Maria the Beggar

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How old is she? Probably around 9, although her eyes tell me she might be older. I’m not sure if she’s the girl I’ve seen last year, playing outside the carpenter’s shop with the other gipsy kids. Her portrait is fit for a “National Geographic” magazine. Striking green eyes, full red lips, eyebrows and hair equally sunburnt by a life in the streets. 

Girls grow fast, gipsy girls even faster. How much have these gorgeous eyes seen? Does she know what is expecting her? The other day I saw one of her friends pushing a cart with a baby and got startled. It ended up being her brother, but soon, she might be pushing her own baby. 

As the girl approaches people at the seaside cafe, who’re leisurely sipping their icy lemonades, she begs for money, more with her eyes than with her lips. A kind lady dressed in blue asks for her name. 


“You shouldn’t be doing this, Maria. Where are your parents?”

Maria doesn’t respond, just turns her head around. Lady in blue extends her a 200 lek banknote. Crisp. Maria lightens up, her captivating eyes framed by an inner smile. 

“Go buy an ice-cream and tell your parents you shouldn’t be doing this. In fact, let’s go together.”

Maria shuffles along, heading towards the fancy ice-cream counter.

“What flavors would you like?”

She’s never set foot inside the cafe. Her eyes pop, like green saucers, shifting from one container to another. So many colors, so many flavors, it’s dizzying! Hesitatingly, she points out.

“Caramel and chocolate, two cups – one for myself and one for my sister.”

“Here is your change.”

Maria knows money but she doesn’t know how to write or read. She has trouble recognizing and remembering the letters, but she’s intelligent and wants to learn. She grabs the advertisement papers at the supermarket where she gets rotten food. She tries to read the shop signs and repeats them to her siblings who now see her differently. Of course, father should not know about this – “mum” is the word.

One day a photographer happens to be in the same seaside cafe. He’s forever scouting for the next top model….