The garbage man walked steadily down the empty road. It was past midnight, and the night was quiet. He wasn’t rushing, but you couldn’t exactly say that he was strolling either. His clothes were tattered and looked like they had not been washed since they were put on, but he didn’t mind, he was comfortable in them. He was dark, features hard as granite, carved by the sun and the wind and the rain. He did not care what he looked like though, it had ceased to matter a long time ago. He turned down a street, and hefted his sack a bit higher on his shoulder. He remembered the first day he’d carried this sack, his arms had started to ache after just a few minutes and he was positive that there was no way he’d ever be able to carry that sack with him, all day and every day, up and down, filling it up with the discarded treasures that were his means of sustenance. These days he barely noticed the weight, his arms had grown strong, his shoulders had started to hunch automatically and now he could go a whole day and barely notice that he was carrying a burden as it were.
The garbage man turned into a street. He was in the richer sections of Abuja, but it really didn’t mean much to him. It was a level of wealth that was simply out of his sphere of understanding; the only advantages for him were the bits and pieces that the rich threw away so casually, pieces that netted him a good amount of money and helped him add a little luxury to his life. He’d seen clothes, shoes, discarded electronics that could easily be fixed, it amazed him how people threw away perfectly good things, it was impossible to imagine that anyone could be that rich.
He turned down another side street. He had been doing this job for so long that it seemed that some of these people had become friends. He stopped at the first house. He remembered when the owner of this house had gotten married, he knew this because of the discarded food and empty drink cartons he had seen outside the house one weekend, and the discarded wrapping paper he had seen for months after that, with “Happy Married Life” written on all of them, words he had transcribed slowly and carefully by the light of the lone 60 watt bulb in his bacha house. He had also gotten a discarded blender from that period; all it needed was a new plug. He had sold it for a tidy sum.
The next house was home to a young couple. With all their money, life should have been perfect, yet he had stood in the shadows many nights, invisible to all but the watching moon, as the woman’s screams for mercy echoed round the street while her husband beat her time and time again. He had not thought it strange, the men who lived in his shanty town beat their women almost daily, it was just surprising to realise that rich men and poor men were not so different after all.
This night though, the house was silent and in darkness. He poked through the garbage bins and selected a few odds and ends he could sell. His steps quickened as he moved to the last house on this street, the reason he came by this street night after night.
He had seen her for the first time shortly after he started work, and his heart had stopped. She was driving into her gate, her skin was fresh and her laugh was careless as she spoke on the phone. She had driven so close past him that he had gotten a hint of her perfume, but to her, he was as invisible as the wind that blew the leaves off the trees.
He had started to come more often then, hoping for a glimpse of her. He went through their garbage more carefully than the other houses, hoping for hints of her. He took all the old books and magazines and pieces of paper he had discovered in her garbage and read them laboriously, fighting to remember his English lessons in the village, struggling with the words, hungry for anything that would open up her world to him. He had discovered old pictures of her, old clothes that he had carefully saved. He did not know if she was an only child, but he knew her parents were old and that she was the only child at home.
The garbage man shifted his bag as he stood outside her house, his eyes trained on the window that he knew was hers. He had been coming here for 6 years now, night after night. He knew he would never speak to her, he was no fool, but he could no less end his pointless visits than he could deny himself breath. His colleagues had returned home to bring back girls, or joined up with the women who sold food and hawked clothes near their area, but he couldn’t. She held his heart. He had stuck her pictures on his walls. He had her books by his bed. She was everything a woman could possibly be, and having seen her, the women he saw everyday seemed somewhat less than women. The garbage man wondered what would happen if she eventually got married or left home, maybe the strange spell she had cast on him could finally be broken, and he would go to the village to bring back his own wife.
Hope kept him there a little longer, but her window was dark. There would be no glimpse of her tonight. He uttered a weary little sigh as he shifted his bag again.
Under the unfeeling gaze of the watching moon, as houses slept and men dreamed, the garbage man resumed his long journey home. He would be back tomorrow.
Photo Credit: daily.greencine.com