In a spate of unusual ‘spring cleaning,’ I came across the following. It was first published decades ago in a magazine that no longer exists.
In the dusk, supermarket lights illumine sale flyers fastened to large plate glass windows. Cash registers whir as men and women, casually dressed, hurry by with their purchases. This is today’s Africa: modern shops, prosperous customers of many nationalities, imported goods, up-to-date fashions in clothes and cars.
In front of the supermarket children in the car park sell fruit…pineapples, butter pears (avocados), grapefruit, oranges. These young venders hawk their wares zealously and competitively. Unkempt and unsupervised, they lead a carefree life. But tonight, so near closing time, only two girls remain. One has cornered another late customer; the other, wrapped in a lappa, is curled up, sound asleep on the walkway to the entrance. Then, just as you are about to step into your car, the young girl turns from her previous customer to you calling out,
“Butter pear, Missy? Only five cents. You see? My butter pear fine-o…”
You inspect the pan’s contents and murmur about their being small, but you finally purchase four. Then the second vender awakes. Stretching off her lappa-cover and sitting up, she quickly realizes her competitor has made a sale. Without standing, she calls reproachfully, “Eh, Missy, buy some of mine, too?”
“But yours are too small…” I counter.
“Look, they fine. Four cents.” She pleads with her large, brown eyes as much as with her voice. She runs toward you. Her black hair is pulled tightly into neat rows across her head. One shoulder is bare as her faded dress slips down on that side. With her chin, she points to her companion. “You buy from her and you can’t buy some from me?”
You don’t need any more fruit, but something in her voice makes you open your purse and give her a dime. In return, you receive two small butter pears. Then she turns indifferently, slides the coin down the inside of her pan, looks around for more likely customers and stretches again. By the time you pull out of your parking space she is walking away, balancing the enamel pan on her head.
“Small girl,” you whisper, “how far will you walk in the dark and who will meet you when you get home? What do you have to look forward to? What has life for you?” You pause by the highway, waiting to slip into the heavy stream of home-going traffic, and you consider turning back. You want to find that little urchin, you want to call out to her, you want to ask, “Has anyone ever told you that Jesus loves you?”
But would she understand your English? Had there been anything in her life so far that would help her comprehend God’s love…pure, unselfish, sacrificing love? Would anyone ever cross her path in years to come to warn her how awful eternity will be without God’s love and presence? Would she be so bound by Satan’s charms, so blind, that she would never understand, even if she did hear?
You turn for a last glimpse of her. The supermarket lights still blaze, casting the last reflection of her careless gait. Almost out of sight by now, she steps into the darkness. You drive on, but your heart cannot rest. The simple question echoes in your mind, “Has anyone ever told you that Jesus loves you?”