I was about six years old when I lost my innocence. I was six years old when I witnessed a man beaten to death. He was an old man, about 50 or 60 years old. He was a beggar on the streets. As my aunt, two of her friends, and I passed through the markets of Haiti, I saw the beggar snatch a little girl’s lunch box. She cried out in protest, alerting the attention of a group of young men. As they began to chase the beggar, the contents of the bag fell out – a half-eaten sandwich, a bag of cookies, and a bundle of Kenepes. Kenepes are similar to lychees but the outside is covered in a tough yet smooth green skin. The meat on the inside is slightly pink and the pit was white. You could buy these fruits from street vendors, but you could also just as easily pick them from the countless trees surrounding the town. I always wondered why he would risk a beating for something he could get for free.
As the group of men caught up to the beggar, I expected them to simply to take the lunch box from him and maybe push him around a bit. I did not expect them to violently push him to the ground, to kick him and to punch him. I stood there, fixated on this act of pure violence. I clutched my aunt’s hands tighter, as though we were at the movies and a creature had just jumped out of the dark and onto the screen, startling us. The group of men stopped for a minute to cheer and clap each other on the back, and in that instant, the beggar got up and began running again.
As we climbed on the back of what resembles a carriage, I found myself rooting for the beggar to get away. As the carriage began to pull away from the market, the beggar latched onto the back, pulled himself up, and with one hand he hung onto the back, while in the other he still held that damned lunch box. I sighed a breath of relief as we began to pick up speed leaving the group of men behind. I watched them try to push through the crowd of people in an attempt to catch up to us. The beggar’s moans of pain brought my attention back to him. I tried to look away from him, but I was fixated on his face. His nose was bleeding and broken, his left eye injured in such a way it looked like his tears were made of blood. My aunt let out a horrified gasp and pulled me closer in attempt to make me avert my eyes, but it was too late. What I had seen was enough and I struggled against her and inched closer to him, happy he was here with us and not down there with his assailants. My happiness was short-lived.
One of the guys on the carriage shoved the beggar off and back into the streets, where in only a matter of seconds, his attackers would catch up to him. I was close enough that his fingers grasped the hem of my dress, pulling me towards him slightly as he fell back. The guy that pushed him laughed at the beggar and soon the whole car joined.
“You see that? That’s Karma. God always has a plan ladies and gentlemen,” he managed to wheeze out as he and the others laughed.
I wanted to say something, but I simply sat there, frozen, clutching the hem of my dress in my little hands. With eyes as wide as the moon, I watched as the group of men descended on the old beggar like vultures.
That day, I lost my innocence, the innocence every child is born with and relies on. That was the day I saw someone cause the death of another. That day I began to understand that at times, people are more concerned with revenge and punishment than they are with justice. It wasn’t until later on when I was in college and had read “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” that I thought that maybe the old beggar was our version of a scapegoat. Maybe it was our way of preserving something deep and primal – hope, the hope that maybe if those who do bad are punished and those wronged are avenged, then maybe this treacherous life that we live might be worth it. Maybe it’s an attempt to explain the unexplainable. I don’t know. I didn’t know then and I still don’t. All I really know is that to err is human; and to scapegoat is just as human.