Updated: Mar 22, 2022
‘Ooh, God! Lucky to escape from that wretched, junky lady! Begging is much better than this graveyard- orphanage!’ I whimpered, hunching over my knee. I tried to catch my breath. For the first time, I was terrified at my daredevil act. ‘If I would have been caught by that witch at that time, I would be beaten to death for sure!’ I shivered thinking back to my attempt. My little torn-out plastic bag was still dangling on my shoulder. I was not certain how many clothes I packed off in a hurry. Stretching back, I squinted at the sun. Must be past 2:45 pm, I guessed. By that time I was completely drained out, my voice numbed and my stomach was crunching like dry leaves! I drifted my eyes all around.
Suddenly I captured a funny sight- A boy pressed his face like a flattened balloon on the glass window of a restaurant. I could see only the backside of that little boy. He was trying to peep through the tinted glass, covering both sides of his head with his little palms. I became curious to know. My guts said he was in no better condition than me. His pant hung below his knee, seemed oversized, and besides that, it had so many holes with exposed nylon threads tangled partly. His curly hair looked like a heap of woolen balls glued together, not combed for days. I stood beside him but he was so engrossed in his work, didn't feel my presence.
‘Hey, you! What's up?’ I tapped his shoulder gently.
He turned around frowning at me. ‘What?!’ continued again, ‘um, oh! Nothing..I- I- just looking..um, the restaurant,’ babbled out shrugging his shoulders. He tried to run away but I gripped his hand tightly. ‘Hey, hey look! Not doing any harm to you, wait a minute. I’ll be your friend. Don't run away. Listen to me, please!’
I didn't know, somehow he settled down and stood there waiting for my next question. He became speechless with incredulity. However, I sniffed a bad smell from his dress.
I stared at his childish face. A layer of dust brushed up on one side of his shirt. The middle button was lost, others were tugged unevenly. The collar was too loose for his neck and the sleeve drooped two inches more than his shoulder. Must be a rejected shirt of someone. He felt uneasy with my look. ‘What's your name?’ I asked him in a friendly voice. He never expected such a soft question from any outsider.
‘Punu- Punit, shortly called Punu, why?!’ he said with apprehension.
‘Oh! Nothing. Just like that.’ I paused for a second, then asked, ‘hungry? Anybody with you?!’
‘No, no. I’m all alone, why?’
‘Ok, ok, relax Punit! Come with me. Let’s sit on that porch,’ I pointed my finger towards a nearby supermarket. ‘Don't worry, I’m like you- an orphan. No house, no relatives nothing. Come on.’
‘Oh! Street beggar- like me?! Wherefrom?’
‘Come, come with me, then I’ll tell you my story.’
Punit hesitated first, gave a sharp look at me then said the watchman uncle won't allow them to sit over there. ‘Hmm..I’ll manage,’ confidently I spoke to him. Desperately I needed his company. I had never seen the outside world except for the orphanage. He was my first mate after leaving the orphanage- my so-called home. I was scared but hid it within.
Both of us headed to a nearby supermarket’s porch and sat over there in a corner. A few minutes later, the guard rushed towards us and said in a harsh voice, ‘Hey! Get up- go. Don't sit here. Go- go sit somewhere else.’
Punit was well accustomed to that area. People knew him as a street beggar and the supermarket guard knew him very well. Joining hands Punit pleaded, ‘Guard uncle, please. Few minutes, please! My new friend!’
‘Ok, ok. Few minutes only, got it?’
As the guard walked past a distance, I smiled at Punit. ‘Um... yes Punu, where I was!? Oh, yes! About me. They call me Akash. Fourteen years old, the warden told me. I don't know who named me. I told you I have no one, just like you all alone. The warden told me I was dropped in front of the doorstep when barely I was a few months old. I have no clue why I was abandoned by my parents.’
Punit’s eyes were enlarged with excitement and very attentively he gave an ear to me. After my introduction, he chuckled. Clapping his hands loudly, said, ‘Oh big brother, like me- beggar?! Hi-five,’ he raised his tiny hand, and I joined happily. I ignored what he thought about me.
‘Hello, brother! Hungry, aren't you?’
‘Yeah! Wait, let me think.’
I draped my hand around his shoulder and pulled him towards me, clutched him closer. Without any complaint, he leaned against me as if he got a warm feeling. Suddenly I noticed, his eyes had stuck around the children walking with their parents in that jam-packed market. His eyes revealed his longings to be in their shoes. I understood his feelings. Ruffling his curly hair, I shook him, ‘Hey! Are you lost?’
‘No, no. I’m fine!’ he released a deep sigh.
‘I know, Punu. Forget it, brother. Either way, we are the same- makes no difference- a street boy and an orphan! No one for us- no parents, no relatives nothing. Trust me we’ll find our better time, no worry.’
‘Yeah, big brother! I know we’ll prosper when pigs fly!’ releasing a deep sigh Punit said scornfully.
‘Anyways, stay here. I’ll buy some bread from that tea stall and be back soon, alright? For now, we will eat some bread, at night, um, I’ll see.’
‘Yeah! A few. Maybe hundred rupees and some change- coins,’ I smiled.
‘No, Punu. It's my hard work money. I hate stealing.’
‘Ok. B- but, it’s already night. Let’s have our dinner, right?!’
‘You want something else?’
‘No. Bread is enough! Oh, yes! You are new to this place, brother. Let me buy it.’ Persistently he forced me to give the money and went to the tea stall. While he was coming with the buns and hot watery milk, suddenly a stray dog pounced on him. He was terrified, rushed towards me looking back. Before he realized anything, a moving auto-rickshaw dashed on him. The bun flew high in the air and watery milk splashed on the road. His face banged on the rough cracked road. He got an injury on his forehead.
I kept an eye when he went but I never thought of such a sudden accident! I rushed to the spot. In the meanwhile, a few people gathered there shouting at both of them. Pushing the crowd, I picked him up from the ground. Draping his hand around my neck, he limped and we walked down to the supermarket porch. I shivered out of fear blaming myself for his misfortune.
‘No, not there. Let’s move somewhere else. Guard uncle will shout at us.’
Hunting for a safe place he could notice an empty trolley of a vendor on the roadside opposite the tea stall. He pointed his finger and asked me to settle there for the night. By that time it was 9:30 pm. Most of the shops were closed. The road was almost silent. Both of us were dying of hunger. I helped him to sit over there, myself too.
‘Are you sure the trolley owner will not shout?! Where do you rest every day?’ I asked him while opening the polythene cover of the bun.
‘Me?! Oh! I sleep under that tea stall every night. That's my home,’ a wry smile flicked on his lips.
He smiled though struggling with a little pain in his scratched head and body ache. He plunged his hand into his pant pocket. Taking out two small tomato ketchup packets he said, ‘Spread these ketchup on the bun, this will be our dinner tonight.’
‘Where from you got it?’
‘Um..ketchup? That's from the hotel garbage bin. When the waiter throws the leftover food, I collect them and keep it, simple,’ he grinned at me triumphantly.
‘Well, now let's have our dinner.’ Before he used his hand I fed him. A broad smile flashed on his face. On the street light, I could see the tears of happiness trickling down from his eyes! Even I felt great!
While feeding I informed him to consult with any doctor in the hospital.
He burst into laughter saying, ‘Huh! Doctor?! Which doctor? I’m a street boy, brother. Born and brought up in this roadside dust! Nothing will happen to me.’
I was stunned and appreciated his courage. Cuddling him fondly I allowed him to rest his head on my chest and relaxed myself stretching my legs. He slept a sound sleep, but I was deeply immersed in my thought- 'Is our togetherness a milestone for our future prosperity?!'