumble out in a hushed whisper.
Dear Jesus, please help, my heart cries out. I don’t have the power but You do. You do!
“May God bless you,” he responds.
I look into his eyes. Really look for the first time. They’re kind and gentle. For a moment it feels like I’m staring into the eyes of Jesus. And in that moment I understand why Jesus sat with the prostitutes and the tax collectors…and all the least of these.
Even the least of these carry His image.
Even the least of these can remind a Son of His Father.
Even the least of these matter.
“Amen,” I say more to myself than to him.
I still can’t bring myself to say goodbye. Instead, I give him a brave smile and turn away furiously blinking back the tears gathering in my eyes.
I want to turn back and stop him.
I want to say yes to taking his brother in. Yes to taking him.
But even in His silence God is stopping me.
There is wisdom in letting people stay where they are.
In the wilderness where they encounter God.
And my broken heart latches onto His.
Only to find it broken too.