You Are No Better Than Bankrupt Drug Addicts
One day, a long time ago in India, a young girl of about twelve pawed her grubby hands at my uncle’s blue suit jacket. She was begging for money for food, her dress torn and knotted at the end, and her hair grimy. On one hip, she balanced a boy, no older than five, skinny but with round cheeks and dark, tear-stained eyes. I was also twelve years old at the time, trying to convince myself to be okay with the poverty in India, the poverty I was told we could do nothing about.
Back then, I took piano and tennis and singing lessons. I was in Calculus II, I taught algebra to students years older than me, and I researched in astronomy at the community college I took classes in. My uncle was proud of me because I was everything. It was two years before I’d work at CERN and three years before I’d go to UC Berkeley on a full merit scholarship.
I was everything and she was nothing.
But still, she was human. So I looked at her and she looked at me, her hand gesturing back and forth from her mouth frantically. She could spot wealth. She knew a few rupees — a few thousand rupees — would have meant nothing to us. I thought we’d give her something. But my uncle shoved her off his arm and told her to scram.
“Don’t touch me,” he spat.
I asked him later and he said that if we gave any one of them money, the poor would flock in like a pack of crows and we’d never get our shopping done. It was probably karma because she’d done something wrong in her last life. I’d understand when I was older.
But it’s been fifteen years and I remember it clearly because it was bullshit. It’s the bullshit the world runs on. That we earn our privilege. That those who have less are somehow worse. That our ability to sleep at night is more important than admitting we’ve let things get this unfair.
At the time, fifteen years ago, I studied and I researched and I read books in my free time. I did not take care of anyone because I was a child and had no need to. The most I did was argue with my family about racism and sexism.
She, on the other hand, was supporting her younger brother. Maybe they were orphaned. Maybe the whole family could…