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She has a child next to her. I have one too. Mine sits in the passenger seat next to me. On our way back from school. Full of stories that I have for the moment stopped listening to. Because I am looking at that other mother.
Clay figurines. Colourful. Vibrant. Bucolic.
That is their trade. Dealing in snazzy, bright clay figurines, bowls, masks, wall-hangings.
They sit by the side of the road. Their wares displayed along the pavement. So people can see when passing – on foot, in their cars.
Every once in a while, someone passes in their car and then parks the car further along the road and comes walking back to inspect something that has caught their eye. They ask the price. Which is usually not too much. They still bargain. And eventually, at a much lesser price than the artifact is worth, they buy the piece. It will look amazing on their feature wall, they think. It will dazzle their boring passageway. It will welcome their guests warmly…
But more often than not, no one buys much. Especially on working days. Busy days. When the adults are rushing to and back from work and the children are tired, being taken to school and back.
But they still sit there. Their wares spread. Every day.
To one corner of their spread, is a little makeshift tent. With a couple of vessels, a few logs of wood, some tin boxes and rolled up bedding. This is home.
When it rains, they huddle in the tent. Under the tarpaulin, praying the water doesn’t enter the tent. When the wind decides to have its way, they roll up the tarpaulin, lest their only roof fly away.
And when the sun shines, or at least tries to shine as much as it can shine on a dull, cloudy day, they sit outside. On branches fallen from the nearby trees. Or on upended, used oil cans.
Like he sits there today. On a large, fallen branch on the pavement. Eyes listless, waving a stick in his hand. For no discernible purpose. Swatting at nothing in particular. She sits on the ground next to him. Her pallu covering her head, barely showing her face. But eyes clear, staring out at passersby, soaking in the sights. Between them, on her lap, sits their little girl, of barely three or four years. Writing something on a small slate.
As the signal turns red, several cars stop by the pavement. I stop too. Then I turn to look in their direction. For no reason.
And I see the little girl hold up the slate for her father to see what she has written or drawn. He doesn’t look. He is looking at nothing in particular. But he ignores her. The mother, on whose lap the girl sits, sees her show the slate to her husband. Sees the husband ignore the girl. Sees me see all this.
Our eyes meet.
She is a mother. And I am too. She has a child next to her. I have one too. Mine sits in the passenger seat next to me. On our way back from school. Full of stories that I have for the moment stopped listening to. Because I am looking at that other mother.
Just for a few moments. A few raw, real, embarrassing moments.
Then the signal turns green. And I glide away. Even as she continues to watch the car.
I can see her in the rear-view mirror for a long time. Long after she has turned away and stopped looking.
But her gaze stays with me. It pierces my heart.
She is a mother. And I am too.
Image source: Rashmi Raj
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With over 200 published stories, Rashmi is a lawyer-turned-writer, who has always given
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