There’s something clean and fresh about the color lilac. Something light, innocent, deliciously appealing. Maybe that’s why the image of the milk-woman, the last time she entered the house, always stuck. Not her face either. Just the form. A bodice flowing out into a voluminous skirt. A delicately woven basket hanging on her arm.
The lady who let her in never looked into her eyes as she opened the door. She seemed to fix her eyes on a spot far behind her, maybe on the next house, opening the door like she thought she’d heard a disturbance, but finding nothing, was closing it again.
You would’ve guessed the milk-woman had caused irreparable damage to her pride. You only avoid someone that way when they’ve humiliated you; you don’t meet their eyes. Not when you’re angry with them. When you’re angry, you just throw them out.
Inside, the landlady stared patiently as the brown-skinned woman bent over the washbasin. Her washbasin. Not the one marked ‘Colored’. Because there could be no discrimination. Because they were all equal. Blacks and Whites, everyone the same. So the white-uniformed woman had taught her yesterday. Given a half-hour lecture right after plucking the ‘Colored’ board off the wall beside the second washbasin. Her husband smiling and nodding at her, sending reproving glances his wife’s way as if blaming her for not having thought of it sooner.
The lilac gown woman was forgotten after that day – but me, I always remembered; the image of the crisp bundle of notes pressed against her bosom, her other arm empty, limp by her side.
It became glaringly apparent whether or not they were equal now.
I followed her home that day — she was difficult to keep up with, her ever-hidden feet carrying her like wheels across the plain leveled road. I had no such advantage — nothing to put my weight on, no action of friction to urge me forward. But I made it in time to see her tiny toddler scrape the anthill beside him into his bucket and promptly dump it on the roughly plaited locks of his older brother.
The mayhem and entertainment that followed made me wish, if only for a second, for a form, a voice, so I could join in with the screaming and pointing and jumping and kicking, so I could put my head under the mother’s palm to receive some part of the blows she angrily yet by default lovingly dealt on her young son, who stood there grinning almost as if he knew how amazed and reluctantly proud his mother was at his ingenuity. Of course, he barely felt anything. People didn’t hit babies too hard, and he knew it.
Unfortunately, so did his brother. You could see it in the promise of revenge written plainly across his face as his mother slapped his head and torso to brush off the ants.
Minutes after their dad came home, hands bloodied and smelling of alcohol, their mother was at the receiving end of the blows. Coming home to the news of his wife’s getting fired hadn’t been on his agenda after a day of losses in business and gambling.
The man was a poacher, and I knew him well. It was hard not to pay attention to his group of eight men as they bound and cut up dolphins, carrying the pieces back across the blood-red waters to the nearest pawning shop. It was clear there’d be no supper that night.
I left the house soon after, crossing the four year old boy as he squatted down on the floor near the cot stacked against the wall with his little sister enveloped in his arms, her head cradled in the crook of one arm and legs tucked away in the other while his younger brother watched and played with her hair.
I didn’t know how their future would be, and I wasn’t about to find out. Things like a wife being beaten and a four year old being the parent to his two tiny siblings would sound painful and cruel to those sitting far away and reading about it. But I, I found solace in finding these families where brothers existed, where people talked, where siblings pranked each other. I’d seen the husband cheat at games to take money home, and trade away the leather of his shoes in exchange for forceps to protect his wife’s fingers from the fire.
My own brothers, 10 years apart, had no idea which grade or university the other was in. The younger one had trouble getting his body in and out of doorways. Yes, my parents were very generous people. My older brother was painfully thin, having lost 20 pounds to diabetes.
Neither attracted the looks of pity in New York that kids with their ribcages straining against their skin would. That was the irony.
I crossed a group of people on my way, arguing heatedly about something. I didn’t care to go and check, because A) I felt lazy, B) I didn’t care, C) I felt extremely lazy, and D) it was boring. Something about religious offences. How they found it in themselves to even think of debating about that kind of stuff, I’d never understand. Couldn’t they rather just sit and read a book? Or watch a football match? But no, they had to worry about some homeless guy entering a temple with sandals. Sandles barely held together with pieces of thread at that.
It was nearing midnight when the purpose of my visiting India was finally served. I didn’t take much pleasure in interfering with the affairs of human beings, but I did love to torture a few extraordinary ones now and then. I loved to, which was ironic because it never left me satisfied enough.
Don’t worry, I’m not a sadist. I’ll tell you the story, and then maybe even you could help me in coming up with more creative ideas.
There was this guy, a police superintendent, who had a bit of a weird way of obviating boredom. He chose to take a walk, buy pieces of the best, softest, fresh smelling bread, and keep it under the noses of starving children before snatching it away just as their mouths started to water. He then popped it into his mouth, or threw it to the drains running along every street. I didn’t know which angered me more. Not that I had anything to do with food, but still. It seemed to be the one thing that unfailingly managed to spread happiness wherever it went.
Tonight, though, would likely be the last night Mr. Cop enjoyed his food for another one week. Another one week, because the bitten tongue I’d given him last week had just started to heal. I walked behind him and patiently waited for him to get his first taste of blood after attempting to chew through his bread. Ulcers – they were the best.
I wondered if these kids living in the gutters were better off than those roaming the war fields in Syria, like the five year old girl who immediately raised her arms in surrender when approached with a camera. Or if she was better off than the girl who lay curled up in the abandoned fields of Africa in front of the vulture that was patiently waiting for her to die, so it could finally have its meal.
Sometimes I thought the best thing my parents ever did was dump me in that well.
Sometimes basically meant all the time, other than the times when I was aware of what I was missing out on by not being human – that wild curiosity, the throes of laughter, blissful things like Pizzas and Tiramisus that appeared to be able to solve everything, tears shed on graduations and farewells.
Then again, those who were tearfully parting or hysterically laughing today would tomorrow join the rest of the world, in the amazing thing called going back and forth between two sets of walls that almost everyone in it did.
The best part was that they were practically reliving their previous day everyday, and none of them realized it. Ninety-five per-cent of the thoughts that crossed their minds today were the same ones that occurred to them yesterday.
There was an expanse of land and nature before them to experience, and one single lifetime; maybe this thought occurred to them sometimes – of leaving monotony, of being a bit risky and taking the plunge – but if they didn’t go back to office the next day, who’d send their kids to college?
And so it continued.
But then there were people like Harry Potter and Ebenezer Scrooge. And Atticus Finch. Awesome people. Either be fictional like them, or be like me.
Be like them, because Ebenezer Scrooge is still alive today and Axel Wenner-Gren, founder of Electrolux and once upon a time one of the wealthiest men in the world, is not.
But if you’re stuck in the human form, all the best. Whether you’re among the ‘fortunate’ 2% of the world population that the entire global economy is based on supporting, or among the other 98% – it’s all the same. Unless you move into the currently negligible percentage of those who get themselves on their feet and move forward to stop things or change things, or, on a smaller scale, to smile at a stranger or a child walking down the road. If you move into the percentage that the boy wouldn’t feel the need to complain about once he reached God in a few minutes.