It was hot. She sponged away the beads of sweat from her neck and waited for the traffic light to turn red.The child was still asleep. It would hopefully remain that way for the next few hours. Her hand was stiff from the weight of its limp body.She reluctantly glanced at its face.The stain of tears still marked those soiled cheeks. She felt a rush of sympathy towards the helpless creature. Do they feed it anything at all, she wondered as she caressed its skinny body. She involuntarily covered its head with her sari, wishing the piece of cloth would shield it not only from the heat but also from every other force lingering out there to harm it.
As soon as the lights turned red, she began her work. The traffic was heavy as always. Over years she had learned a few tips and tactics for this job of hers.She had mastered the art of invoking sympathy even in the coldest heart. A glance at the pitiful infant was more than enough to melt most of the hearts. The child was the trump card.She just had to play her side role. A mother, eyes filled with guilt and impotence, helplessly struggling to keep her child alive.Who could ignore such a sad spectacle? The look on her face would haunt the ones who dared to look away, the others who handed her a few coins would go away wondering if they had done a little too less.This is how she earned her living,leeching on other’s conscience.
She walked over to the shade of the over-bridge waiting for the next red light.The child squirmed a little. Was it going to wake up? She hoped not.They had instructed her what to do in case it did,but she didn’t want to do the inhumane act. She had only used the white powder once and the guilt had not let her sleep for days.Thankfully it went back to sleep and she sighed in relief. She bundled the coins and the odd notes into her cloth pouch as she braced herself for another round of emotional exploitation.
They handed over a child to her every morning, sometime the same one as the previous day,sometimes a new one.This child has been accompanying her for the past few weeks. There were a few others before that . She did not know what had happened to them.She tried hard not to care about those unlucky children.After all they were just props, devices to earn sympathy!But she often spent her nights wondering if they were still alive.She glanced at the helpless child in her arms.It was holding on to the drape of her sari.Did it have a mother? Did its parents willingly give it way or were they still crying over their lost child?
As it began to get darker, she made her way back.The child was now awake and was greedily sucking onto the bottle of milk that she had bought for it,perhaps its only meal for the day. She hugged it tight as she rushed back into the building. They would be waiting for her.She would have to tear the child off from her arms and return it to those monsters. Did she dare to save this child, this one child? Did she dare to take it home and protect it ? Her pace slowed as she caught the glimpse of the old building.Did she dare?
For a moment she thought she would do it, that she would finally sleep that night without remorse.But the picture of the shack that she called home flashed before her. Four kids of her own, the ones she had borne in her womb.They would not have eaten anything.They would be waiting for her,their eyes glued on to the road.The very thought was enough to fasten her strides.
She entered the building, gave them the pouch.She rocked the child patiently as they counted the money.They grunted and passed down her share for the day. One of them yanked the child away from her. It screamed in pain. For a moment she froze on to her spot.Would she see this child again? But she had mouths to feed.She had to go. As she turned back,the shriek of the infant echoed in her ears.She never looked back, she just kept walking.