A New Life – Conclusion
Ranjubai slept fitfully through the afternoon occasionally crying out in pain as she turned on her thin cotton mattress. Her body was on fire.
It was later that evening Dass returned lurching unsteadily through streets and singing loudly the latest Hindi song from the Bollywood movie currently being shown at Maratha Mandir theatre. He’d somehow been able to get past the ticket office inspection by waving an old ticket as he went in belligerently and slept all afternoon until he woke as the crowd was surging past him toward the exit.
He headed toward the shelter and found his daughter sleeping while Kaua manned the stall. He shook her, and she yelled out in pain.
“Tell scavenger to leave and you look after the stall,” he commanded. Then settled down to sleep some more. He was soon snoring loudly.
Ranju painfully made her way over to the stall. “Stop making bonda, put out fire and cover stall, then come with me.”
She made her way slowly and painfully through lighted streets followed by Kaua. Eventually they reached their destination. She turned to Kaua.
“Remember this place and how to get here!” She took the money out of her choli and handed it to him. “You will now look after the money, remember how I was kind to you when you arrived in Mumbai and do not cheat me or in the next life you’ll return as a real crow. In this life Laxmi the goddess of wealth will not bless you and you will continue to run and be hunted.”
Kaua’s eyes opened wide in fear. This was a powerful curse and he shifted uneasily hesitating to take the money until it was thrust on him. Then they entered the merchant’s stall.
Ranjubai spoke to the merchant. “This is the admi I was telling you about. From now on he will be settling accounts and ordering from you.” The merchant eyed him and Kaua felt he was searching deep into his soul. He could see doubt as the merchant’s trained eye flashed between Ranju and Kaua.
Finally, the merchant spoke turning to Ranju. “What is his name?”
“Dinker!” She replied firmly, daring Kaua to interrupt her and deny this name with her eyes.
The merchant wrote Dinker against the account head and nodded while Kaua remained silent thinking.
When they returned to the railway station after a slow and painful journey Dass was not present. The stall was overturned, and oil stained the footpath. Ranjubai looked anxiously for ingredients and other supplies to be prepared for next day and found them safely in the shelter still while Kaua picked up the stall and cleaned up as best he could. He found some string and a plastic bag and placed the precious money inside fastening it securely around his waist. Then he sat on his mat and waited for Dass to return while Ranju slept. But Dass did not return that night.
In the morning one of the railway coolies came to break the news Dass in a drunken state had wandered onto the lines in front of an approaching train and had died of internal injuries. Kaua reported this to Ranjubai when she awoke expecting her to be grief stricken.
But the girl shrugged. She’d placed a curse on Dass after he’d brutalized her the day before and probably believed it was because of that he’d met his misfortune. Her headaches were increasing after that impact with the footpath and her sight was affected. Nevertheless, she dragged both to the merchant shop and taught Kaua how to select supplies and how much should be entered in the book against their name. Not that Kaua understood what was being written, he’d never been to a school. She made him memorize numbers schooling him over and over until he had the basics despite her pain. This went on for several days with the stall only open at the time of morning and evening rush hours while she schooled him.
But eventually she could not summon the willpower to stand and instruct him any further. She remained on her mat while Kaua hovered protectively over her not caring about the bondas, not caring about the angry customers who were used to quick service from this stall.
Then on the fifth day she raised her arm weakly and summoned him close. She whispered her previous warning should he disappoint her by not serving her interests, the interests of this stall which had been her life. She pointed to him and made him promise again while he shivered at the enormity of his change of circumstances and responsibility it carried.
Then Ranjubai turned on her mat with face to the wall and lapsed into unconsciousness. Two days later her lifeless form began to stiffen, and he sought out the coolies for advice on what to do. Silently she was removed for a negotiated sum.
Kaua wept uncontrollably. He wept for the loss of his parents, he wept for the lost years when he had to survive like a wild animal in his village. But most of all he wept for Ranjubai, the only person who’d ever smiled at him, the only one who’d taken pity on this frightened lad when he arrived in Mumbai. She was the only one who trusted him with family savings and taught him a trade. She was the one who’d opened to him a path toward a life that had an element of hope.
Then after one week of mourning he got up and stretched to his full height. He’d honour Ranjubai by making Laxmi his patron. He’d honour her by continuing the trade she loved so well and began business again. No thieving, only honest trade. Customers returned, and the stall prospered. Evenings he paid unemployed teachers to instruct him in reading and writing and then one day he had a thought. He’d show his gratitude by making a sign to put above the stall. He pondered deeply then had an inspiration. Calling a street sign wallah, he dictated the name of the sign and the sign artist painted carefully. Then they stood back to survey the newly hung sign and Kaua paid the man for his trouble.
The sign read DINKER’S STALL. He had a new life and a new name to go with it.
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