I didn’t want to go today, it was so far; I could have skipped, I had attendance too. I was sleep deprived and an hour long ride on a crowded bus would just make the mood crabbier and the body tired-er.
After drowning myself in self pity and pointless ranting, I went anyway; I got off the bus and waited for someone to cross the road where the traffic never seemed to stop. A bunch of people from the railway station came and waited as well. I hid between them- their fruit and fish baskets, huge cloth bags, and the children most of them were dragging. They didn’t realize, and I crossed the road feeling proud of myself like I’d accomplished something on a miserable day after all.
Bangalore weather is a bitch; the sun shines as bright as it does on a summer noon. Correcting myself, Bangalore has only one season- summer. I walked to the up the path and I turned right, I saw the garage and a few chickens in front of it, grease and oil all over the road along with little pieces of rags.I was close to the school now, I couldn’t walk, I froze.
I felt someone nudge, I looked. A little boy stood next to me and smiled at me. “Hi putta! School-ge barthidiya?” I asked him, he nodded. Slipped his hand into mine and walked with me to the yellow building.
I racked my brains to remember his name. I couldn’t. I knew his brother Rashid. He was the kid who’d hit me the week before, I had a little bump on my lower back because of that. He was a little kid, maybe three, who ran around like a tornado. His voice was raspy when he spoke and he cursed, so much. And he climbed on everyone he saw, and he liked being carried and turned around till he got dizzy.
He would run up to me and climb and kiss me on my cheek, the snort on his nose would not be wiped and I would hope it didn’t get on my cheek. And then he would have a moment of great affection and he would hug me and almost choke me. He would make me carry him and walk around the huge playground. Once, twice, thrice.
But his brother was different. I was standing inside the dimly lit classroom, and I still felt the little sand-covered hand in mine. I wondered what he did to get his hands and legs that dirty. He was just standing next to me, not asking for a sheet to draw, not asking for a puzzle, not asking to go back into the ground and play.
And then he said ‘draw’. He didn’t talk much at all, he didn’t run, he didn’t do anything. I got him paper and colours and sat next to him as he started to colour. He had big eyes, he didn’t wear any shoes, they were as dusty as his hand. I reminded myself to sanitize my hand before I ate anything. But then again, these kids didn’t even have water to wash their hands.
I sat next to him for two hours without speaking a word, I didn’t fall asleep. I sat there and watched him fill colors into the drawing in front of him. He occasionally looked up and smiled at me. Before I left for the day, he slipped his little hand into mine, told me he wanted to walk around the ground and I did that with him. And then I bent down and hugged him, I wasn’t much of a hugger, never was.
Something in me snapped and I hugged him tighter and kissed on his hair. His hair was soft and I tasted sand on my lips. I wondered what he’d climbed on or where he’d fallen that he was THIS covered in sand.
I slipped away, saw a flicker of sadness flash across his face. It went away the same way it came. And I left promising to come back next week.
I wondered through the week if he thought of me,or if I he would remember me at all. I missed a week and I went a week later.
He slipped his hand into mine and asked me why I hadn’t come the week before. I told him I was sick and he seemed concerned. He asked me to guess his name, I told him I didn’t know. And he asked me mine.
“Niveadha, but call me Nivi” I said.
“I want you to call me Vishal” he said.
His brother came running up and I felt his fingers dig into my palm for a second before his hands slipped away. Rashid climbed into my arms and abused him in Urdu and called him Zuber.
“Vishal kanno, Zuber alla”, I corrected him. He looked at me chocked me with a hug and ran away. I told him I’d call him Zuber too and he walked away.
He climbed on the compound surrounding the ground and walked to the far end of it. Stood on the far end of it, he walked faster on this compound than I could run on the sand. When I went he hid behind the concrete, at first I thought he was playing and then I told him it was too hot so I was going back inside; I thought he would follow but half way into the ground I realized he wasn’t.
He just hid behind the cement compound, I was scared to do to the other side. I was scared of the other side because it was almost 10 feet above the ground. These kids were used to it so they would sit there like they were sitting on a cliff. I waited he peeped once, saw me looking and hid again. I ran back and he ventured further onto the other side, I peeped from this side and apologized and asked him to come back. He wasn’t.
I went out of the gate on to the road and he got off and went into the other ground. I wasn’t suppose to leave school so I stayed and we just looked at each other for a long time. I gave up and I went in and he didn’t come back in that day.
The week after, he was alone. He had forgotten about me calling him Zuber, which was actually his name. He slipped his little palm, cleaner this time into mine and told me about him. I listened and we spent the rest of the afternoon putting together a Pinocchio puzzle someone had donated. He smiled often, lost in another universe. He wore the same orange shirt week after week.
He was from Bombay; he never wanted to go again to Bombay. He was in Bangalore; he didn’t want to stay in Bangalore. He was in 4th grade before, now he was in 2nd. Rashid didn’t come anymore. They’d left for Bombay to never come back, he said. He didn’t want to go, “Eshtailla” he said. I was surprised. He lived with his grandmother now, ate Kurkure and watched TV, and went to school. I was still shocked but this was still better than him being alone so I stayed quite. He never spoke to me again to this extent.
He loved getting pictures taken. He stood in front of a friend’s car and got a picture taken, then he asked me to wait till he got his orange shit off. “I look dirty with this shirt” he said and hid his shirt behind himself and posed for a picture in his ripped vest. My little Salman Khan, I had called him and he had blushed. Looking at this all the other kids came there removed their shirts and posed for a picture. Salman Khan-s I called them and they all giggled and ran away. I asked Zu if he had something to eat, “Kurkure, five rupees packet” he replied proudly.
I walked out of the gate with him, and gave him my lunch, unfortunately only a bar of Snickers. I told him to go home, run. I wasn’t allowed to do this, it would ‘spoil the kids’ but I did it and I didn’t want anyone to know. He beamed at me as he walked away.
It was nearing the end. It was a hot day and I didn’t want to go again. But I did. I crossed the road and walked till the yellow building came into view. I stood there realizing I wouldn’t come there again. I felt a nudge and a little hand covered in sand slip into mine. I looked and he smiled; his orange shirt was a little torn near the collar now. I squeezed his hand and he hugged me tight. I pulled away and we walked to the school together.