THE BEGGAR BOY
Translated by Muhammad Umar Memon
It was that time of afternoon when beggars came to the door asking for a little flour.
The usual call of the beggar echoed in the alley. The sun was oppressively hot, the air moist and heavy, and the acid of his sweat had begun to sting the beggar boy's nape and underarms. The boy, about twelve or thirteen years old, lifted the heavy sack curtain, peaked inside the door . . . and was stunned.
The girl who was kneading dough in front of him didn't move away. It pleased him to look at her, light pink and sitting on the low wooden stool. The boy was dark-skinned? his knees had nearly turned white from being down on the ground so much; and a lock of hair—a cirJcI— longer than the rest of his hair, sprouted awkwardly from the oval of his head like a sudden mushroom rising from an unsuspecting patch of grass.
The beggar boy had been calling at this door regularly for the past few days. At first, they would scold him and chase him away; later, they would throw him a paisa or two; but today" today nobody had so much as looked at him even though he had been standing at the door for quite a while.
Once again he repeated his begging call • . . to the walls.
"Who is it?" a woman asked from inside the house.
"It's the same beggar boy^" the fair-colored girl replied.
"Ask him if he is ready to embrace Islam."
"Hey, you, will you become a Muslim?"
The dark-skinned boy gawked at her briefly then moved on without caring to reply. The city was quite far. The prospect of dragging himself all the way to the city to collect his daily crumbs disheartened the boy. If only he had managed to collect some alms at this house, which fell midway between his village and the market in the city, he would have been spared the toils of a long, exhausting walk. But one does not fight over alms!
Coming on to the path, the boy thought, "What kind of people are they? What has begging got to do with religion?"
Apparently the thought of abandoning his religion was as painful to the boy as the sting of a scorpion.