Whose baby? – By Anjali Jagannath

Theme: I was about to cross the road …

I was clearly on a high, having clinched a business deal all by myself, without my father’s assistance, that too in far off Hyderabad. All puffed up with self importance, I looked forward eagerly to narrate my success story to my parents. In about four hours time I would be boarding the flight which would take me back to my parent town Kochi and I had to be patient till then.

Humming a tune, I ambled out of my hotel suite on to the street for the two bananas that I usually partook of, after lunch, partly for stamina and partly to keep junk food at bay. Having completed the ritual, the fruit vendor being across the street, I was about to cross the road to return back to my hotel, when, out of nowhere, whom should I confront but a baby – yes, a baby maybe a year old, maybe slightly older, I do not know- flashing me a cherubic smile and walking, in fact running across the road fearlessly with that typical baby gait, now fumbling, now bending forward and believe me – without an escort. There was no one around. He was alone. Through sheer impulse, I scooped him up and crossed to the other side. Only then did I look at him again. Again, he flashed that angelic smile. Did he know me? Was he in any way related to me? I wondered. Well dressed, well fed, plump, fair – he looked majestic – and most importantly he had a diaper on. The last one was a great relief. Whose baby was it? How did it come alone? What do I do now? Inform the police? Wait for a while? But then, I would miss my flight. All kinds of questions invaded my mind. What if nobody came to claim the baby? Should I take the baby home? What would my parents’ reaction be? I was all confused. What if the baby started wailing? I had never handled a baby, not in my twenty five years of existence. What if the baby felt hungry?
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Whose baby is this? Kiska bachcha hai? I screamed, in bilingual. The fruit vendor from whom I had bought the two bananas, merely blinked. A few passersby looked at me as if I were mad. Thinking I was not loud enough, I screamed my lungs off again. But still there was no response. Nobody came to claim the precious bundle. This little mischief maker who had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, had ruffled my carefully laid plans. I could hardly think. He, oblivious of all this, was now entertaining me with his gibberish. On an ordinary day I would have probably enjoyed his company. But not today. Was he even aware that he was creating so many anxious moments for me? Thoughts of missing my flight made me feel sick. I had to check out of the hotel and wind up in right earnest. But how? The airport was a good two hour drive. Would I have to miss my flight? Meanwhile, the baby clung to me tightly, resting his soft head against my chest. I cuddled him and planted a kiss in an inexperienced manner.

Holding him precariously in one hand, I explained my predicament to the hotel staff at the reception who were kind and empathetic giving me the much needed ‘hosla’ that I required. Bachche ko lene ke liye koi na koi to zaroor ayega saab’ they assured me adding ‘bachcha kitna sunder hai.

I deposited the baby at the reception and went up to my room to gather my belongings and was just contemplating informing the police, when the ward boy came barging into my room. “Jaldi neeche aaeeye saab, bachche ka pita aaye hain.’ That was indeed a stroke of unexpected luck. Relieved, I rushed downstairs.

The baby’s father beamed. “Thank you so much, Mr…er…” “Gaurav” I completed the sentence. “Actually” he explained, looking sheepish, though relief flooded his face, “My baby was sleeping peacefully in the car. I parked the car and keeping the car door open, went to get myself a ‘paan.’ I think it must have taken me quite some time to return, since there was a huge rush at the paanwala. And when I returned I was shocked to see that my baby had disappeared. I looked everywhere but he was nowhere to be seen. I panicked and went mad. I yelled out his name but there was no response. All kinds of thoughts came to my mind. What if he was kidnapped? How would I face my wife? I wanted to die that instant. I asked a few people nearby but they answered in the negative. Then I saw the fruit vendor. He was looking curiously at me. When I asked him, though without any hope, he told me expressionlessly that he had seen the baby. It was he who has directed me here.” Thank you so much Gauravji, you don’t know what you have done to me, may God be with you always…” he went on and on.

I walked him up to the door of the hotel to bid him goodbye and there by the door the fruit vendor was waiting patiently. “Saab bakshish” he demanded without flinching and opened out his palm. The baby’s father obligingly rolled out two crisp 500 rupee notes into his outstretched palm. He thanked me profusely again, clasped the baby tightly and walking to his car waived at me heartily. Only then did I remember that I had forgotten to ask the baby’s name.

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