Aai5 mins 2.3K 5 mins 2.3K
I saw her everyday. Every morning, as I walked to the little store at the end of the lane to buy groceries, or drove in my car to work. I would see her always wrapped in a small, tattered blanket, a bowl in her hand, begging for a rupee, some food, anything that could provide her comfort. She must have been seven years old, maybe eight. She was always alone. Never had an adult, a parent, a child her age with her.
Even with the scarcity of resources to survive her, she never looked dejected. She was always smiling, though her eyes had a certain sadness. I wondered how many people noticed it. I did, but I, like several others passing by, ignored her sadness.
I would always buy an extra loaf of bread, some butter (she had a knife with her at all times, for self protection) and a few chocolates in the morning, and give it to her. The first time I went to give her food, she looked at me suspiciously. She snatched the food, took a while to smell everything, and once ensured that the food was safe enough to eat, she looked in her bowl for money to give me. I patted her head, and said, "Don't worry about the money. You just eat." She nodded and tore open the packet of bread. After that, it became a routine. I would daily buy her food, give it to her and she would always take it, and nod her head as a show of her gratitude.
One day, after I had given the food to her, she didn't nod. I found it unusual, but it really wasn't my place to ask if everything was alright. How could everything be alright, when she had to stay under a thatched roof she had made with her tiny hands, and beg for food and money everyday? As I turned away, a pair of small, rough hands suddenly grabbed my hand that wasn't carrying the groceries. I turned to look, and found the girl smiling at me. It was such a beautiful, heart warming smile. I smiled back at her, and she said "Aai." I was shocked. Aai means mother. Surely she couldn't be calling me her aai. But I kept smiling.
I bent down to her and asked her, "What's your name?"
"Where are your parents, beta?"
"Dead. Or alive. I don't know. They left me here, asking me to wait but it's been five years and they haven't come back. I am waiting for them."
My heart broke. The girl didn't know if her parents were coming back, but she was still waiting. It wasn't the food, or the money she got from begging that kept her alive. Hope was keeping her alive.
That day, I couldn't focus on anything. Not my work, not my food, not my shows. Even talking to my mother proved to be a difficulty.
A week passed by, then a month. I still followed the routine of buying her food. Sometimes I'd keep company while she ate, talked to her. A part of me knew what I wanted to do, but why was I scared then?
My mom called me an evening. I was watching a show, but my mind was in a state of confusion. I picked up her call, and said, "Hi, aai."
"Hi baccha. How are you?"
"I am good. Actually no, not really good. I wanted to discuss something with you."
I told her about my idea. I told her about Tulika, about the moment she had called me aai, about all my conversations with her. My mother heard me in silence.
"But beta, what will everyone say? You are not married, you don't even have a boyfriend."
"So I should let her rot just because I am scared of what will the society say?"
"That's not what I am saying beta. Drop her in an adoption center or something. But you can't just adopt her. Parenting is not easy, you'll need a partner. And who will marry you, knowing that you already have a child?"
"Someone who loves me will accept her too, aai. I thought you'd understand, because you are also a mother, but you clearly don't. Before this conversation, even I was scared of this step, but talking to you has suddenly made me realize that I need to do what is right. And adopting Tulika is right. I have a connection with her, aai, and I can't just drop her at an adoption center. I am sorry, aai, but I am going to do this."
There was a pause at the other end. I assumed it to be her disapproval and was about to cut, when she said from the other side, "You are right beta. You should do what you think is right, the society can go to hell. Adopt her. Adopt Tulika. I have your back."
I said I love you to aai. I would have done it without her support too, but having her support made me confident.
The next morning, I went down the lane. This time I didn't buy any food, walked straight to the corner where Tulika was sitting. She looked up at me in confusion because she saw no food. I bent down, took her hands in mine, and said, "Tulika, would you like to live with me? I'll take care of you." I looked at her, and smiled. "I'll be your aai."
Her eyes were shining. "Aai", the word escaped her mouth. She looked taken aback, but her eyes were full of tears. She smiled at me, her hands gripping mine strongly, and nodded. She slowly picked up her belongings, not leaving my hand once and walked with me to my home.