Life on the Streets
“What’s your name?” The girl repeated this in several dialects until it registered with Kaua.
Kaua looked at the girl and his lack of language skills distressed him. How was he to prosper in this city unless he could communicate more. “My name is Kaua!”
The girl looked at him incredulously, then burst into laughter. “Do you realize what you just said? You said you’re a crow”
The distressed look on his face sobered her. “I will call you Dinker instead, no more Kaua.
But Kaua stood tall in irritation. “My name is Kaua and I will be called by that name!”
The girl wagged her head from side to side in acknowledgement. “You will call me Ranjubai!”
She turned to look at her father Dass who’d been drinking steadily since his wife’s disappearance. Dass had tried to overpower her early in his drinking bout but she was strong and wrestled him into the shelter where he’d been sleeping ever since. She’d removed all the money from his hidden place removing a loose stone from the wall behind which it was kept for safety in a plastic bag. He was not going to drink away her future.
“You will look after the stall,” she commanded Kaua and he jumped into action gratefully. He was to be trusted! He treated that with a mixture of suspicion and surprise. He was a thief by necessity but deep inside something stirred as he thought of a life where he could work for a living and have self-respect. It would take time and effort, but possibilities were emerging.
After an hour Ranju returned looking sober. She’d been to see the merchant who supplied raw materials for them to make their product to sell to hungry rail passengers. After paying off their regular bill the family savings were now close to the line, but credit was still good with the merchant. It was her job to pay him regularly, so he was always glad to see her for their business was brisk. Perhaps her mother had raided the savings before absconding? Perhaps her father had been dipping in to those savings to support his increasing need for the locally produced spirit water? Who knew where the money had gone?
She eyed Kaua working diligently behind the stall and did a mental calculation of the potential return from trade since she’d gone. She demanded the money which he immediately handed over and she counted it. It looked about right.
Kaua asked permission to take some of what was frying for his meal. She eyed him suspiciously. Surely he’d already taken his fill? But the money was about right for raw materials made into product, so she nodded in agreement. He selected two while she watched him carefully and thought through her course of action for the future. She went to the shelter and produced some chapatis and vegetables and handed it to Kaua.
“How strong are you, can you handle my father Dass if he tries to take the money. I’m going to keep it in future, so he doesn’t drink it all away. You will need to help me if he becomes abusive.”
Kaua looked at the sleeping man doubtfully. He was older considering he was a street dweller where the lifespan was on average half that of the more affluent population. But because they had a prosperous business he’d survived beyond that lifespan for street dwellers and could have saved enough to buy a hovel in one of the shanty towns. But it was all about location. Being in this choice spot they had the advantage of not pushing the barrow for miles to get to a station entrance. For this privilege they had to pay off police sent to clear the streets from time to time. That bribe ensured their continuance in this spot for as long as Ranjubai could remember.
Both turned to look as they heard movement in the shelter. Dass had dislodged the stone in search of more money. He needed another drink! Dass sat bewildered trying to collect his thoughts. Had he spent the money already. He emerged and looked around suspiciously then rage overpowered him. He walked slowly toward the stall and bellowed like a bull.
“Where’s the money?” He slapped and punched his daughter sending her sprawling onto the pavement then was about to kick her while she was down when Kaua intervened.
In his village dialect he shouted at Dass who turned toward him questioningly. Both man and boy eyed each other threateningly, then Dass roared with laughter and stumbled toward him.
“What you want scavenger bird?”
Kaua sighed and searched for words to communicate accurately in Mumbai Hindi. “You will not hit Ranjubai ever again!” He stammered, but the boy was becoming a man.
Dass stopped to think through this situation. Probably the boy was about fifteen, but he was street smart and tough. Perhaps it was not safe to have him around after this incident. He’d challenged the father’s right to control his own child.
“You will leave this place now and not come back.” Dass was confident he had the trump card.
“I will not leave, and you will not hurt Ranjubai again.” It came out calmly and Kaua felt good about it. He would protect the one who had been kind to him when he first arrived in this city. He was not going anywhere.
Dass roared again and charged the boy who nimbly stepped out of the way. Dass went sprawling in the gutter and got up shakily. He turned in rage. If you stay you should not sleep because if you do you will never wake up again scavenger.
Ranjubai got up painfully and crawled toward Kaua for protection from her father. She reached into her choli and took out a few rupees holding it up to her father. “Take and drink!” She said wincing in pain.
To be continued.
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