“What? You don’t want this?”
“I want pipthy lupees”
Shocked and amused, we burst out laughing. She was so tiny that her fingers barely reached the bottom edge of our car window. She hooked her finger tips on the open window and lifted herself off the ground and was hanging as she stared at the 5 star chocolate I was offering her.
“Sorry but I won’t give money, take this chocolate” I said.
A slight murmur of cars started and anticipating the signal turning green she dropped herself back to the ground almost falling, looked up at me and stretched out her hand in urgency, keeping her eyes on the signal. I outstretched my hand to hand over the chocolate to her, but she took her hand back and stared at me. I was confused but she quickly said “open“. Now the signal turned green, I tore the wrapper and quickly handed over the chocolate, too big for her little chubby hands, and she turned away to reach the sidewalk.
Our car moved ahead at snail’s pace, with my husband commenting and teasing how I will now say “wasn’t she soooooo sooo cute??“, but he stopped talking and cursed “Oh No! Signal turned red so soon! Now we are stuck for another 120 seconds.”
Funnily I was glad about that, as my eyes were stuck to the girl following her moves, she was wearing just a necklace and shorts, must be less than 3, there was kohl in her eyes smudged all over her cheeks, hair was cut short, covered with dust.
Her chubby feet looked wobbly but she managed to dodge the moving cars and sat in front of a dustbin. She peeped behind at something twice as if to make sure no one was watching, maybe hiding from other kids who would snatch her precious chocolate, and then sat nibbling at her chocolate. The signal was to turn green in 10 seconds, the murmur of cars getting ready buzzed yet again, our car roaring the loudest as hubby dear was determined to cross over this time. I started rolling up the window, glanced up one last time to look at the girl and as if on cue she looked up right into my eyes and gave the prettiest chocolate coated toothy smile I have ever seen. I found myself smile broadly back at her, and right then a hand reached out from behind her and snatched the chocolate from her.
The last I could see before our car turned right, was that hand of a lady snatching the chocolate and handing it over to an elder boy. The little girl sat dumb folded but did not cry. My heart went out to her.
“Manav, you remember the little girl we saw at the signal today?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Can we do something for her?”
“Sure, we can take some stuff for her, clothes, chocolates, even toys maybe”
“Manav, you didn’t see the way that lady snatched away that chocolate. Whatever we give her she won’t be able to use it”
“Divya, come on now. I know where this is heading. But we can’t get her home or anything ok.”
“You can’t save all kids Divya”
“Well… Who knows that better than me.”
“Oh dear, please don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mean to sound insensitive, but I don’t want you to do anything in impulse of the situation and…”
Manav continued explaining why it was a bad idea to think so much about the little girl but I drifted away in my thoughts. He was right, I knew it, I had had a miscarriage a week back and I may not be thinking straight, but I had to do something. Finally I agreed to Manav’s plan of taking stuff for her during our regular doctor’s visits.
Next 3 visits, that is for 10 days, we din’t see her at the signal. If I wasn’t so weak from the surgery I would have myself gone and checked around, but I had to plead Manav to do so. Finally during our fourth visit, he obliged.
He parked the car far away and asked me to promise that I wouldn’t step out, then went looking for the girl, carrying a bag of goodies.
He came back within 5 minutes, without the bag,
“oh she is absolutely fine! She just sits on the opposite side now. She loved the stuff.”
“Why didn’t you get her here?”
“She looked little scared, could not risk anyone thinking I am a bad man!”
“Divya, I am already late for office, next time you will yourself be stronger to come yourself and meet her, smile now.”
I was so very sure that something was wrong that when after two days Manav came to me and said that he lied when he said she was fine, it did not surprise me.
“Her legs were tied to a wooden plank and she was made to sit against a pillar. I am sorry, I didn’t want to stress you, but I have not been able get that image off my head, I am sorry Divya, I am so sorry”
There was no point arguing with Manav about it, but now I had to do something about it. With the help of a friend who worked at an NGO that handles child welfare, I went there to confront the situation.
This time as well, the little girl was sitting with her legs tied to a wooden plank kept flat under her knees, but this time her hands were tied up as well. Her eyes were blank, the sight was painful.
We went to her and started untying the knots, now there was fear in her eyes, she called out “amma” and I saw the same lady rushing towards us with two rose bouquets in hand, each with crumpled silver foil tied neatly with white thread at the end. What an irony! I could not help thinking; someone who treats a delicate child so harshly, makes a living by arranging and selling roses; a symbol of love.
I picked up the little girl and diverted her attention by showing various goodies I had got along, as my friend from the NGO spoke to the lady,
“Listen, we do not wish to make this difficult by bringing the police. But you are not treating the child right and we need to look into this.”
The lady made loud actions and sounds
“Don’t get aggressive, it will only force me to call the police in. We will now take the child in custody, you will have to come tomorrow to this address with proof that this is your daughter.”
“Can’t you speak?”
“Divya! She is mute.”
I walked over, as the girl got busy with her new doll.
“Listen lady, me and my husband have seen how you treat her. If you want I will give you money, but let this child stay with me. We will send her to school, we will take care of her. Come tomorrow to this NGO address and take the money”
I had promised Manav I won’t give this offer but I could not hold myself. The child needed me. I needed her.
Not surprisingly, the offer worked. As soon as I said that, that lady with messy long black hair, jet black piercing eyes, and a very unsuited sweet smile, stopped revolting. She took the address and simply walked away.
Even the cries of “amma, amma” did not make her stone heart melt. I became sure she wasn’t her mother. Because if she was, it would have shattered my belief in motherhood competely.
Next day, the lady did not come. Not with the proof, not for the money.
Next night, after feasting on chocolates, the little one cried all night suffering from stomach pain. She had a severe case of stomach worms. Chocolates were a big no-no for her.
Her legs were wobbly and weak, with all the tying I thought. Took her to a recommended pediatric orthopedic, who happened to be close to that signal. We carefully took a longer route to avoid the signal. At the doctor our little baby seemed at ease, knew where the water was and where the candy bowl was as well.
“Oh, you are sponsoring Mimi’s surgery?”
“Surgery?” “Mimi?” Manav and I simultaneously wondered.
“Oh, her mother must not have been able to explain it to you, let me tell you”
After a long process of explaining how Mimi, who was already his patient, had a bent knee from birth and needs surgery, and how her mother was trying to find a sponsor. After we took all details and set the surgery dates, 10 days later. The doctor gave us the final punch.
“I suggest you buy metal braces for her legs to keep them straight until the surgery when you are not around, or she may keep falling. Her mother used to keep wooden planks and tie them lightly. But take care, Mimi is a very naughty kid. She used open up the knots and go around begging, which her mother just could not bear. That woman has pride I tell you!”
We took Mimi to a better hospital and a different doctor.
We never saw the lady again. Mimi barely remembers her now after 17 years. But on every ‘Mother’s Day’ at the NGO address, we receive a bouquet of red roses, wrapped the same way as the roadside bouquets are wrapped. Little crumpled silver foil tied neatly at the end with white thread.
14th May is Mimi’s birthday we assumed. Our little girl, with long black hair, jet black eyes and sweetest smile ever, turns 21 today.