She Wore a Red Dress
It hung off her shoulder a little, and reached past her knees. Her pink flip-flops weren’t too bad an accessory, but she didn’t have a choice in the colour of her footwear, or of her dress.
I had gone into Metro supermarket to pick something up, I walked out with my son who precariously held a box of leftover pizza in his hands after a pit-stop lunch at a pizza restaurant. She had spotted the box before I noticed she was there, and it was only her little squeak of a request that made her visible to me.
The poor beggars are part of the landscape of Cairo – they are expected, almost the norm. They are rarely looked at twice and much less rarely looked at in the face, let alone in the eye. They are part of the fabric, yet almost nothing at all, and the fact that I could have easily tripped over the red-dress girl makes me guilty of overlooking them too.
I could have walked on as she held out her hand, but when I looked over at her again, her outstretched hand was not a request for money, but a request for the box of pizza. What would the customary action have been? Turn my nose up? Look away? Walk on? Or hand over the box?
I don’t know what it was, but there was a pang in my chest as I saw her tiny black-smeared hands; her beautiful hazel brown eyes that had black streaks where she had rubbed her eyes; her golden brown fine hair that needed some tender loving care to bring back what should be luster; her teeny feet wringling in her over-sized flip-flops; and the red dress – clearly too big for her, but definitely meant for her. I could not walk on, ignore her or tell her to shoo. The pang guided my hands to take the box from my son’s hands and place them into her’s, and at that moment, I wanted to scoop her into my arms, cradle her and tell her that, God-willing – things will get better for her and her family.
Our gazes were unflinching, and I witnessed a sincere smile of gratitude and a little skip as red-dress girl had at least one meal today.
And I walked away pizza-less, but with a pang that still moves me as I write. God-bless you red-dress girl, God bless you.
– The Londoner