He saw her standing around in the middle of the road. She seemed disconnected and out of place. She hair was dirty, matted, and unkempt. She had scars over her dark skin. Her fabric of clothing, a saree, was dirty and had holes in it. She was really no different from any other young beggars out there on the streets. Her skin was plump; although she was diminutive in size and quite thin from malnutrition. It’s not like he had a lot to eat too. He wore his basic white shirt that was too big for him, and walked down that familiar road he usually walked with his hands in his pockets. Yeah, he was going “home” from his so called “job,” but he scrambled to make ends meet. His job, where he tutored a couple of bratty kids from an affluent family, was temporary and he knew it. Temporary jobs were a common phenomenon in his life, and it was a constant struggle for him to make ends meet. In the middle of the polluted city, he lived in a small dark room where he cooked, ate, and slept. The hip folks would probably call it a “studio,” but in reality, it was just a rat hole. It was a far cry from living amid clean water and open fresh air of his former little village.
He zoomed past her and avoided assessing any further. Just a street beggar of some formerly exploited indigenous tribe he thought. He replaced his thought by imagining a humble fair skinned wife he would be arranged to marry from an adjacent village that would be of his own high caste. He reminded himself that he came to the city to make money and was far superior relative to these slum dwellers. He moved his long skinny legs hastily up the hilly road as if to run away, and disappeared into the crowd.
A few days later, he saw her again during his walk home from the tutoring gig. This time, she appeared to be doing a little better. She stood on the side of the road with a couple of dull balloons for sale. A few kids turned to look, but none of their guardians stopped to buy. Even the beggars are becoming entrepreneurs, he thought with slight disdain while feeling helpless about his own pathetic situation. He heard her repeat the price of the balloon again and again. Twenty rupees? He thought. He could buy some basic biscuits with that. He took one last look at her distant frozen eyes, while her mouth moved in repetition on the price of the balloon, before he disappeared into the crowd once more.
A few days later, he didn’t see her at her regular spot. However, in the next few days after that, he saw her lying on the side of a nearby road. Swarms of people walked past her on the busy streets. He stopped in his tracks, and peered from far away. She wasn’t moving, and she had no balloons to sell. Her face rested on the tarnished road, and the fabric of her clothing waved with the movement of people’s legs walking around her. He rubbed his chin; which was something he did in moments of internal conflict, and moved his leg forward to walk away. He did walk, but it was slower than usual. He turned around and saw that she was still lying on the ground.
He headed towards her and figured he would donate five rupees. He told her to take it, but there was no response. He looked around and hoped that no one saw him before he kneeled down and tapped her shoulder. He was uncomfortable at the thought of touching a dirty untouchable. She gave a slight whimper. He thought about what one would do in situations like these, and figured that she may be dehydrated. He went to a nearby stall shop on the side of the road and bought a bottle of water for twenty rupees. This would mean his dinner portion for the evening would be cut in half.
Disbelieving in himself that he was buying water for a beggar while putting himself at a disadvantage, he walked hurriedly towards her. He first sprinkled some water over her face, then he let her drink from the bottle as he held it near her mouth. She slowly drank the water, then coughed as she got up. He let go of the water bottle and told her to take it. He stood up, checked his white shirt that was a little too big for him, and dusted off his black pants before he left.
His tutoring gig eventually ended, and he no longer walked down that road again. It was months later when he happened to walk by that location that he saw her again. He stopped in his tracks and she came hurriedly towards him after spotting him. She looked a little more put together this time. Her clothing was not as raggedy, and her hair was combed back in a long braid. She was wearing a red lipstick that was a bit smeared, and there were beads of sweat drops on her upper lip. She had managed to put on a little black dot on her forehead. She stood quietly before him. He walked away and she followed him behind. He turned around and she stood there looking at him again. It slowly began to dawn on him that she must have turned into a prostitute. Feeling sick to his stomach, he gestured with his hand for her to go away and that he didn’t have any money, but it looked like that wasn’t her aim. She placed her hand on her stomach, indicating that she was hungry.
He had recently obtained a new job as a teacher in a local public school, so his income had become relatively more stable than before; although it hadn’t changed the fact that he could still only afford to live in a rat hole. He decided that he could skip out on dinner and lunch tomorrow and use that money to eat out today. He said, “Come on” to her in a mutually understandable national language that they both could understand, and took her out to lunch.
He took her to a common restaurant that specialized in dumplings for the locals. They walked into the cool room away from the humidity outside. She looked around with big eyes. They sat down across from each other at a table, and he looked at the menu and pretended like he knew what he was doing. For a split second, he felt like a city folk. When the waiter came to their table, he ordered cabbage dumplings; which were a cheaper alternative to the chicken or the goat.
He couldn’t budget to order anything for himself, so he ordered only for her. He sat quietly with his arms folded and watched her eat. She didn’t know how to use the fork, so she picked up the dumpling with her fingers. She dipped it into the tangy sauce and then engulfed it wholly. There were twelve pieces that came in a plate, and they were gone in an instant. She then chugged her glass full of water while it dripped out of her mouth. The busy waiter rushed back and asked if they wanted anything more. He asked her, and she nodded her head. He ordered her another plate full of cabbage dumplings. After it arrived, she dipped it into the sauce and then savored it a little bit more in her mouth. She licked her lips and then went for the next dumpling before she finished them all. When he asked her if she was done this time, she nodded her head. She finished her second glass of water, and they scooted out of their seats.
He walked with her silently towards her road, and then left her there. He continued walking towards his own home. He unlocked the door to his rat hole and stepped into the dusty, cold, dark chamber. He took off his white shirt and laid down on his bed in his undershirt. He put his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling. With his stomach growling, he peaked out the small window that was high up on the wall where light shined through a dirty rag of fabric. The fabric tethered in the wind, and he could hear the sounds of street kids playing once in a while. He wondered if he looked like a beggar himself from this angle. He was tired, and the room was cool. Tomorrow was another day, another bread to win. He felt heavy, and slowly drifted to sleep.