I held the carved black metal with my fingers and turned it around, trying to focus the dim sunlight on the circular mirror piece on it. The earrings were huge, for my ears atleast. I let it rest back on the stand it was hung on beside all the other earrings of gleaming metal and glass. They were all beautiful but wouldn't manage to adorn my face. I'd look like a 'drumstick in Hagrid's clothes'.
I diverted my mind back to the task at hand — picking up beads to prepare friendship bands for my friends back at school. 'R', 'U', 'C', I recited loudly as I picked up the beads from the huge pile of beads with letters etched on them.
The stall was put up near ISKCON temple. Put 'down' to be more precise. The little stall was on the footpath, right outside the temple. The beads and necklaces were all laid down on top of a red coloured dupatta. There was a huge stand, about my height that displayed the dangling earrings that kept stealing my eyes. All the beads were laid out in a pile while the necklaces were neatly arranged in rows and columns.
After picking up the letters, I counted them. I had picked up thirteen, while Mother had picked up seven. We put them together and I looked around for the owner. The owner was but, a little girl. My eyes did a quick scan and lingered a little too long on her hands. Tiny little hands. I always looked at people's hands when I first met them. Some had small fingers and the others had long fingers like mine. Before I could pay much more attention to her hands, Mother tapped my shoulder, signalling me and pointing towards the little girl.
Breaking out of my mid-day trance, I placed the beads in her hand and a total of twenty beads didn't fit into her tiny hands and a few of them fell back. I immediately reached out for the rest and counted the beads and realized that the 'K' and the 'R' were missing. Mother and I searched the pile and this time, neither one of us could find those two letters with ease.
I tossed over the letters, put away the 'S's and flung the 'P's across the pile. Somehow my fingers made their way across the pile to find an 'R'. The 'K' was still left. I continued this intensified search for the letter 'K'. Finally, Mother picked up the 'K' with no look of triumph in her face for finally finding the letter that took us about 15 minutes. Something was definitely bothering her. I made a mental note to myself to ask her about it when we entered the Metro train.
We asked the little girl how much one bead was and she said 2 rupees for one bead. I made a slight mental calculation, one for 2, then 20 for 40. Mother, obviously and amazingly better than me in mathematics had already picked up the money from her handbag even before I began calculating. Hard to admit though, I didn't inherit this talent from her.
I tried placing the beads back on the little girl's hands, albeit a little bit more carefully. And then she began to count. She placed the beads in groups of fives as she began counting. 'One, two, three, four, five,' she'd say and give us a reassuring look and push the beads a few centimetres aside before she began doing it all over again until she was done counting all the twenty. 'Twenty!' she exclaimed, her tone lacking enthusiasm but filled with command and guarantee.
She probably thought I wanted them all tied up in a neat friendship band. I shook my head and both me and Mother showed signs with our hands, eyebrows joined, face frowning, all to tell her that we didn't want it tied up. I spoke a little bit of the Hindi that I've learnt and forgotten over these years, only because of my very own negligence. Mother aided me by speaking to her and eventually, we conveyed the message we wanted to.
That was when it hit me.The little girl was supposed to be at school. And here she was sitting on the footpath, all alone, selling beads and earrings. I looked at her hands once again. There was something on it, like a bruise or a mark in yellow. Soft, smooth palms were dark and rough with traces of wounds here and there. She was supposed to be in school.
By this time, Mother had already asked her for a cover and she was back putting the beads back in, careful not to spill them over like before. She'd given it to me and I absentmindedly folded the cover and slipped it into my bag.
"She was supposed to be in school."
This time, I'd said it aloud, once again not really thinking about what I was doing. Mother heard me and she looked at me. A moment of silence ensued and I knew it. She was bothered. She was worried because of what was troubling me. The little girl was supposed to be at school.
"I'm giving our lunch to her." Mother said looking far off at the vehicles near the other side of the wide road. Her sentence was more like a question, but even partly like an announcement. And if anything, I wouldn't really be able to describe what went on in our minds in that very moment.
This time, speaking to her wasn't that much of a difficulty like the initial sentences we tried speaking to her. Although Mother had even more fluency than me, she still struggled a little bit. This time somehow, it was gone.
"I have Chapattis. Will you eat?" Mother asked in a tone I remember hearing as a little girl.
And the little girl smiled. I knew it then, that if I were ever hungry, this one satisfied, overly joyed smile would've definitely filled the hunger in my stomach.
We opened up the foil and put the chapatis onto it and placed it down for her. Mother placed the potato curry atop the first chapati and I closed the boxes and put them back into my bag. She looked happy. Not excited, not enthusiastic or hyper. She looked happy and serene. And she was the reason for my happiness that very moment. I know I'll still look back to this day and find myself feeling good about myself and what I and Mother did.
It wasn't my immediate thought to give her the food. I had actually, completely forgotten that we'd brought lunch to the temple and was in my own fantasy of finding a nice restaurant to relish myself with its delicacies. She didn't want taste, she wanted food. If taken back home, I would've only forced myself to somehow finish the chapatis because I was only eating so that Mother would be satisfied.
They say every rice particle has your name written on it. Only the ones designated to you would reach your belly. The ones not, even if forced will never reach your blood. I never believed in it and thought of it as one of the over-spiritual, psychological theories I hear often. But I know now, that all of it was true.
I felt the happiness and satisfaction of doing something good. Her little hands were what I'd first noticed about her. And her little hands would feed her belly a nice meal today.