THE UMBRELLA BOY
I saw him at a distance at the traffic signal, completely drenched, holding multicolored umbrellas in all sizes and designs. He would go to each car, auto, bike and passerby and plead with them to buy his umbrellas. They would hardly spare him a glance, many would simply look through him or glare at him to take away his dirty body from them or their cars. There was something in his demeanor that attracted me to him even from a distance.
I was afraid the light would turn green again before he reached me. And it did. Impatient honking of horns compelled me to start my bike and move ahead. As I negotiated my bike through the maze of vehicles I saw him jump into a cesspool trying to avoid being hit by a swerving biker. Unfortunately that jump splashed mud and water not only on him but the biker too. He stopped his bike, hurled an abuse and flung a tall leg towards the boy throwing him headlong into the back flowing gutter water. Not caring to see where his cruel push had landed the boy, or if he was hurt, the biker nonchalantly revved up his bike and sped away. The boy picked himself up swiftly, unmindful of the trickle of blood from his sullied cheek. He gathered the soiled umbrellas in his arms just as a mother would pick up her hurt child...even a steady drizzle from the skies couldn't hide another steady drizzle from his eyes.
I couldn't just ignore his despondent, tear filled eyes. I stopped my bike at the bus stop and ran back to where he stood crying over his bad luck, surrounded by his friends-all of them pre-adolescents plying something or the other on that busy street. Gently tapping him on the shoulder, I asked him how much the umbrellas cost.
'200 rupees each. But Saheb, all the umbrellas are soiled now. Nobody will buy them', he said in a small voice.
'I will. All of them.'
'But why? They are useless now, saheb!'
'No, they are not!'
I took out a thousand rupee note from my wallet and tucked it quietly into his pocket. Taking all the five umbrellas from his tiny hands, I shook them open one by one and handed them to the boys. The last one I handed to the little boy, 'this one is for you'. A sudden burst of thick droplets washed away the mud from the umbrellas. And the gloom from the boy's face too. A dash of colors from the umbrella livened up his despondent face,'You are so kind sir, God has answered my prayers, I believe. Yesterday only I was burning with fever after getting drenched in the downpour and I prayed to God to help me and God came to me today.''
'No, I am human only. I just happen to like children. But where are your parents?'
'I don't know, saheb! Never saw them. None of us has any parents or home. We sell these things during the day and sleep here at the bus stop at night. I had borrowed money to buy these umbrellas from the uncle in that medicine store. I have to return his money in one week and that's why I was so worried and sad when all the umbrellas got soiled in mud.' he told me hesitantly.
'Have you eaten anything? And medicine?'
'Yes sir. The uncle from that medicine store gives us medicines whenever we fall ill. He is very kind, just like you. Sometimes he also teaches us in his free time.'
I ruffled his wet hair and asked his friends to take care of him. As I started walking towards my bike, he grabbed a yellow rose from the bunch in his friend's hands and offered it to me, 'Thank you, saheb. Aaj se aap aur hum dost?' he wiped his muddy hand on his dripping shirt and extended towards me.
I took his hand, tapped it reassuringly but I didn't have the heart to tell him I was leaving the city the next day for an assignment.
'I will return in the evening, I made a silent promise to myself, 'and do whatever little I can do for them.'
Image credit: Pinterest.com/noradean1