Children Of The Street
Children Of The Street26 mins 225 26 mins 225
It was 03:52 in the morning.
Jaspal was running along the ruins of an abandoned building that seemed like the perfect site to brew his imaginations. Each steady step piercing through the static dust and dispersed gravel. His slippers, a dull brown, worn-out at each side and at each sole, muddied by his everyday shenanigans.
Jaspal let out a screeching cry as his right foot crash-landed onto a pile of what seemed to be bristly pebbles. These spikes of mother nature were everywhere, scattered like they owned every inch of ground, only this time, Jaspal's right slipper caved in and the pointed rocks made their way into the membrane of skin protecting the underbelly of his foot.
"Ah, I'm bleeding."
Blood was not a new scene to Jaspal's eyes. Its deep, maleficent hues did not catch him off guard or even phase him. Jaspal had seen plenty of blood in his lifetime of 12 years.
Pitifully limping, he directed his lone left foot towards one of the broken-down brick walls surrounding the apartment, clinging to whatever was left of it with his dusty, bruised fingers. These bruises were not a result of abuse, but a result of his delusional adventures. He knew they were delusional, he just didn't care. What was left in this dystopian society anyway? A poor, pre-pubescent boy with no home to return to nor no companion to look up to, he was better off surviving off of the flying monkeys that called him to their world in his head, or the exhilarating role of playing a hero who'd slay monsters. Sometimes, just sometimes, the desire for motherly love would creep up behind the nape of his neck, run cold through his warm blood, and the visions in his mind would reciprocate. It frustrated him, but the images played by his mind of a love he can not remember receiving, also offered comfort in their own, complex way. It was beautiful agony. The woman in his dreams was beautifully agonizing. Dreaming of something you may or may not have experienced, craving something you've never even tasted, or at least don't remember tasting. What is worse? Loving and then letting go, or not having loved at all?
For such a young mind, burdened by the overwhelmingly sordid conditions of his livelihood, Jaspal could not afford to dream off anything that exists in reality, because reality is cruel, but the fiction of his imaginations are not. The experience of a mother's love may have been unreal to Jaspal, but it did not excuse it from the fact that mothers were a real part of this world, he just didn't have one. Nor did he have a father. Of course, they must have existed at some point in the past, but the past was a long time ago. What happened to them? He doesn't know, and as ashamed as someone would normally be to admit, he doesn't care. He's numb to such emotion. He'll never miss what he once had, instead, he'll miss what he never had or never will- the fictional world in his head. So, perhaps, in Jaspal's eyes, having not loved at all is better than having loved once and eventually, missing its absence.
Whilst brushing off the grainy remnants from his slightly punctured foot, Jaspal noticed a sharp gleam reflecting into his brown, beady eyes. It struck his curiosity as much as his pupil. He made his way towards the glittering object, slowly and cautiously, of course, as the many ramifications of his made-up ventures had triggered the accumulation of trust issues engraved in his subconsciousness, causing him to approach everything and everyone slowly, with caution. But of course, he denied this altogether by acting out his imaginary role of an international spy who must always keep an eye out. Our splendored spy approached the object with heedful tiptoe. Upon reaching, his boisterous pupils largened as they set sight on a keen, shiny bottle.
"There's something inside it." His mouth unconsciously echoed out loud.
Jaspal picked up the abandoned appliance. It was blanketed in dust, just like his fingers. After scrutinizing its transparent body, Jaspal decided to discard his stealthy spy act as he inserted a finger into the bottle's mouth in an attempt to obtain the piece of paper inside of it. His wild mind thinking in heightened volumes, "what if, just what if, this is a map to a treasure chest? An abandoned bottle left by the ancient pirates of Neverland, but then, how'd it enter the city? What if it was here this whole time, what if the pirates left it here centuries ago and it stayed intact this whole time, avoiding contact with the human eye? What is its journey? Who did it belong to? Which places has it traveled?" He could go on and on forever, but deep down, in the ocean of realism that flooded his gut, for all he knew, this could just be another carelessly dumped beer bottle by some local alcoholic, and the note, simply containing an anagram of their insignificant thoughts from the blurry night.
Alas, Jaspal's calloused fingertips made contact with the edge of the distressed paper, and with greater focus and engagement, the note was pulled out. Just when Jaspal ecstatically unfolded the sheet he realized something- he can't read.
A shroud of disappointment was plastered onto his face. His usually sparkling eyes now dulled.
"I'm going to have to find someone to read this for me. That's it, that's what I'll do."
What was dull a few seconds ago was now burning with determination. Even if this was just another useless note written by some drunkard, or the cheatsheet of a student who'd failed their exam either way and tried to drown out their sorrows in cheap beer as best as they could, even if it meant nothing, he wouldn't risk it. Besides, what else did he have to do? Exploring, questioning, and discovering was his everyday regime.
Days passed by. Now a week.
Jaspal hadn't found anyone who seemed the slightest bit trustworthy to help him read the note. Let alone someone who seemed like they could read. The piece of crumpled paper was kept with him, close to him, in the right pocket of his overused, misfitting sweatpants that he'd found for free at one of his daily shopping stops (a dumpster). They were a bit loose, but nothing a tight tug of the drawstrings couldn't fix. Even if his battered clothes were well, battered, he wore it as proudly as any scholar would their uniform; after all, this was his uniform.
For the past week, Jaspal had crept around his known venture spots, from the slums to other lone buildings, in search of someone who even just seemed friendly, trustworthy, and educated enough to help with this little deed. The irony is that even if you did find someone who was supposedly friendly, trustworthy, and educated, they may not act the same with someone like him. A tragedy, really. If they were nice enough, Jaspal may have let them in on his grand treasure hunt. That is if it turned out to be a grand treasure hunt.
Back to square one, walking along with the ruins of crowded roads and empty homes, relying on his prey-like instinct to fish out anyone who seemed to meet his criteria. That's when someone, finally, caught his eye.
Jaspal instantly retreated backward as though it was a reflex (which it actually was), and sneakily popped his head out whilst hiding behind the wall. It was an alley in which one of his everyday dumpster stops resided.
A boy, no older than 15 yet no younger than 13, was caught in the act of reading. Jaspal may not know literature, but he certainly knew how to distinguish when one was engaged in it. They made the same expression that he did when clasped by the merciless hands of his fictional visions and dreams. Their eyes dilated at the sight of something they loved, while concurrently, their pupils constricted at the vast collection of colorful, mind-boggling knowledge and entertainment. It was the expression of fulfillment. Something they would never truly have.
In the dusty, calloused hands (a trademark of all street children) of the boy lay a book. With his trained eyes, Jaspal visually zoomed in to observe the front cover of the book as best as he could. There was a collage of what seemed to look like dishes. Chicken, cake, fish. Vibrant dishes of that and this. A cookbook? So, this guy likes cooking?
Whatever it was, all that really mattered was that Jaspal's intuitive senses kept telling him that the innocent baby face of this overgrown child was not a lie and that he was probably going to be the only one to even come close to Jaspal's requirements. It'd be a shame and a definite regret to not even try to approach him.
"Hey. Hey you."
The babyfaced boy released a swift turn of his body, almost as if he were staying alarmed of trouble.
Jaspal was younger than him, anyone could tell, even this guy. But there was something dangerous about Jaspal, and something naive about babyface boy. Jaspal looked experienced in the world of constant survival, babyface boy seemed to have recently entered it. With this twisted feeling, the babyface boy reassuringly backed up as if he were being cornered by a wolf.
"Why are you so startled? You look stronger than me anyway, besides I'm not here to cause you any trouble, or maybe I am, that really depends on this note. Do you want to read it? Can you read it? You have to read it, please." Jaspal's voice cracked near the end with obvious desperation, something that only seemed to push the older boy away further.
"I-I... how do you know I can read? Do I not look illiterate to you?"
"Literate or not, you're certainly dumber than I thought." With those daunting words, Jaspal gracefully gestured to the book in babyface boy's hands with his eyes.
"Ah, you're right, you're right. My bad." The boy looked down with a flustered face.
Jaspal let out a burst of laughter. Whether it was natural, or done simply to build trust with the boy to manipulate him for Jaspal's true goal, was not clear, not even to Jaspal.
He hates reality, but right now, the line between hate and dislike was blurring.
"Ahaha, um, so... I'll read it, I guess... you've been nice, you feel nice. And they're not many like you, so, I'll return the favor."
A smile was woven across his face, Jaspal reciprocated.
The note was passed along to babyface boy.
"Binge Street, A1419. Forever."
"What- huh, I knew it, some random dude scribbled some random stuff onto a random piece of paper." Jaspal sighed with discontentment.
"You might be right but... this almost seems like a- like a code? A hidden signal or something, for someone, but I don't know for what."
"How can you tell?"
"Ah, movies! Movies with James Bond, the DaVinci Code, sci-fi, mystery, detective, all of that stuff, they have a lot of these... these clues."
"You- are you sure you're a beggar?"
"What does it look like?"
"I don't know..." Jaspal scans the boy up and down, with one eyebrow raised in suspicion. "You, you confuse me. You may look like a poor boy, but you certainly don't act like one."
"Well, I am. I'm poor and unloved and starving, and if this note could possibly, just possibly take us to someplace filled with gold and McDonald burgers then I'll take it. I'll take the risk. It'll be fun if nothing at all at least. I could use some of that right now."
"Huh. Okay." Barely a response, but Jaspal smirked, almost as if he was impressed. Seems like he's not the only one taking this survival game seriously, but at the same time, amusingly.
"Fine. I'm Jaspal."
"I'm Ka- Amar. I'm Amar. Nice to meet you, Jaspal."
"Sure thing Amar. Do you know where this place, or, code of a place, is?"
"Hmm?" Amar was caught off guard or looked so at least. "Oh, um, already? You want to start now?"
"We're two poverty-stricken boys, with no food, clothing, protection and I'm guessing you also don't have a reliable adult. Does it look like we got time to waste?"
"Man, you sure can be dumb for someone this smart."
But that was the contrasting beauty of it. One was book-smart, the other one, street smart.
Amar just embarrassingly chuckled in low volume as a response.
"About the address, no. I don't. I'd expect you, someone who seems to be a lot more experienced with these streets, to have known this area."
"Alright, fair enough. You're the brains and I'm everything else. Well, let's break this down. I'm sure we both know Binge Street."
Amar nodded in agreement.
"We just need to decode A1419, and, Forever? Is that it?"
Amar nodded again.
"Okay. I think we'll discover a lot more if we first head to Binge. Let's go."
Jaspal turned around, eager to know what made him stop.
"Um, there are, so many cars. And, bad people. Everywhere. Binge is far. We could get lost or worse, kidnapped. Or dead."
"Wow. you're really, really new to the streets."
Jaspal took a moment to gather his thoughts. To Amar, he appeared as a detective in a mystery movie, doing the colloquial pose of an investigator, in which the chin was steadied up by the right hand, and the right elbow rested on the left hand.
"Right. Welcome to the streets, Amar. You are now a child of the street, you must think, speak and act like one. Secondly, don't worry about a thing. You have me, I'll teach you all of that." A grin was let out by Jaspal. So warm, so welcoming.
Amar could only pity Jaspal in his mind.
"How catchy, 'children of the street'?" Amar proudly announced.
Jaspal aggressively nodded in accordance.
"Children of the street."
With a suitable declaration of their newfound independence made, the two went back to investigative mode.
"Alright, we head to Binge now. I swear, we'll be okay, but just in case."
Jaspal rapidly headed to the back of the alley, behind its walls and whatnot, and came back carrying two daggers.
"Oh my g-, Jaspal, why... how? Where did you get this? Were you attacked? Are you okay? How di-"
"Yes yes yes. I was almost attacked by a street dog, I hid in the shed behind that wall, found some broken glass, and when the dog found me, I waved it in front of him, striking his left paw, and then he left me alone. I'm sure he's alive though, just handicapped, so don't worry. Once he was gone, I shaped it into a lovely knife, using the other broken piece of glass, wrapped some filthy leather around it, with string, and there. I made another one that day just in case I lost this one, I stored them there in a secret corner of the shed, and look, it came in handy!"
"Stored? Why not carry it around?"
"Habit. I didn't want hurting others to become a habit. This way, its use would be controlled... I visit this area every day anyway, I practically live here, so it wasn't a costly choice."
Amar let out a sarcastic chuckle.
Jaspal looked at him with glaring eyes.
"And I'm hungry. Let's go."
As Jaspal turned to walk out of the alley, Amar stared at his back with emotional eyes and an inspired soul, and in his mind, he mumbled,
"You have me now too, Jaspal."
Dagger in hand, fire in eyes, and emptiness filling their bellies, the boys made their way to one of the busiest streets of New Delhi, where the traffic is as unforgiving as the citizens.
As they walked on the hot gravel, Jaspal couldn't help but ponder upon Amar's scent. Jaspal had smelt it on him about 5 minutes after being in close proximity. He smelt, clean? Luxurious? Like comfort. Amar smelt like comfort. This only fueled Jaspal’s curiosity, where did Amar come from?
"Hey Amar, um, what's your story?"
"Hm? What do you mean?"
"Ah you know, just general stuff that I'm curious about, 'cause we're friends..."
"Oh- right. Of course, friends should know about each other. Um, so. I was born here, in Delhi, my favorite food is cake, my favorite color is purple, I like Bollywood music but Hollywood is great too, my favorite actress is-"
"No no, not that, your story. Like, your background of poverty and trauma, we all have one, don't we?"
"Ah, ah yes of course I do."
"Funny, you sound like a rich pleb oddly enough. You know, Hollywood music and all."
"Oh! About that, well, you know, some of my old friends stole a smartphone lying on a bus bench, there was no password, so they accessed it and listened to the music there. There were a lot of English songs, we think they were English at least, that’s all, hahahaha."
"Hmm, okay, I get that, gotta get some type of entertainment, right? What happened to your friends?"
Amar chuckled nervously.
"Ahaha, my friends, they, they decided New Delhi was too "city" for them, so they moved away, to the village, the one on the west."
"Yes! Bagharpur village, how could I forget?"
To this, Jaspal confirmed his doubts about Amar. Something was wrong. Amar was wrong.
"Hey come on, don't slow down, we're starving," Amar called out to Jaspal a few meters ahead of him.
"Right. Coming." Jaspal said with a wondering face.
After about 4 hours, the boys reached a tea stall, and with the little amount of money that they each carried, they bought 2 buns, 2 teas, and 1 banana, and ripped it apart using their mouths as if predator on prey.
"Alright, now that break time's over. Let's get back to this."
"Yes sir." Amar obeyed.
The boys had entered a certain neighborhood of slums and degraded homes, which didn’t seem to peak their interest for now.
Continuing their journey deeper into the sea of slums, now under darker skies, Amar asked,
"Jaspal, what do you think this person meant by forever?"
"They could mean a lot of things. Love, hatred, life, death, something for all of eternity."
"I wonder what it is that can last for eternity. The consistency of life is broken by death and death by life or reincarnation. In fact, wouldn't you say that death lasts longer than life? So, would that mean that evil lasts longer than good? And hatred longer than love?"
"What? Who said death is evil. Death is freedom from evil. Life is evil. Take us for instance. Being able to die painlessly and quickly: that would be beautiful. I wish for it everyday, and yet, I can't do it myself. Which makes it feel even eviler. I live a life where one only gets by through bravery, and I'm a coward. If death could free me from this life, I paint it as good."
"Is that so? You make a good point. I'm not enjoying my life right now particularly either."
"Was there a point when you ever enjoyed life Amar? Haven't you always lived this way?"
There was a moment of silence. The boys’ eyes met and it felt as if one was staring into the soul of the other, as if he were trying to know him truly.
The deafening quiet was abruptly broken by Jaspal.
"What's up, Amar? Why are you acting this way? Why lie to me?"
"Lie to yo-?"
"There's no village called Baghapur, Amar. Not in India at least. Hollywood music? Friends? I doubt you had any, you seem as new to the streets as a newborn. Reading? How can you read if you've led such a poverty-stricken life? Even a little? And your scent. The way you act. The way you don't know anything, and yet seem to know everything. Look Amar, I met you when the sun was rising, and now the sun is setting, so before the light dies, just tell me- who are you?"
He seemed speechless. No, he was speechless. He didn't even look like he was trying to look for the words. He didn't want to explain. Was he scared?
Amar turned around faster than the mood.
He was staring at someone. A woman was staring back at him.
"Kamal, is that, you?"
"Yes, I mean, no. Who are you?”
Again, another breathtaking exchange of prolonged eye contact.
It took a while, but Kamal was really analyzing this woman’s face.
“Wait. Mo- mom?”
He sounded breathless. What'd he say?
"Ka- are you Kamal Sina?" Her voice cracked.
"Oh my god. Yes, it’s you isn’t it? You’re her, the lady from the picture! I remember your face so clearly! It's me. I'm Kamal. I'm your son, I'm your son! I found you!"
At this point, Jaspal was as lost as a random passerby who by chance got caught up in the teary-eyed commotion.
Amar, as Jaspal knows him to be, flew into her arms, the woman who calls herself his mom, and held on tightly, as if for dear life itself. Both had vigorous streams of tears falling down their faces. Were they happy? Were they sad? Jaspal couldn’t tell.
Thoughts were running in Jaspal’s head like a wild goose-chase were taking place.
“Am I angry? Am I confused? Am I sad? Do I feel betrayed because he lied to me or because it feels like he's going to leave me? What do I feel?” Jaspal thought.
The woman took note of Jaspal’s presence after a good 10 minutes.
“About time, but I think, this reunion seemed to have happened after a long time, so I guess I can understand, somehow.” Jaspal pondered.
"Kamal." She said a name unknown to Jaspal as she wiped the tears from her exhausted face. "What happened to you? Why do you look like this? Where's dad? Why are you so thin? Your clothes, why are you even here? And who's he?"
"Mom... wait, I'll tell you everything, just one more minute. Let me hug you for one more minute."
Breaking news: it wasn't just a minute.
Eventually, they walked over to a broken-down house, no better than the slums of Binge. Sitting on a pitiful beam, where the woman heard a full explanation of everything, of the truth- including Jaspal.
Kamal Sina. He comes from a wealthy family. His father fell in love with his mother one day out on a little day trip with his college friends, and after secretly dating for a year, they had Kamal, by accident, of course. Kamal's mother, Anya, was a poor girl. She lost her parents when she was around 8, and lived with her aunt until she ran away at 14, since the woman was an abusive drunkard, with an even more abusive chain-smoking boyfriend. She couldn't take it anymore and fled during the blackness of midnight. By the time she was 19, she pulled herself up a little bit, financially, by working multiple jobs here and there, a few being a tea stall worker, a babysitter for some wealthier (but not by a drastic amount) families, a waitress at a couple of shabby dhabas and so on. You bet there was trouble at every job. Kamal's father, apparently, met Anya when he escaped from his brutally strict family's rule, one quiet night in the heat of July, and went to a dhaba on binge street with his college friends, through the convenience of two motorbikes.
Can you guess who worked at this dhaba? Of course, Anya. Yes, I know, quite the cliche, but also, cute? Well, one bread pakora in, and Kamal's dad and his friends were witnessing Anya scream and throw clay cups at who seemed to be, the manager of the dhaba. Apparently, this was the 8th time that he’d tried to sexually harass her, and as financially-tied as she was, she never stuck to jobs that threatened her dignity, which is why she'd never been able to secure consistent employment. Kamal's dad fell for her there. Right there. He liked her face at first. She was pretty back then. Now, her face just sags, like a lot of the miserable, slum-occupying womens' do. But after a few minutes of being a fellow bystander to the mistreatment, he decided to stand up for Anya. He got up from his metal chair, stood in front of the damsel in distress, and told the boss (or whatever you wanna call him) to back off. Turns out Anya wasn't much of a damsel in distress. Instead of thanking Kamal's father, she got mad at him too, telling him that "she never asked for his help" and that "she can handle the likes of men, rich and poor", with an even further contorted face. That's when the man’s heart dropped. And boy did it drop. He fell and according to Anya, he never stopped falling. Anya left the dhaba, Kamal's dad went after her. With a little, “grab her wrist" action, the two froze standing in place, figuratively, stuck in a whirlwind of contrasting emotions, and literally, in front of the dhaba. One was loving, while the other was hating, and somehow, the contradiction between their feelings only seemed to further light the electricity between them, which sparked the second he grabbed her hand. From there on, Kamal's dad would often escape the cage that his house was, and meet Anya wherever she worked. One day, the two looked at each other with such intensity and confirmation, that they decided to take each other's virginity. As surprising as it may sound, Kamal's dad, an urban heartbreaker, was a virgin when he met Anya. And though precautions were taken for their first passionate, body-to-body encounter- Kamal was born.
When Anya found out that she was pregnant, she felt at ease telling Kamal's dad, because she knew he wouldn't leave her, not for the moon or the stars. And he didn't. He stuck with her. Through every craving of hers, through every tantrum. She gave birth to Kamal secretly, in a hospital run by one of Kamal's college friends' father, saying that she was a friend of theirs, from a different college. Of course, Kamal's dad bought Anya pretty clothing and fed her good food often, so by the time their son was due, Anya looked like the daughter of a prosperous family. But sooner or later, they had to tell Kamal’s dad’s family, and they did.
Ready for some typical Bollywood spice? His family didn't accept her, no, they resented her. The second she stepped into the house, the subtle mockery began. And knowing Anya, knowing how she protects her dignity- couldn't take it. In the end, she left the house. They tried to continue their secret affair even after the catastrophe, but eventually, Anya cut Kamal’s dad off, because she thought "that's what was good for him" and for her. I don't think she can say the same now, and personally, I wouldn't have agreed with her past self's decision. Kamal stayed with his dad of course. The family was humane enough to keep him, mainly because they didn't want a son of the Sina's living in poverty and dirt, like his so-called mother did. Four years later, Kamal's dad was married off to a woman of similar status, Gauri. She lives there, even now, with Kamal's dad, who is Anya's first and last love. The step-mother, being as conceited as her in-laws, could never seem to accept Kamal as her own, which instilled a feeling of doubt in Kamal at a very young age about his parents, until at 8 years, it was confirmed, by none other than, the step-mom herself. She found him revolting, apparently. Apart from his dad, everyone in that house did, and Kamal’s dad wouldn’t seem to answer any of his burning questions about his identity, or couldn’t. By the time Kamal was 11, the desire to break away from this fake familial love overcame him like a gushing waterfall. And by 14, he ran away, in search of his wronged mother.
"Of course, I know they're all looking for me, or at least dad is, but I made sure he wouldn't find me, not until I returned to him myself. And that would only be after I found you. I stumbled into his office one day, just for 2 minutes. He was in the room initially when Gauri called him for something, and he left the office, as well as the door open for the first time. That’s when I sneaked around and found a few of your photos, as well as remnants of some notes that you and dad may have written to each other years ago, and soon enough, I ran away. Wandering alone, I didn't realize when and how, but I turned into this after almost a week of roaming aimlessly and somehow, avoiding getting killed. But for some reason, I felt more comfortable here, on the streets. I was scared but happy. I felt like I finally belonged, and I still feel that way. You know, the simplicity and freedom of it compared to my life back home- I felt accepted."
Jaspal looked at Kamal, his cheeks burning with an angry red, but his eyes, teary with the typical blues.
"Why- why didn't you tell me this."
"No offense my friend, but your life seems to have been a lot worse than mine. Escaping big hungry dogs and all, and being unable to remember your parents. At first, I thought you'd take advantage of my wealthy family and kidnap me for ransom, but eventually, I came to feel close to you and feared that you wouldn't accept me because of my wealthy family. I wasn't accepted by the rich, and I wouldn't be accepted by the poor. I was too tired to experience another rejection. I'm sorry. And I'm sorry that that's all I can say."
At this point, Jaspal began to bawl his eyes out. Why? He didn’t know. Or more like, he did know, but he wished he didn't.
Jaspal’s mind was flooded,
“Why? Why am I remembering my mom right now even though I have no memory of her? Why am I feeling suffocated by her absence all of a sudden? Why do I ache to see her and feel protected, when I never craved any of these things before? Why do I envy and yet pity Kamal? Why do I pity myself? Why must I always pity myself?
This wasn't about him, and yet, he was now being comforted. By a mother who is not his own, by a friend whose relationship was built on lies. Their rigid hands on his back only felt rough, and yet, he felt safe.
"Kamal" Anya whispered carefully as if not to interrupt Jaspal’s breakdown. "Show me this note. It’s why you guys ended up here in the first place, right?"
Kamal handed his mom the note.
"A1419, forever." She read out loud. She could read and write a little, thanks to her times with Kamal's dad and her continued self-taught lessons afterwards.
"Where... where did you find this? Tell me, where?" She looked desperate but tried not to scare the kids.
"Um, at a dumpster, near an isolated alley, inside an alcohol bottle." Kamal responded.
"The one at Mylore Street. I live near there." Jaspal interrupted Kamal to answer the question, his eyes were still glowing with saltwater, but his face seemed to have resided to its usual unbothered expression.
"Really? You found it at Mylore? At the green dumpster with a yellow sticker on the top left corner?"
"Yes, why do you care though, miss? And how do you know about the sti-"
She let out a chuckle. It looked sad. Her lips smiled but her eyes frowned.
"I wrote and gave this to your dad many years ago, a note to look at if he ever truly missed me, and felt like he couldn't do it without me. See? Binge street, I've always lived here. A1419. Anya, 14 jobs, 19 years of life, and forever, yours. That’s what it means.”
Amar didn’t even hesitate to ask,
“If this is yours, how did it end up in a dumpster all the way in Mylore?”
“I would work at that dumpster when your dad and I had just started dating. He would often drink beer while watching me get all filthy and smelly while sorting the trash, and of course, help me, though he was clearly lacking the knowledge and skill to actually be of any help. But he made me laugh, and it was fun, and he didn’t mind. He was a kind man. He is a kind man. It was a disgusting place, but we made it ours anyway. Something tells me that when you ran away from home Kamal, your father must have looked for you more desperately than you give him credit for. And when it became too hard to shoulder-”
“He must’ve realized that he couldn’t do this without you. So he drank his usual beer while carrying the note and walking to your ‘dumpster’ place, where he got drunk, and left the note in the bottle, in hopes that he’d find you again, or that you’d find the note if you still worked there.” Kamal said.
Anya just gave a timid, reassuring smile.
“I still think about him, Kamal. Even today, I really am still his’.”
Anya: 14 jobs, 19 years old, still in love with Kamal’s dad. And she forever will be.
So, to answer your question, or Jaspal’s question. What’s better? To have loved and then departed, or to have never loved at all? Jaspal doesn’t know, and neither does Anya or Kamal’s dad. But for now, in this moment, Kamal felt a kind of love that he never got to experience in the past, prior to which, he was miserable. And if this newfound love were to leave him in the future, he’d simply run away and look for it again. Like his dad did for Anya, like Jaspal would for Kamal, like Kamal would for both. So, this reassuring time in the present was all he needed.