It was just another train ride back home. A little earlier than usual, though. I found a quiet corner at the end of the ladies coach and settled down. Bags aside, shoes taken off, feet on the empty seat across me, earphones plugged in. And soon enough, I started drifting off into my own world, soaking in the 45 minutes of ‘me’ time I get every day, from Dadar to Malad. The deafening horn of a passing train tried its best to drown out my thoughts; but the replay had already begun.
The endless stream of meetings, where discussions lead to more discussions, and less outcome. Sigh. Another brainstorming session that seemed to confuse me more than it should have sorted me.
That Whatsapp chat with him that I couldn’t seem to get out of my head. Gosh, why did he always have to do that? Say something that puts me on a guilt trip and then stay unavailable. A few words were playing on loop in my head. I brushed them aside, turned up the volume on Nate Ruess crooning a love ballad that spoke about him needing just a moment to cry before he moves on. Sigh. Was it a coincidence that I was tossing those same thoughts in my head at that very moment?
I was distracted by one of my favourite past times in the train – shopping. A lady was peddling her wares – accessories, hair clips, and bindis. The glitter of the earrings caught my eye and soon, my hands and my head were consumed in selecting a pair of pearl studs. At Andheri, I saw two young boys entering our compartment, to sell plastic toys & colouring books. The irony of the situation nearly choked me. That innocent little soul, who should be pestering his mom to buy him these books. Here he was, convincing moms to pick a Superman, Doraemon, or a Tom & Jerry book from the pile his little hands could hold. The social activist in me starting thinking about how I could help him. Why isn’t he studying? Should I ask him his name? What did his parents do? Should I be calling Childline?
I stopped myself before this thought bubble got any bigger. What if this is what he had to do? What did I really know about his situation? What if his parents did not want him to work, but he decided to do this for them anyway, to ease their burden? What if he did go to school, and this was something he did in the evenings only? Who am I to decide whether a mother should have to lose her son?
But then again, his impish smile was tugging at my heart strings… as he helped aunties select what their kids may like best. How could you not do something about it? I saw him trying to round up his goods. I had very little time to say or do anything; soon he would jump out of the train and disappear into the mass of people forever. I called him over, and he handed me the pile. I wanted to pick my all-time favourite cartoon characters Tom & Jerry, but decided against it. I asked him what his favourite colouring book was. He looked at me as if I’d lost my marbles. Why was a 30 year old woman, who was entirely capable of taking life’s biggest decisions on her own, asking him which colouring book she should pick? When I told him that I wanted to pick one out for him, his face transformed instantly. He was grinning from cheek to cheek, and he wasted no time in rummaging through the pile to get to his favourite – Spiderman! I told him that this was for him, and not to be resold again. He still had that silly grin on his face, as he shook his head vigorously, in agreement.
I wanted to make sure that this happiness stays intact, at least till he finishes colouring every page in this book with the brightest hues. So, I took out my fountain pen, asked him his name, and began etching this moment in ink. As I saw the ink blot the first page with the words ‘Rahul Mishra. All the best :)’, I knew no one could take this away from him. Even if he managed to escape his reality and slip into this colourful world of fantasy for half an hour every day, it would comfort me knowing that he experienced pure joy for a few moments in the day. I couldn’t do much to change his reality, but at least, I could help him dream. With a colour pencil in his hand, he could do anything.
I watched him tuck away the gift in his bag, and with a spring in his feet, he moved on to the other end of the ladies coach, smiling more than ever now… urging more aunties to pick up colouring books. I wondered what he was thinking of now. Was he eager to get home and get out his crayons? Was this the happiest part of his day? Did he want to go & show it off to his friends? Did he still have a target to achieve – was he worried about selling enough books for the day? Well, if there was any worry, I couldn’t tell, cos that smile was still plastered on his face.
It made me think about the non-issues that I was fretting about earlier. Perspective had been dealt out to me without any warning. That little boy had so little, yet he had everything. I have so much, and all I focus on is what I don’t have. Oh, universe. You crafty little thing.
I fished out my phone, switched the song to Lenka’s ‘The show’, shook myself out of my thoughts, smiled to myself, and walked towards the door. I loved standing by the door; and as Malad station approached, I indulged in something that made me truly happy – the wind in my hair as I sang out the best part of the song as loud as I wanted to ~ just enjoy the show ~
*Even though I didn’t take a picture with him, the mental image of his smiling face will never be wiped out from my memory :)