Across the Street – Trisha Sharma

Theme: I was about to cross the road when…
I was about to cross the road, one afternoon, when suddenly my eyes lay on a small figure sitting nonchalantly over the nearby pavement. I stopped, as vehicles zoomed by, unwilling to give me way, across the street. Something about that picture mesmerized me to the core. My training in pediatrics told me that he was a young child of around three .He sat there on the pavement, letting his legs down in a swinging motion over and over again, his tiny face, that looked like it hadn’t been washed in days, held calmly in his cupped hands, elbows supported by his thighs. A lock of shaggy hair framed his face shabbily; his eyes closely followed the zooming traffic from side to side. He lifted his head up momentarily like an attentive dog, and with quick agility, he grabbed a 2 liter empty bottle of mineral water and dashed across the street, deftly dodging the vehicles. He reached the opposite side and playfully swung the bottle to and fro while skipping along the way. I changed my position to keep him in view and squinted to see his destination. It was a rusty, leaking tap that tore through a stone wall, along the opposite pavement. He opened the bottle and put its mouth to the tap, and waited patiently for it to fill. He kept himself amused by the surrounding sites, in the mean time. He patted a stray dog, kicked a stone, and ran his fingers along a bicycle parked nearby. He checked his reflection in its mirror and smiled to himself. It was marveling to see this kid, who probably never had the privilege of owning sophisticated toys to play with, a full time nanny to be watched over by, and no teacher familiarizing him with concepts of simple arithmetic or logic, uncouth to the concept of Pre School. Yet, here he was, skillfully maneuvering complex tasks, while his peers were busy engaging themselves in frivolous stacks of blocks, onlooked by a bunch of proud, overjoyed parents. I was reminded of anxious couples, who came to the Outpatient Department, constantly fussing over why their kid wouldn’t walk without support or talk smoothly, despite persistent care and the most expensive toys and equipments, yet here he was, on a congested street, someplace even my mother wouldn’t let me cross without supervision, gliding along, without a care in the world, as if he had never needed a finger to hold on to. This was an example of natural nurturing, unadulterated with unnatural overprotection of precious kids by their parents. This was nature running its course, and what a splendid job it was doing.
As these fleeting thoughts crowded my mind, the little boy was on his way again. He waddled over to a nearby shop, struggling with the heavy bottle. It was a small shop, put together loosely with a few ply boards and wooden poles. He kept down the bottle and jiggled about in the pocket of his grubby shorts and dashed out some loose change. He called out to the man behind the counter, who promptly took the coins from his hand and handed out something, probably candy. The child spiritedly pocketed the candy, all but one. He unfoiled the one in his hand and put it in his mouth, picked up the bottle and waddled off on his way again. I crossed the street swiftly, for I could no longer follow my distant subject of interest now. As I reached the pavement, my eyes searched for the little boy. Ah, there he was, standing with a bunch of children, two girls and three boys of ages ranging from four through fourteen, who shared the same shabby characteristics as the little boy. Some took turns to sip the water that the little one had bought and some playfully slapped each other’s backs. Then the two girls suddenly ran off to a nearby vehicle, as the traffic light shone red. They took turns at pestering the boarders of an auto, a motorcycle and three cars to give them money. Desperate with the dismal response of the miserly people, one of them ran to a tent put up shakily at the pavement, embellished with a naked bulb with an unearthed wire, two broken cots and a small stove with a simmering steel pot, giving off fresh smoke. The girl came out in a minute, carrying a dirty red shawl and an empty and extremely
Dirty feeding bottle. Next, she rushed to the bunch of kids, who were now sitting in a circle, playing with stone pieces and chanting a faint melody. She grabbed the little boy by his arm, wrapped him in the shawl and cradled him up in her arms, carrying the feeding bottle in the other hand. By this time, the light was red again, and she made her way to a close by car with a sorrowful face and begged for mercy at her poor, helpless baby brother…