The freshness of that summer twilight was felt by us as the children enjoyed juicy mangoes from the farms nearby. This was evident from their happy faces and, quite surprisingly, the curve which never left their open mouths. It was as if it was fixed on their young faces and I was beginning to wonder why.
They always said how different this was from the town they lived in and the environment they worked in their corporate jobs, and how they always looked forward to visiting me in the summer holidays. I was sitting with them on the porch of the wooden house, cross-legged, legs dangling and then resting on the moist grass of my semi-decently built wooden house. I wondered if they had noticed from the moist grass that I had tended the garden before they had come, and from the well-spread bedsheet, they’d see when they will go inside that I had prepared the bed as they ate, in the hope of letting them sleep over. I also wondered whether they’d find my company-seeking loneliness evident from the well-kept house. If you can’t tell it already, I am very self-conscious which had made me love myself a little less than I could love anyone else, and ironically, I hated that about myself. There was nothing special about that dark sky in the way I saw it when I sat beneath it every day because this sky wasn’t enough of a companion for me. When I was alone but there was, as I heard the kids say, something about those stars that attracted everyone towards them which I seemingly had failed to understand.
I didn’t quite understand the way in which different people saw the same things differently. Having lived there for many decades had made my eyes weak of seeing the stars that were beginning to be of no use and spread across the dark sky. I guess that’s what 72 years of lonesome existence does to you. It was earlier that night when I was proven wrong. A strong stroke of the cool wind on that summer’s day stroked Maya’s dark brown hair as she used her hands to stop her hair from moving over her face. Mayank, her brother childishly made fun of her by moving his hands near his head. I thought that made Maya a bit self-conscious as she immediately nudged him, her smile still not leaving her face. Though she was a bit annoyed, those lines on her forehead only lasted for a second, and then she smiled through her eyes looking towards me as I wheezed. I think those are the small moments we all lived for, these small but specific moments in life. There was, for me, something In Maya and Mayank that the beautiful sky didn’t have. I thought I understood that we looked for a sense of completeness, I found that in both of them, they found that in the sky.
We spent the rest of the evening on the porch in the fresh air of the village, which I’m guessing wasn’t the case in the town they came from. They always told me how much they loved being here and how much they appreciated me, it always made me smile.
We were enjoying ourselves, the sky above us getting darker and darker. It was getting late so we moved into the house, amidst the numerous smiles and laughter.
Soon, it was time for dinner. We three sat at the table, ate food like any happy family would. Maya told me about how things went at her job and who she had met, followed by Mayank. I always liked listening to whatever happened at their workplace, partly because there weren’t many moments of workplace story or any stories for that matter in my life. That’s why it was always a thing I looked forward to.
It was late and we went to bed.
“I’m so full,” said Mayank, a bit tired.
“Since you couldn’t keep your hands on your own plate, I’m sure you are” Maya joked.
“Oh, shut up” snapped Mayank, a bit embarrassed.
Maya imitated him. Which made us all laugh into the calmness of the room.
I have often heard that when grown-ups shamelessly act like children, it is in front of their close friends and family and the people they truly and deeply love. It was also earlier that night when I realized how true it was, how true it had been all these years.
They both drifted off a bit later but something about this moment took me back to the time I first met them, I recalled through my weak memories what must seem a very vivid memory of two twins and one lady back then…
In the summer of 2004, I was then a young lady, or I like to think so, but my hair still was black but with some grey streaks here and there. I remember that I was watering the plants. Walking on the grass which reached a little above my ankles which I had planned to cut afterwards, I was in the company of the only living beings other than myself in the house – these plants. I remember vaguely about having any parents because back when I was a small girl, I barely lived a life, but I survived and also because I didn’t have a single person to help me live through my childhood or teenage or even witness me live. I didn’t have anyone. There weren’t many orphanages in that time, so I did everything I could to get a day’s meal every day. I collected enough money by the time I was in my late 30s to buy a house to live in. So I have been by myself from pretty much the very beginning, and those were very bitter memories that crossed my mind.
I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t forget them.
I would not go into much details of my terrible, terrible childhood and the life after that. I was angry and frustrated at the world then, but there wasn’t anything I could do, was there? As time passed, I realized there was…
As I was watering the plants, I was distracted by a low child-like squeal of a small 5-year-old boy, who was running tirelessly with a girl, who by the similar features, appeared to be his sister. By the look on both their faces, I sensed a bit of frustration. Immediately, I motioned my hands to invite them. I didn’t know why I did that, but their sad faces appealed to me. They came in and were both very angry and a bit upset when they motioned towards the orphanage by the end of the street and told me that they came from there. They told me about how both they kept asking those people about their parents, who are they, why did they leave and will they ever come back. They told me about how they did not get any answer, every time. And as innocent as these kids were, when they told me all about how the people at the orphanage ‘made’ them live there, I couldn’t tell them anything about their parents, and how I wished I could know them about mine. I just managed to distract them from something a million times less heartbreaking which was anything at all, anything except a terrible childhood. I just wanted to make them forget about the parents they didn’t have and focus on what awaits them in their life. They just needed the right direction. I just so happened to be the one to give that to them.
We sat on the creaking wooden floor of my house when I realized they must be starving. I hurried into the kitchen and got whatever little food I had, and brought it to them. Giving away something for nothing may not be a smart move to make considering my situation then, but being smart wasn’t what I cared for at that moment. All I wanted to do was something good for these kids in spite of knowing they would get food from the orphanage but I wouldn’t, from anywhere. The smiles on their faces were enough persuasion for me to not think about myself. I had to send them back to the orphanage because I knew I don’t have enough food to feed them and not enough space to let them live here. I just couldn’t if even I wanted to.
I couldn’t just tell them to leave, I approached their happy faces when they had finished eating not too sure of how to talk to them. It was then when Maya stood up and thanked me and whispered something to her brother, after which he stood up and thanked me too. I was astonished to see how pure children are when they are small and how polluted we become when they grow.
I knew the pain I had to suffer from being an orphan and I didn’t want to hurt them so….I started with something blunt.
“Alright, so did you like the food?”
“We did, very much”, they both said.
“I’m so full,” said Mayank happily.
“What…er… now, you should… leave?” I said leaving both their faces empty.
Mayank’s face dropped,” NO! Why? We like it in here!”
Maya was just as sad,” Do you not like us?”
“We don’t want to go back there,” said Mayank, dejected.
“They wouldn’t tell us where are our…..” he was just speaking when Maya sportily stood up.
I don’t know what went inside Maya’s head when she decided to leave and when she said this.
“Alright, we will leave, in exchange for one promise…”
“Anything,” I said, relieved.
“We will visit you every once in a while and you will welcome us”, she declared having a proud childish look on her face.
I replied with a smile and made that innocent promise.
With that, I became a timely witness of their life and after listening to their stories guided them to what I thought was the best path to take. I still couldn’t let them go just like that, they had to grow and grow with deserving resources, and I couldn’t let them live the life I did. I encouraged them to get an education from any source they could. I also talked to the person who managed the orphanage, Mr. Khan, to give every child education within his reach and capacity. It wasn’t an easy task though, I had to visit multiple times just to plant the idea in his mind, and through various repeated visits I was successful. He agreed and after much delay, he collected funds from the village and the towns nearby to pay for their education and grooming.
That happy success brought me back to the present, which consisted of many happy moments such as the dinner we just had. I looked towards the bag of gifts lying next to the wall of the room, thinking back to my act of kindness forgetting about my bitter past, when two orphans needed a hand and the correct guidance at most. This had struck me at all the right places – how the smallest act of selfless kindness changes our lives after it’s done and how it influences the lives of others. I began wondering again, as I did every time Maya and Mayank came to visit me – how did that angry 5-year- old girl leave the house so easily and what had she thought when she made that promise? This question kept going through my mind for quite some time.
“The love in your eyes and the empty fridge in the kitchen. Grandma, I know you slept on an empty stomach that night”, said Maya, startling me.
“That made me make that promise”
“How did you know what I was thinking about that?”
“Because I’ve been watching you staring at the wall from the past half an hour, smiling and frowning like a mad woman, every time we come to visit you,” she said laughing.
I smiled the broadest smile, hugging her, crying through my old eyes. It was in that moment when I realized that in the evening, it wasn’t them for me or the night sky for them which gave us a sense of completeness, it was our love for each other which made us feel complete, and that love had always been there.
I, to them, was the parents they never had and they, to me were the children I never had.