He returned again, empty-handed, not as much as a cent in his hand. After an hour’s wait, he showed up nonchalantly.
“I didn’t get anything….nobody gave me anything”, he stammered to her raging glare. “They all shoo me away, what can I do….”
A tight slap across his cheek stopped him. Tears streamed their way on his smoky face.
“You lazy bum, you don’t move your ass around as much, do you! Just that damned traffic signal. That is where you linger about all the time. Who will give you anything there? They are already so hot and angry, waiting at the signal. You think they will even look at you. You have no sense.”
“Ma, I am hungry. Give me something to eat.”
“Shameless wreck of a son, you are! Eat me for lunch. Always hungry! What do you think I have here. A closet loaded with food, that I am not giving you.”
His stomach growled. Maria could hear it even amidst the honking cars that flew by. She went to the dark corner under the fly over. Their home of rags and torn rugs, plastic bags and empty bottles. She started turning over the bags, searching for something, rambling curses under her hot breath.
“Here”, handing him two pieces of biscuit. Moistened by the rains last night, he gobbled them distastefully.
“Scurry off now. And for God’s sake, not that signal again, try the square this time. There are many tourists there. Someone generous enough will pity you for some lunch.”
The boy ran past the pavement in the direction of the square. She wiped off the sweat from her neck with the end of her ragged shirt and then her tears.
She hated the monster she had become living on the street. She hated him, even before he was born. He reminded her of everything gone bad in her life; her misery and her exile. He was the reason she was on the streets. The reason, her parents turned her out, the villagers ousted her from the boundaries of where she had been born and raised for 18 years. She despised him, but she was a mother, in spite of her hate.
She had come to this city alone, carrying him in her womb. He was born under the starless sky, on a rainy night, under the colored lights of red, green and yellow. Helpless, sick and untouched, she brought him in this world alone.
She begged all day on the streets bearing the contemptuous looks and curses hurled at her with self condemnation. She was not a beggar, not by choice. She could not find a decent job because she had no place, no one to keep the baby with. Before he was born, she went around societies to clean houses, the only job an inflated belly qualified her for. She was doing fine for a while until she had a whining hungry baby by her side.
One night, a car stopped by the pavement. She saw a man come out and pick up one of her neighbors. The next day, she had a new rug, food supplies and milk for her children. She had thought about it but couldn’t bring herself to it; selling off her body for weaning her poor child. She could not be a prostitute even if it meant to kill him with her own hands or to let him die of hunger.
She swept the roads in the morning. The street in charge had taken pity on her. With her infant wrapped around her chest, she made some little money for some months. Then another young newbie on the street replaced her, for a one night stand with the man. When she confronted him, he offered her the job with more money for a few nights with him. She rebuked him. Having turned down his advances every time, she soon found herself alone with no help, no friend and no job.
The streets were dirty, filthy in this city. People were often people, strange and cold. They were miserable reasons for existence. Poverty stricken, there was no sense of morals and principles. The street, the city all crushed on her poor soul. She had fought her poverty, the endless cries of a hungry child, for years now, not to take the road of easy and dirty money. She would never live with herself, if she did that. She already had bargained her heart for a cheap price. She did not want to lose her soul too.
The sun was already setting in the empty space above her. She wondered if there really was a God there, somewhere. Life really was this unfair, till she remembered the man with the orange beard.
They had been hungry for six straight days. Even the trash dump on the other side had been ransacked. Her son was famished, crying, rolling on the hot broken slabs of the pavement. She couldn’t even look at his face. She was looking up at the sky, screaming at Him in silence when a strange looking man, with henna dyed beard stopped right in front of her.
He had a stern muscular face, an inherent villainous look about him. However, his eyes were kind and when he spoke, his voice was comforting to her soul.
He pushed a blue polythene bag towards her with a smile.
She hesitated a little, which was weird even for the hunger groans emerging from her belly.
“Take it daughter”, he insisted in a gentle voice. “For the child”, he continued, pointing to her son, who was picking whatever edibles he could find off the trash on the corner.
She took the bag shyly from him, overwhelmed by both his generosity and his kindness. Her eyes salivating the bread, the milk, mangoes, bananas, dropped two tiny drops.
“Don’t cry, it is from God. He takes care of everyone and everything. He gives to whoever asks of Him”, he said raising a finger to the sky before going his way.
She cried after he left, overwhelmed at his unexpected kindness, for no one had ever spoken a kind word to her, ever since she had been on the streets.
She remembered how it had made her feel. The kindness of a stranger, she had never met and would never see again. She sighed at the sky, a riot of red and orange smoke, without a spoken word. If God was there, He did not love her anymore.
Just then she felt two bony arms around her neck, a kiss on the cheek and the warmth of her son on her back. The evening breeze swiftly caressed her broken soul, the subtle melody of the shrubs, the dancing newspaper bits on the sidewalk and the presence of her son.
“Look what I got!” He unloaded the pennies, the twenties, tens and even a fifty from his dirty ragged pocket. He dropped them in her torn shawl, proud of himself. She kissed his beaming face.
“What will you get for dinner?” he rubbed his sunken belly.
“What would you like to eat?”
“My favorite Pao Bhaji or Aloo Tikki or Chaat.”
“Lets get all of that”.