The car behind me honked loudly and I skipped to the side of the road in order to avoid a collision. Weaving in between fast moving motorcycles, cars and trucks, I headed towards the sidewalk to sit and rest in the shade. The dusty road divider had a sole tree with its few branches providing a semblance of shade, and a host of children with snotty noses were all clamoring to find a spot underneath. I hopped and skipped while avoiding cars as my feet were burning on the hot metallic road: I was barefoot as today was my sister’s turn to wear the slippers we shared. Finally upon reaching the sidewalk, I lifted my sore feet and blew on them to try and reduce the pain. I could see my ‘mother-of-the-day’ waving to me to get back on the road and approach stopping cars, but I pretended not to see her as the heat was unbearable.
For as long as I can remember, my days started with a bunch of ‘mothers’ and ‘children’ leaving the shanty town where we lived and spending a large part of the day in an allocated begging spot. Hot or cold weather, wet or dry days, the leader of the ring ensured that the lot of us was swarming around the traffic light and cajoling passersby to hand us alms. Some days a yellow substance on a filthy bandage was applied to my forehead, while on others, my arm was put in a dirty sling; though I must say I was lucky not to have my arm or leg broken like some of the children in our group, but the sling was most uncomfortable and I sneakily removed it when no one was watching. According to the leaders of our group, people were more sympathetic when children were badly maimed, hurt or blind. In fact, in order to appeal to the sensitivities of the passersby, under nourished and starving children were scattered at all traffic crossings and made to thrust their little hands inside the open car windows. The one meal a day strategy ensured that we were underweight and sick looking with dark circles under our eyes; unbelievably skinny yet highly prized, little people like me were in great demand in the dark world of human trafficking!
Today I had no desire to go knocking incessantly on car windows, so I turned my back to the watchful eyes of our guards and tried to rest under the sparse tree. The sweltering heat coupled with the lack of nutrition made me listless and my eyelids closed inadvertently. As I drifted further and further away from my painful reality, I imagined the lives of people who passed by; children in spotlessly clean school uniforms heading to school: an anxious mother wiping away an invisible crumb on her child’s mouth: friends singing together to loud music blaring from the car stereo speakers; families piled together heading for a day out: and the smiles, oh the happy smiles of children secure in their comfort!
How different their lives were from mine! How I wish I was the smiling baby sitting in the shiny car on her mothers lap, or the chubby girl with pigtails wearing the white school uniform, or how about the tall, fair girl with the blue hairband and glittering bangles! Many a nights I had lain awake wondering who my real family was, where I came from, and why my fate had tied me to these roads; but young though I was, I understood that no matter which way the sun rose, the drudgery, pain and humiliation surrounding me would never change. Sadness weighed on me like a punishment, and my heart sank deeper and deeper till there was no more place left for it to go.
Suddenly I heard my name being called out; my eyes flew open and I snapped out of my reverie when I saw the beggar mafia ‘guard’ in charge of the area menacingly signaling for me to go back and start my work. Wiping the tears rolling down my cheeks, I collected my impossible dreams and unattainable desires, and locked them tightly in my little heart. Covering my head with a tattered veil in the hope of protecting myself from the blazing sun, I hobbled back to the large freeway and waited for the traffic light to turn red.