Friday, 8 March 2013

The Ghost

I parked the car under the shady tree in front of M.P.Store. The warm spring afternoon melting into cool evening filled my mind with fragrance. I have always liked that place for its spacious parking, the broad road with less noisy traffic, the golguppa wala with his khomcha under the cool shade of the tree and especially the retreating Sun getting bigger behind the tall apartments. I got down from the car and took the whole view in a sweep of my eyes and shut them for a while.

I preferred this time as the store had less customers and I didn't have to squeeze my way to the counter. The man behind the counter, with the heavy frame spectacles resting on his pointed nose, was one of the most nonnegotiable ones. I waited for my turn patiently and handed him the list of grocery while taking a look around, trying to remember any forgotten item. Satisfied that all the items were packed in the carry bag, I paid the bill which was meticulously calculated by the man behind the counter, on his calculator.

I was about to open the rear of the car to put down the carry bag when somebody tugged at the anchal of my saree. I turned around to find two little barefooted children looking at me with their blinking eyes. They seemed to be brother and sister. The boy's right hand, below the elbow, was covered with a handkerchief. There was pain in his eyes which sometimes found its way out in little sobs. The girl gingerly uncovered his hand. A deep blistering wound caused by burn, gaped at me.

"I have to buy medicines for my brother. Please, help me with some money."

The scene triggered in me the past memory of a woman with her unconscious baby in her arms.

She was there in the middle of the road , sparsely clad in a crushed, worn out saree which hung loose on her anemic figure. Her grey hair, disheveled and dry looked like the thready roots of a plant flying outwards in search of a little moisture. Her veins standing out of her dark and freckled skin, were the telltale sign of her poverty. The sticky discharge had flowed a little out of the inner corner of her eyes and her dry, pouted, cracked lips now and then showed the plaques on her sickly yellow teeth. Her blouse, faded red, had been pulled down from the right shoulder by the weight of baby in her right arm and with her left arm, she was waving at the passersby to draw their attention.

A few passersby did stop, but seeing the baby in a still condition, went on their way nodding their heads in surrender /resignation to the situation. The more they nodded their heads, the louder her stifled screams became . In desperation, she even tugged at their sleeves unable to articulate clearly her begging due to sheer exhaustion and grief which had left her aghast. A few callous ones even mocked at her that it was just a trick to cheat them . Some stood on the other side of the lane watching the whole scene as like some Nukkad Natak/ street play.

I was in my car, behind the steering, staring at the woman who, seeing me, was now moving in my direction.

"Mem Saab, please save my child.I have no money to pay the doctor's fee, please ma'm."

The woman rallied on. I saw the baby in her right arm. Flies were sitting on his face around the mouth. The foamy saliva had flown out of the corner of his mouth. His eyes were closed. His hands hung loose on both sides.With fearful doubts about the baby's life, I asked my son to hand her a hundred rupee note from my handbag.

She grabbed the note from my son's hand. "That will be suffice to pay the fee but the medicines.?" Distraught and distressed, she stretched her palm for more.

Realizing her anguish and irritation, I handed her an another hundred and moved the car guiltily to free myself from getting torn between the conflict of an urge to help the woman by taking the baby to the near by hospital and the doubt on the authenticity of her pleadings. I drove away with so many unresolved questions and doubts..."What else she could have done to prove her make the passersby realize and believe in her pain? Why I didn't show the guts to take the baby to the doctor? Was I an escapist? Was she able to revive her baby?"

"Mam, our mother is waiting for us, do give us some money,Please, mam". The agony in the girl's voice and the sobs of the boy getting louder now brought me back to the present.

"Where is your mother?"
"She is at the hospital waiting for us."

There again loomed large many questions in my mind. The mother there in the hospital and the children here begging on the roadside. Reason was again trying to gain the foothold. But then the past guilt proved to be  stronger than the reason.

"Come with me to the chemist shop. I 'll get a tube of Soframycin ointment and a few antibiotics for you."
 But that afternoon, the only shop in the vicinity of that area, was closed. I fumbled at the other possibilities.

"Its a long way from here,The PMCH and .mother will be waiting anxiously, help us with some money, please."
"How will you go there? Do you know the way?"
"Yes, by auto rickshaw, mam, money, Please."

I took them to the store and bought them biscuits, cakes and potato chips.

"But, how will my mother buy medicines for my brother?" The same question nagged at my conscience.

I had already spent on the grocery and only seventy rupees were left in my purse. I gave the seventy rupees to the girl and saw both of them off.

The shopkeeper had been watching all this quietly. "Mam, you don't know them. It's a trick to get some money out of your purse."

I gave him a cold stare, thinking about the blistering burn on the boy's right hand. Was that a trick too?

I started the car, weighing the act of kindness on my part and found the weight of the heartbreaking grief of the children heavier than my miserly kindness. The ghosts of the woman and her baby had made a permanent abode in the recess of my conscience.

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