It was 07:00 am.
She suddenly woke up. She wasn’t sure what woke her up. She was sleeping peacefully besides her amma. Maybe the chilly weather or was it due to nightmares? No, she thought , it would’ve been the weather since never had nightmares sleeping besides amma. Slowly she got up and sat. Feeling wide awake, her attention shifted from sleep to her surroundings- Chilly,silent and still. Although she hated to wake up early she loved the peace and calmness of early dawn. As the cool breeze hit her face, she shivered and thought about reminding her amma about padding her clothes to make them more warm. She was lost in her own thoughts when she saw the school bus halt.
Sleepy eyed small kids with clean uniforms, heavy bags, water bottle around their necks and handkerchiefs tucked to their uniform got down from the bus.The Supervisor came to check their appearance. The supervisor checked their hair, nails, shoes, uniforms one by one as the kids struggled to be awake. The defaulters were told to step out of line and were punished. They were made to do 50 or was it 100 sit-ups each ? Then all of them were ushered inside the school building. After 15 minutes, the bell rand and the morning prayer was heard.
The children might be taking out their books, reading the lessons, writing notes, reciting poems…They will learn something new. They would have lunch from their Tiffin boxes. They might get scolding from teachers for incomplete or not doing their homework.Later the day, they might play or do P.T. exercises. She had heard it all from her elder brother. He had been to school before dropping out from Class VI from their village school.She used to listen to him with rapt attention. She used to dream about going to school, wear uniform, have her own books, bottles,shoes, socks after listening to her brother.
Whenever she used to pass he village school she used to feel happy and proud thinking, one day she would also join it and learn things. They say you need to go to school to become a big man.She used to wonder which school had Lala – their landlord had been to…Father and villagers said he was a big man and so was Babu- their seed provider. She would also become a big man and clear all her poor farmer father’s debts and then everyone would be happy. But then baba sold their land to clear debts. She was angry at baba for taking away her chance of clearing debts and making everyone happy when she became a big man. Amma had explained she can help and make everyone happy in many other ways.
They then came to the city along with baba in search of work. Baba had heard city was mine of jobs. She still remembered the day, when their train had slowly chugged its way towards the station. Amma had then assured that it is a nice place where baba would get a job and everyone would be happy. But baba never got the job and they ended up living on streets.Looking at their makeshift house made from plastic sheets she remembered her comfy village hut. She realized she missed it. Initially she would cry a lot but afterwards she got used to their new plastic home near the school.
“ Iti !!! Again you are awake at early dawn!! Go to sleep or you would feel sleepy during work time. If again you get less alms,baba would be angry.Now go back to sleep!!”
She laid down besides amma pledging to self that she would beg and beg and collect as much alms and make baba happy; then she would go to school and become a big man one day..
Smiling….she drifted back to sleep…