It was the evening of 26th January. The grand day had passed away with all the usual patriotic fervor. Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter had echoed all day with the patriotism of the Indians.
But Anu was too young yet to understand any of it. She was happy because the day marked the birthday of her best friend. She had been to the birthday party and was now returning to her home with her mother.
“Mummy, will you make me Barbie too?” she asked. Her friend had dressed as Barbie in the birthday party.
“You want to become Barbie? Why not something else? Like the Frozen princess?” Preeti, her mother, said as she maneuvered her scooty through Delhi’s traffic.
“Frozen princess! I can be that?” Anu asked, looking back excitedly at her mother and thumping her little hands at the scooty’s handles.
“Steady! Don’t move about like that,” Preeti scolded, balancing her scooty that her daughter’s excitement had almost thrown off balance. She carefully guided her two-wheeler onto the Vikaspuri Elevated Road. She was happy to note that she had faced less traffic today then usual. The Elevated Road was less crowded too.
The three-year-old girl stood still as before and looked ahead, her hand resting lightly on the scooty’s handle. The scooty steadied, for a moment.
The next instant resounded with screeching of breaks, a sickening thud and then the sound of metal grinding against concrete. Amid them, maybe the cries of a woman and her child had risen too. But it’s doubtful anyone heard them. Certainly, not the occupants of the SUV that had collided into them, only to veer off and rush away without a moment’s halt. At its back could be seen the symbol of a political party and a tri-colour sticker.
“Doggy!” Anu cried out as soon as she got up from the road and looked around. The first thing that the child had seen upon getting up was a dog who had also fallen victim to the SUV’s speed. “Mummy, doggy,” she called out, pointing towards the injured animal.
No reassuring response came from her mother.
“Mummy?” Anu called, looking around. She didn’t see her mother. Her eyes brushed past a heap on the other side of the road. In between her and that heap, vehicles raced on. As Anu turned her eyes further right, she saw her mother’s scooty. Or what was left of it. She got up, walked towards it and freed her pink water bottle from its handle. She sipped a little water from it then sat down near the scooty. “Mummy?” she called again.
On the other side of the road, a racing car brushed passed the heap, maybe crushing it a little more. Anu remained sitting by the fallen scooty. Vehicles passed on, without stopping. Anu didn’t have any watch so she didn’t know that more than 30 minutes passed without anyone bothering to stop to help. The child just sat and waited for her mother. Her eyes fixed at the dog who too lay on the road. But it was no longer alone. Unlike the heap on the other side of the road, it was now protected by two other dogs.
Anu watched on as the two dogs licked their injured friend. Little by little, they were pushing it to the side of the road, away from the reach of the racing vehicles. The child put her chin on her hand and stared at them. Under her light blue shoe, she felt a small pebble. Her foot started moving back and forth over it. She liked the crunching sound it produced.
Finally, a car stopped near the heap. A small red vehicle that had seen much better days. A man got down from it. It was quite dark now, except for the blind flashes of the headlights of the speeding vehicles. In that darkness, the man leaned over the heap. When he straightened up, he was richer by a smartphone, watch and some jewelry.
He walked back towards his car and would have driven off. But his greedy eyes spotted Anu sitting near the fallen scooty on the other side of the road. It took him some moments to thread his way through the traffic to reach the waiting child.
“Hi, Gudiya, why are you sitting here?” he asked as his eyes looked left and right to make sure she was alone.
“My name is not Gudiya. I’m waiting for Mummy,” Anu replied.
“Your Mummy has sent me. She was hurt in the accident and someone took her to the hospital. Come with me, I’ll take you to her,” he said, his eyes gleaming as they noted the child’s fair skin and big, beautiful eyes.
“Mummy is in hospital?” Anu asked, jumping to her feet. Habitually, she extended her hand to be held by the grownup near her.
He grasped her small and tender hand into his grimy, rough one. “Come, I’ll take you to her.” He said, leading her towards his car.
Anu didn’t hesitate in walking away with him. She only turned to see the injured dog. It was now sitting up and looking around. Anu smiled to see that it was safe.
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