Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Behind the shopping center

He was fast asleep on one of the benches, placed strategically next to a commercial centre to allow buyers to sit and inspect their merchandise or plan their next purchase. It was swelteringly hot; swarms of flies and mosquitoes were on the prowl, thanks to the garbage from the shops that was dumped right behind the benches. These creatures were squatting on or biting every helpless being that happened to pass by or sit on one of those benches or anywhere near them. People were flapping their hands about, trying to ward these vermin away from their bodies and their shopping bags; stray dogs which were huddled behind the benches were shaking their heads or biting out in a strange crazy frenzy.
I was on the way back from the ATM at the shopping center when I saw him. I was touched by the strange sight of the boy sleeping on the hard surface of the bench, with not even a pillow to cushion his head. He seemed completely oblivious to the insects or their bites. A strange feeling of compassion overcame me, and I walked up to the benches and asked one of the shopkeepers who were sitting out there sipping a coke if he knew who this boy was and where his parents were. The shopkeeper looked a little surprised at my request and asked me why I was so interested in the boy. I responded with the only reply that I felt would make sense to him. I told him that I wanted to give the child some money as I felt bad for him.
The man woke the boy up and told him that someone had come to give him money; the boy promptly sat up, opened his palms to accept the money and to my surprise, continued dozing. I placed some money in his outstretched hand. The boy continued nodding in his sleep without accepting the money. I told him loudly to wake up and keep the money safe; he got up sheepishly took the money, kept it in his pocket and went back to sleep.
The next time I saw him, the boy was hauling huge cardboard cartons from inside the market. I stopped him and offered him some money, which he accepted without hesitation. He asked me where I lived – I pointed to the nearby colony and told him that I lived there. He then told me that his name was Hasan, he was twelve years old, he lived with his parents in the nearby slum area and hauled cardboard boxes for living. I told him that at an age of twelve he should have been at school and not be working for his living. He looked at me as if he was hearing such words for the first time and told me that all his brothers and sisters worked and that they were all happily living together.
Unable to get him to see my point, I walked off from there at that occasion, but every time I saw him at the shopping complex, I would go and try telling him that he should have been at school and not been wasting his time working out there. I would describe all the wonderful things he would have been able to do if he went to school.\
One day, when I went to the shopping complex, I saw another boy at Hasan’s spot carrying out similar jobs as Hasan did. I asked the boy if he knew where Hasan was. The boy replied that Hasan was sent off to the village to an aunt’s place as he had become too lazy and was talking about attending school and wasting his time instead of working.
I hung my head and walked back home

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lonely lady at the bus terminus

She was of an undeterminable age. She used to sit next to the pillar at the bus terminus. In the evenings, she reeked of alcohol. In the mornings, she used to be sitting out there, looking lost, staring into nothingness. Once or twice as I passed by on my way to some meeting or back, she would hail me and ask me for some money. Strangely, I never saw her begging or approaching anyone else for any favors.
Once during lunch time, I walked out and noticed that the spot she normally occupied was vacant. The next couple of mornings I continued to notice her absence. Assuming that she probably had moved, I stopped noticing. A few days later, when was on my way to work, I saw her. She was walking into the bus terminus, with the aid of a cane. She seemed to be in pain. My instinct made me approach her and hold her hand.
She looked up to me and smiled. I noticed for the first time that her eyes were blue and her other facial features were quite sharp. She probably would have been very beautiful in her youth. I asked her kindly where she had been. She replied that she was unwell. “My son came and took me home”, she said. “She does have a family. Why then does she live here”, I wondered.
Before I could voice me question, she herself went ahead and explained. She was from a well to do family and had a large house and some lands in some prime location of my city. She had two sons and a daughter who died in adolescence. After her husband passed away, a dispute arose between her two sons on what they should do with the lands that they had inherited. The dispute turned ugly and one of her sons stabbed the other one to death. When this lady tried to interfere, he stabbed her as well; she collapsed and probably went unconscious from her stab wounds.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself in a hospital; the son who killed the other was sitting next to her. He begged her not to tell the police that it was he who killed his brother. “As a mother, I could not lose both my sons”, she said, “So I have stayed quiet all along. But I cannot bring myself to stay with a murderer. So I punish myself by staying here all alone. A couple of times, I tried to take a bus and leave this place for good and go back to the village where I was born. I have relatives there; but this place pulls me back. I have to stay here till my sin is atoned for. You look a lot like my daughter. I hail you and ask you for something or the other, not because I need something from you; I just love to hear your voice and see your smile”.
From that day on, I started spending a minute with her every evening on my way back from work. Sometimes she would be reeking of cheap liquor; she would apologize for being drunk and say – “sorry, this is the only way I can lay my pains to rest”. Sometimes she would hug me and weep; sometimes she would just hold my hand, close her eyes as if she is thanking someone out there for such moments.
Then one morning, I saw her holding a small and really pretty child. She took me to the corner where a young woman lay. “She gave birth to this baby last night”, she said excitedly. I took her to the hospital and helped her in her delivery. I asked her who this lady was and who the father of the baby was. She replied that the newly delivered mother was dumb; she (the old lady) found her sitting next to the public conveniences, a week ago, looking completely lost. “She had another daughter with her”, she added, “One of the guards took her and thankfully has adopted her. This young stupid girl just smiles when I ask her who the father of her daughter’s is. Don’t worry. I will take care of her”.
For the next month or so, I saw the two ladies sitting together, taking care of the young child. The old lady seemed to have found something to live for; she started smiling and wishing me cheerfully whenever I went to the corner which she and the other lady now occupied. Then one morning, I again saw her all alone. “The young lady went off on a pilgrimage with her child”, she said. I was surprised. “How will she manage with her young child”, I asked. “God will take care of those who are too helpless to take care of themselves”, she replied mystically.
The next morning, I noticed that the lady was missing from her usual haunts. I never saw her, ever since. Did she finally feel that her sins were atoned for? Did she find her daughter in that young mother and go in search of her? Did she go back to her son? Has she found peace? I do not know.