Hearing a shrill noise, the mother opened her eyes. She turned to the left side of the bed and tried to feel the face of her 7 year old son, but all she could feel was damp sheets. The crying continued, she peered over the bed and saw that her son had fallen down. Quickly she threw aside the blanket and sat down beside him. She showed no signs of panic or fear, for she was poised and calm. She took the child in her arms like the precious jewel he was, and comforted him. Within minutes, the boy was asleep. As she sat in the darkness holding her child, she could feel the vehicles veer past the bridge, over their hut; she heard a few bird chirps, a boat engine revving, the calm river as it slithered around the rocks and rushed into the bay, and thought to herself that she had only a few hours to sleep before daybreak. She looked at the boy once again, like the nightingale once looked at the rose, and fell asleep, her head resting on his.
Padma and her son were one of few inhabitants of the slum adjacent to the Howrah bridge. She worked as a flower vendor near the banks of the Hoogli river. The banks were always filled with tourists, pilgrims, taxis, colorful shops, tea stalls, and beggars even. People from everywhere came here to take a dip in the holy water which would absolve their sins, or so they believed. The locals used the water to bathe, drink, and absolve their clothes of dirt and stench. Far from the riverbank, the path led to a cluster of poorly roofed huts. There were huts of all sizes. Some were big, some small, some even had a bicycle in front of them, and of them all, one hut stood out. It was a small hut close to the riverbank, separate from the rest. It was the smallest hut in the cluster, and didn’t have a door. Instead, there was a blue saree which covered the entrance. The saree was faded and tattered, and looked like it had been there for a long time, braving the heat and rain; it had gaping holes, through which two bright eyes appeared. The eyes shone like crystals on a sunlit beach. Raju was staring at the corner where his mother sold flowers every morning. He saw her sitting at the intersection of the paths that connected his home and the taxi stand. There she was, draped in an old yellow saree, with numerous others who tried to make a living the same way she did. She waved to Raju and he waved back with excitement hoping to join her, but she sternly signaled him not to cross the blue saree. Raju was dejected, for he did not have any friends to play with, nor did he have any toys. All that was there in his home was a bed, few old rags, an old gas stove, few blackened vessels, and a tiny idol of Lord Ganesh. It was a windy day, and Raju spent most of the afternoon lying on the bed, looking at the ceiling, all the while hearing the sound made by the saree as it flew from side to side due to the wind. At one point the sound stopped, and Raju sat upright.
Padma was having great luck at her shop today. Many of her companions had drooping flowers which brought all the customers to her. Padma always had the best choice in flowers, and she never hesitated to pay a little extra to get the good ones. She even had a bright red rose in her hair. She hadn’t had such good business in a long time. Very soon, she had sold all her flowers and was headed home for lunch. She first bought a cotton candy for her child, and as she walked towards her hut, she noticed that the blue saree was gone. Not much further, she saw Raju running behind the saree trying to catch it. It must have flown off due to the wind she thought, and started hurrying towards Raju. As the saree swirled and turned with the wind, it flew higher and towards the river, and Raju wasn’t going to give up. Seeing this Padma’s heart started racing and she started running towards Raju. As Raju neared the riverbank, the calm and poised Padma was long gone. She was now running faster than ever, with a cotton candy in her left hand and holding up her saree in the right, she was screaming “RAJU, RAJU, STOP, DON’T GO THERE!”.