He woke up with a start. He hoped that he had not overslept. He had got very little sleep yesterday, but that was something he really can’t control.’ Poor thing! She must have been hungry’, he thought, as he folded the thin bedspread and mat he slept on.
She was asleep when he checked on her. Good, he thought, she needs her rest.
He soundlessly went about his daily chores. After heating the little amount of milk he had saved from yesterday, he went to the little figure who was still sleeping – his one-and-a-half year old little sister. He gently tried to prod her awake, so that she could have her milk. She was usually a non-fussy child, but yesterday she had been cranky and crying the whole night. If he had a watch, he would have known that she finally went to sleep past 3 a.m.
She began to stir, maybe hearing her seven-year-old brother’s voice or maybe because she had enough sleep. He fed her the milk, spoon by spoon, saying ’Drink it, Chutki (his nickname for his sister)’, ’ Good girl, Chutki’ and so on. He gently rocked her on his lap as he had seen his mother do countless times. His mother… No, he shouldn’t dwell on that, he had work to do. He shook his head to clear away those thoughts.
He cleaned her up, bundled her in his mother’s old saree, and set off to his workplace. The brother-sister duo followed the same routine everyday; well, everyday for the past few months – ever since that fateful day.
He works as a delivery boy at a tea stall situated near to a business park. He has the job of delivering the tea to the nearby shop-owners as well as the office-people or the ’bade-saabs’ as his boss, the tea stall owner, called them. In return, he was given lunch, and little bit of milk for his sister. He also received tips sometimes. The owner’s wife had seen the little child in his hands when he had come looking for a job, and took pity on them. She had cleared up a small space in the stall for the child to lie down, when her brother is running errands.
Today, it was no different. He had already completed two errands and was filling his tray with little glasses of tea for his third errand. It was the ‘shop errand’ the one for the other shop-owners.He started towards the first shop.
That’s when he heard the thud! He turned towards the sound. For a moment, nothing happened. Then there was chaos. It was an accident. An auto rickshaw had crashed on to a girl and she was hurt badly. Two guys who were drinking tea at the stall threw their glasses away, and ran towards her. From where he was standing, he could see that she had hurt her head and was bleeding profusely. One of the guys pressed a handkerchief at the wound while the other hailed the rickshaw that had crashed into her. Another woman, a well-dressed office-goer, came forward to help her into the rickshaw. They sped away towards a hospital.
All this happened in a few matter of minutes, but for him, it felt as if the time has stopped. His mind had gone far away, it had gone back to that fateful day. The day he lost his mother, the day that his world had fallen apart.
He still remembered every little detail. He had wanted a candy and she had to cross the street for that. She asked him to hold his sister and take good care of her, while she got his candy. His sister had suddenly started crying, and at that cursed moment, his mother had turned to look at the baby. She didn’t see the speeding car coming in her direction.Her accident threw her a good two feet up in the air. The driver had not even bothered to stop the car. His mother lay on the road, in a pool of blood. He ran upto her, holding the baby tightly. He reached her and saw that she was bleeding badly. By now the baby, sensing the distress, started crying loudly. He had tears in his eyes too. But he stood up, determined to take her to hospital. He tried to stop vehicles, but none of them stopped. People came, saw and left. No one helped him. Half an hour and a million requests later, one rickshaw finally stopped and agreed to take her. But as the auto driver helped get him get his mother in, the driver shook his head and said ‘Maybe its too late’. He refused to believe it and asked the driver to take them to hospital anyway. The driver obliged. At the hospital, his mother was declared dead on admission.
He was still standing, as if in a trance. He heard voices, someone shouting his name. When he came to his senses, he understood that it was the tea-stall owner, ‘What are you doing, boy? U idiot!Stop staring and get to work. Deliver the tea! Go! Now!’. He sensed the last word had a warning tone to it. He quickly gathered himself and went towards the first shop.
On the way back home, he couldn’t help but think, if only his mother had been so lucky, if she had only got the help at the right time, she would have been alive today. She would be with them. She would have made sure that, even if she had to work five jobs as a maid, he goes to school, get his education, get a job and live a better life. After his father’s death two years ago, she had been the their strength. She had gotten herself a job and then a few more, and had risen out of their drudgery like a phoenix. She was his Hero. And now she is gone. If only she had a chance…
Later that night, as he put the baby to sleep and lay down himself, he thought back on the events of the day: the accident, the memory of his mother’s accident, her last parting words before help came…
‘Take care of your sister and yourself’, she had said chokingly, between breaths, ‘Love each other, teach her good things that ma and baba had taught you. Remember, you have each other. When you feel down, look into your heart and we will be there. Wi… with you. Always.’
As he looked at his sister’s sleeping form, he found his inspiration to live. Mother had named his sister ‘Kiran’. ‘A new beginning and a bright light’, she had said then. Now he knew what she meant. He was ‘Uday’, the new beginning, the new hope and his sister was his light. Now he knew that together they would survive this world. Together they will rise from the ashes. Like a phoenix. Like their Mother.