At length, she appeared. Amara. I knew it had to be her. She looked exactly like her description. I took a step forward. But then I stopped.
There was a woman with her. They were having a conversation.
The woman was elderly, probably in her mid to late sixties. She looked like one of those chatty old ladies you meet in the market, holding a big shopper filled with grocery to twice its capacity and frivolously chiding a used-to-it-on-a-daily-basis vendor over the ridiculous price-hike of eggs or okra.
I concentrated on my hearing, trying find out what they were talking about.
“Do you want a banana, child? I have bananas here in my bag,” the woman was saying. Odd people everywhere.
“I don’t want bananas,” the girl, Amara was saying. She had a slightly gruff voice for a girl, I noticed.
“You don’t sound like a girl,” the woman said, “you don’t quite look like one either.”
“These are girl’s clothes I’m wearing, aren’t they?” the kid said with a hint of annoyance.
I stifled a smile. Back in the day, I loved to dress up in my brother’s clothes and play cricket and—
Brother? When did I ever have a brother? I had barely ever seen a match of cricket being played. They were not a part of the world where I belonged. I must be fantasizing again.
This girl though, I thought, she seemed to love being in her own skin even in such a young age, it almost seemed like she was trying to convince the woman that she was a girl even with her throaty voice and boyish looks.
“Yeah I can see that,” the woman said, “your frock is quite tattered though. Doesn’t that bother you?”
I shook my head, a silent spectator. I am not surprised. Most elderly people come off as quite the judgmental pricks.
The kid didn’t say anything to that. She ran a hand through her crisp brown mop of hair and sighed in an exasperated way, staring at the river whispering under the bridge. At length, she turned to the woman and looked at her, deadpan.
“If you can’t give me a new dress, don’t mock the one I’m wearing,” she said.
She’s good with words, but then, most teenagers are, I thought.
It seemed to have caught the woman off-guard. A wave of surprise brushed across her face for a split second like a tide that broke before it became too high.
What did she expect to hear anyway?
The surprise was quickly replaced by a smile. It didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“I suppose I appear like one of those old housewives who have nothing better to do than to judge young people, criticize the government, spread gossip about the neighborhood…I’m sorry if I am being annoying. I just felt like talking to someone. I have a little girl like you.”
“It’s okay. You can go on your way now,” Amara said quietly.
“Ah…I presume now I am coming off as a kidnapper of sorts, huh?”
“I am almost fifteen, okay? I know that’s not too much to boast of, but I have learned enough about people not to trust them. Especially the nice ones,” Amara said.
“Especially the nice ones,” the woman repeated.
“You should give up now. It’s been three days”
“Yes, but my chocolates don’t seem to be affecting you”
“Fine, you aren’t trying to drug me,” Amara said, “Is that what you want to hear? You are a kind person but I don’t need your kindness. Leave me alone. Please.”
“And I am too weak to try to kidnap you,” the woman added.
Amara shrugged, saying nothing.
“I’m trying to write a book”
Amara lifted a brow in question at the wrinkle-ridden, tired looking woman in front of her. “I think they’re pretty hard to write. Takes long to write them too,” she said.
“Yeah, I should have started sooner. Well, better late than never!” the woman said, a bright smile lighting up her face.
Amara gave her a brief nod, not quite enticed. “I don’t want to end up in your book.”
“What made you think that? It was just a random thought,” the woman said, eyes twinkling. She was finally making decent conversation with Amara — I observed from my cover. Maybe that’s what she wanted the whole time. A lonely soul trying to have a friendly talk with another lonely soul.
Amara was silent. She might be thinking about the time a lady came to talk to her a couple of years ago. She said she was writing an article for some magazine. Once she got her to open up, she walked away never to return. I had found that little piece of information in her file.
“What happened to your daughter?” Amara asked the woman, changing the topic. The woman had put her overflowing shopper down and was now leaning onto the iron railing of the bridge.
“She is in a deep sleep. She had a rough time,” the woman said, her mouth drooping, her face grave. “But it’s okay, she’ll wake up as soon as I have finished writing my book. She nagged me for years— ‘write a book, ma, just write it,’ she would say–write about your university days, write about your marriage to dad. I deserve to read a book written by you’. I never found time then. Or maybe, I just didn’t have the courage. And now I am trying to be courageous and she’s sleeping soundly instead of cheering me on.”
They fell into a pregnant silence.
To be continued