Like puppy’s paws begging for the gate to open into a new world of possibilities, warmth, love, and play, the children nudged on my front door softly, endlessly, beguilingly. I sat 5 feet away on the opposite side, invisible, unsure, and immobile. They had seen me saunter up the long steep road leading home, slowly lifting my feet, dripping in sweat and demise, deep in thought as the Piano Man played to a one woman audience. They knew I was inside and they knew I knew they were waiting for me.
I glanced at my watch: 9:30 pm. It’s too late to play. I’m too tired to move, I decided. Maybe they will think I fell asleep. But the door bell kept singing it annoying high pitched tune in my ears as the children’s muffled voices pleaded for Akka.
They are my friends. They are what puts a smile on my face in the morning, what makes me dance on the rooftops in the powerless evenings, what makes me carelessly skip through pungent alleyways and what makes me watch cartoons and put puzzles together on the unswept floor. They are what gives me the energy to continue on days I think there may be no end in sight to this battle I’m fighting. They are respectful and intelligent and witty to the core. They have more street smarts than I will ever have 50 years from now, and they move through the world with the finesse of tight rope walker. They have given me my childhood back. They came into my life, grabbed my hand, and pulled me through all the adventures I had so easily forgotten. When we play, we shed our assumptions of understanding through words- in fact we share no similar words in our personalized dictionaries made up of our imperfect worlds- we simply enrapture ourselves in one another’s momentary bliss, here and now.
But I see the lesions on their emaciated bodies. I notice the scar on the left side of her face. I touch her crunchy hair and dirt laden skirt, and wonder. I watch their obsession with drinking water and desire for sugar, and am concerned. Amma feeds me curries, she assures me, as I watch her wolf down handfuls of dry Cerlac cereal. Abba drinks daaru and hits Amma, I’m told.
This I could have guessed but avoided for so long because it hurt too much to be helpless. I chide them as I observe them teaching one another right and wrong. It always comes with a slap to the head. And then I chide myself. This is their world, I think. This is how they were raised. In my cushioned, protected world I am a mechanic. I fix the broken parts, plug the dripping leaks, and paint over the erroneous streaks. Who am I to waltz into their world and tell them what my right and wrong look like? Who am I to enforce my answers to fixing the leaks they are perfectly happy with? But there are certain leaks which are inhumane, and for that, I cannot stay silent.
The problem is we will not be here forever. Tomorrow I leave them for 3 months and I have not mentioned it yet. Their father will find a new job when his work is finished and they will move once again, away from the hapless, empty buildings they currently occupy over to flat, empty spaces waiting to be occupied by people more fortunate than themselves. Our friendship will be cut off by space and time and reality. We will no longer get to play, no longer get to learn, no longer get to live together.
What can I do to permanently fix the detrimental leaks in their lives? These amazing, energetic, begging to learn and pleading to grow little friends of mine. Money takes one only so far, and until now it held no meaning in our friendship. Even so, money runs out, money gets spent, money is material. To be educated though, cannot be taken from a child. It cannot run out and it cannot be stolen. But it can materialize in ways one could never imagine.
For this, I settle. I settle with the thought that they might get a second chance at beating the lottery we draw in life. I might not get to be the one to watch them grow and learn and become something greater than their father, but I might settle on the hope that there is a chance their world meets mine again some day. I know what I offer will never be enough because they deserve everything I was offered and more- we differ only slightly in the opportunities we were handed when the choice was not ours. I find solace, though in the realization that we cannot all be same but we can all be given the faith in everlasting knowledge and incurable happiness.
I have taken more from them than I could ever offer them. I leave them hoping for nothing less than what they truly deserve, as children, as humans, as comrades; to strike their own chords and live their own lives as they could only dream of.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mikesh says:

    Wonderfully expressed. Congratulations on your work and the very best of luck for all that’s ahead. Education, I believe, is the answer.

  2. Anu says:

    Lovely Shabnam. You are giving them hope, the hope to be happy while playing/interacting with you, the hope to be educated through your project and that means a lot in this world.

  3. David Vinca says:

    brilliant post shabnam, wow

  4. nilankur says:

    Thank you Shabnam, for seeing the world from outside, and letting us see it, beautifully.

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