Frustrated I gave the keys one last futile jab before I slammed down the laptop’s screen. A real piece of junk; it never really worked anyway. If only my dad had coughed up some more money and bought me the one that I actually wanted; I thought as I stretched and swung open the refrigerator door before me.

My stomach growled its approval as I took inventory of the shelves, straining under the weight of the food, but with nothing to eat. The ping of my cell phone distracted me from my deteriorating mood.

Excellent! Last minute lunch plans.

As the tires rolled on the hot tarmac, my mind was pre-occupied; what exactly would I choose to satiate my hunger with. Did I feel for a light refreshing sandwich, slabs of meat with crisp lettuce and tomatoes on toasted rye? Or some sumptuously spicy noodles, bite sized crunchy vegetables drizzled in sauce and chili oils.

The aromas wafting away were sensational. I could hardly wait. Right now, I was so hungry, I could just about eat everything. At the tap on my window I snapped out of my reveries, miffed.

Two eyes and a palm stared beseechingly at me, a dirt crusted face attracting flies, lips quivering, mouthing out words, whose sounds never reached my ears. The cracked lips had a spit bubble settled comfortably at one corner. My eyes slid down the boy’s kurta- if it could even be called that, with its holes and patches it more accurately was closer to rags- slicked with sweat. He could hardly have been sixteen. My lips curled at the smudge that had now spread across the glass, grime sedimented in the ridges of the boy’s fingertips from God knows how long.

ho

It was bad enough that these people were allowed to roam freely in this state but then they had to come and make contact with us in such a manner. With the country’s current condition, we could hardly look after ourselves let alone attend to the welfare of others. Wasn’t that the state’s job? And of course everybody knew giving away money was useless. It never solved anything and it was never used for the right things by these people.

My brows furrowed as I gestured a sharp flick with my hands, annoyed. I turned away, failing to comprehend the disheartened eyes that retreated. Eyes that were used to harboring disappointments from long ago. Eyes that in a cruel twist mirrored the irritation I felt towards my parents(at that moment), as a yearning for such beings that had never existed, for this boy; yearning to feel the presence of such people, their laughter, their rules, and even their restrictions. Impervious to the embers extinguishing in those pupils, I settled back into my seat to comfort my tummy with thoughts of the meal to come.

The sky had darkened now, as I was returning home from my day out with my friends. The humid heat of the day had built up to its climax. Rain poured down, a storm rumbled overhead, drowned out only by the temporary haven I was sitting in, in my car; heater turned up, radio blasting away.

My eyes were focused on the road beyond the periodic swish of the wipers on my wind screen. As I drove past the roundabout, almost home, I noticed a body lying on the side of the pavement.

A kurta clad body, rain soaking up the fabric, washing out the layers of sweat. Clear water fell on a face, dripping down as mud-changed. Dozens of cars drove past, flashing their headlights, hands permanently pressed to the horns, staring in front of themselves, thinking only of the remaining distance till their destinations. Nobody stopped for the boy by the pavement. Nobody looked at the fallen body.

act

Across the world, 2 people die each second, 105 each minute, and 151,600 each day. More people than deserve it remain alone till their last breath; an even greater number are the nameless-basically faceless- that in no way affect our lives so we see no reason to pay attention to theirs. Children without homes, with families, without knowing anybody that could possibly love them withering away.

As I switched on the hazard lights and parked by the pavement, I dialed for the ambulance. A whirlwind of thoughts swirled through my mind. Countless moments previously stored in my temporal lobes broke free; instances that I had no conscious memory of. Endless faces that I might have come across over my two decades.

I saw a boy being whipped with a baton, victim to the occasional, half-hearted police crackdowns.

I saw another lying unconscious, a shiny tell tale needle sticking of his arm, sparkling in the sunlight, blinding me.

I saw numerous blank faces plowing past, their eyes glazed with their apathy; their faces pinched, concentrating on some undoubtedly irrelevant and inane problems that governed their lives.

And among those desensitized robots I saw myself.

streets

We are used to witnessing such sights of poverty, of abandoned children and of broken homes around us that we have by now taught ourselves to ignore them. We have built walls around our sheltered lives, protecting us from the outside, dispensing out 20 rupees intermittently, whenever reality finally catches up to us. Chaos, horror, hardships released in measured doses; the suffering of others ‘inferior’ to us, whispered gently to us so that we can handle them according to our mechanisms, correlating with our whims. We purposefully turn the other cheek to the young, the children forced to grow up prematurely, to stand and look the harsh world in the eye before it consumes them.

streeeeet

As the sirens-picked up by the wind- reached my ears, one final image swam before my eyes; a child barely five, skipping along the sidewalk, alone, cars whizzing past on both sides, his face full of laughter, singing some old tune gleefully, oblivious to his surroundings; and I remember (shamefully) my shock, my surprise that somebody in his situation could still feel the capacity of happiness, possess the ability to smile. But of course he was still to learn of his reality, of the ways of the world, and of its men.

 

-Sidra Zahid.

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