“Could you please spare some change?”
A little boy with messy brown hair, face and hands covered with dirt and a tattered shirt and khaki shorts, approached Misty; his eyes glistened a majestic green, like those of dense, dark forests.
“I haven’t eaten for days.” his voice so small, and desperate proved it only better. Misty thought of giving him the money but then decided she would take him for a meal instead.
“How about a date?” she offered with a bright smile, directing towards the eatery across the street. The boy’s innocent little face lit up with happiness followed with a frown.
“What happened little fella, you don’t like Micky-D’s?”
“They won’t let me. We don’t belong there, they say.” He started to look down at his bare feet as tears rolled down his cheeks.
Misty felt terribly sorry for the little boy and angry about the prevalent mean behavior among some waitresses at dine outs and eateries.
“This time I’ll let her know you very well do, OK sweetheart? Come on now, gimme a smile!” she offered him one of her face wipes.
“Thank you!” he said and smiled while he wiped off his tears and face.
What a handsome little boy, thought Misty. Such innocent little face and my god those eyes! He’s an angel. He’d rather be attending school playing with his classmates right now and yet he was here, begging on the streets without food for days! What’s this world coming to?
“So what do they call ya?” Misty asked.
“Nicholas!” he replied with a smile.
They walked in while Misty held his little hand. It was so fragile and cold! As she walked up to the counter a cute, red-head with pixie haircut smiled at her.
“May I take your order, Mam?”
“Oh sure, you can. Let’s see here… How about a Happy Meal with extra fries and coke?” Misty looked at Nicholas, as if asking for his approval. He nodded and smiled back at her.
“OK… and a Veggie Burger please. We’ll be eating here. Thanks!”
The red-head gave her a baffled look.
“What’s the matter sweetie?” Misty asked.
“Uh…No…Nothing Mam. Just a moment please.”
The meal was ready and Misty was offered the tray. Nicholas had still held her and so Misty took it with her other hand.
The red-head was still staring, with the same look on her face.
Misty ignored her and walked towards a table for two, carefully as not to drop the tray.
The place seemed awkwardly vacant today. On a usual Sunday it would be flocking with people in huge queues with not even a single table to spare. She was glad that it was vacant. The boy needed to eat and waiting for long wouldn’t have been a good idea.
They sat down and Nicholas attacked at his Happy meal. He was about to stuff his mouth with the burger but stopped and put it down.
He stared at his meal, the fries and coke and then outside the glass wall. Misty stared at him with a feeling of contentment and love. She had not even touched her burger.
“What’s the matter Nicholas?” Misty asked. “Food not good?”
“I wonder if Mommy has eaten yet…” he replied still staring. Misty was in awe. Such a Young little boy, famished for days yet thought of his mother before he took even a single bite. He must love her so much!
“Oh Nicholas!” she said “We must pack some for her too. How about we get this all packed up and you both can eat together?” She’d rather give her share away to them.
“Would you really, would you?” Nicholas’s face beamed with happiness.
“Sure honey!” she was genuinely happy for him. “Let me get this packed up while you sit here OK sweetie?” Nicholas nodded again.
As they left the eatery with a big brown paper bag Misty saw the red-head still staring at her. Something’s wrong with that chick she thought.
They’d been walking for almost 20 mins now. Misty still holding Nicholas’s hand and the paper bag in the other. He spoke of how his drunkard step-father would beat up his mom every night and when he’d try to save her he’d beat him too. Nicholas never wanted to beg but the wretched man had forced him. He had threatened to kill his mother. His ill mother would pick up rags and sell them to the local vendor for a meager amount that the unscrupulous man would snatch off her for his daily dose of inebriants.
Misty wanted to kill that bastard. She knew it only too well. Her childhood encounters of a long battle against domestic violence still haunted her – the Ghosts of her past!
They approached a slum. Colonies of shanty houses overwhelmed with stink and squalor. Misty stopped short. “You live here?” she asked feeling sorry for Nicholas and his mother. How could one possibly even breathe in this filth!?
“Yes, there, that’s our house, come!” Nicholas pointed at a blue asbestos roofed among the cluttered dwellings and started to run leaving Misty behind.
“Nicholas… wait” she called out as she took after him.
She struggled to catch up as she passed one by lane after the other. This was a damn puzzle. Buckets and pots lined up, clothes hanging out to dry and the never ending filth at every corner. The place was eerily empty though
“Nicholas… stop, Nicholas!” She had lost track, and now walked slowly.
As she neared the blue asbestos roof she stopped, the place smelled of alcohol. She felt nauseated and covered her nose.
“Nicholas, where are you? Nicholas.” There was no reply. Though reluctant she entered inside. It was empty.
The room had an earthen floor, mud-and-wattle walls and some wooden furniture. It was dark with intermittent rays of sunlight peeking through cracks.
An earthen pot sat at a corner. A wooden cot on one side covered with a few rags made for a bed. An mud oven with bricks at the base, filled with burnt wood and ash served for cooking. As for utensils nothing save a plastic plate and a cup. Some plastic boards were made as shelves, on one of the walls held few clothes and old newspapers and a photo frame .
A much younger Nicholas stood with a woman in front of a beautiful bungalow. Must be his mother and him in happier times, thought Misty. That angelic smile and dark hazel eyes. He wore a bright red shirt and khaki shorts. His mother was beautiful. She wore a peacock blue sari.
A sudden breeze blew in and the frame fell, shattering the glass. The old newspapers flew and were now strewn on the floor. As Misty bent to pick them up her eyes fell on an old newspaper. The headline read :
MOTHER COMMITS SUICIDE AFTER KILLING SON
A Thomas Stradford had married a widow Sylvia, who lived in India with her only son Nicholas. Sylvia was the sole owner of the property bestowed upon them after the Late Army Major Sameer Bhatia’s untimely death in war. The notorious Stradford had coned Sylvia into believing that he had fallen for her and asked her hand in marriage. Thinking of the future of her only son and the importance of a father figure in a child’s life Sylvia had agreed. Shortly after a discreet wedding she sold off all her estate and both mother and son left the country with Stradford. As it turned out Sylvia had been tricked off all her money left with no choice but a life of misery. Last night the bodies were found at the slum where reportedly Sylvia and her son Nicholas were staying since the past 6 months.
Below was a picture of Nicholas and his mother.
Misty froze, her face flushed out of color. Her brains were sending her a signal that her body could not comprehend. She was unable to breathe. Her whole body started shivering. The paper bag fell from her hands and as her legs were about to give away, she heard the familiar small,desperate voice again.
She turned around slowly to find Nicholas and his mother, silhouetted in a halo, smiling back at her. They looked as if they had walked straight out of the old photograph. Nicholas in his bright red shirt and khaki shorts, his mother in her beautiful peacock blue sari. A bright light flooded the room and Misty had to squint her eyes to lessen the impact. The intensity of the light increased and was soon unbearable. Misty covered her eyes with her hand and started to cry loudly.
A few hours later as Misty took the bus back home she realized what was wrong with the red-head at the eatery!
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