World Through a Child's Eyes
by Maria Fortuna Chaarlas
(Gold Coast, Australia)
"Mani! Mani, wake up you sleepy head!"
Appa and Amma are nudging me awake, gently. I open my eyes and look groggily at them.
They are smiling at me. "Happy birthday da chellam!"
I am very much awake now. Hiya! Today is my birthday. I wear new, costly pants and shirt with matching socks and shoes. I have my favourite breakfast of poori and potato masala.
Amma has packed a very delicious lunch of chicken, mutton, fish etc.
A very long and costly car pulls up at school and I get down. My driver comes immediately to my side, carrying my school bag and lunch. In class all the boys are trying to be nice to me. They sing, "Happy birthday to you" and I give chocolates to everyone. The day passes by happily with even my teachers not scolding me.
At home I wear another new dress with matching shoes and socks for my birthday party. All my friends come home and sing the "Happy birthday" song again. I cut the cake and everyone gives me presents. Amma and Appa give me a new red cycle. I can hardly wait to ride it! Dinner is yummy! The day comes to an end. So soon!
"Mani! Mani, wake up you lazy boy! If Appa wakes up, you are going to be in serious trouble!"
The word, "Appa" makes me totally alert. I sit up and rub my eyes. It was a dream! a lovely dream. Today is my birthday alright, but the rest had been a fantasy.
I look around. Akka is awake and helping Amma. My brothers and sisters are still asleep. How unfair! How totally unfair! It is me who has to go to work at the factory everyday and not them. Not even Appa! Akka was the unfortunate one until two years ago when they had this function at home and no one was allowed to see her for a couple of days. After that Amma said that Akka should no longer go to work and that being the eldest son in the family it was my duty to support my family. From that day onwards, I had to wake up before dawn, bathe in ice cold water, eat my porridge, take the same for lunch, walk a very long distance and finally be there at 6 am.
I can hear Appa's snoring and cautious not to disturb him, I get up. I dress up in the same old tattered work suit (I have a pair of them!). Amma gives me the same old horrid porridge. My stomach growls and I ask for more though I know she would scold me. Amma, like always says, "I don't have only you to feed! What about your brothers and sisters! Think about them as well, you selfish boy!" But I have never seen Appa think about us, especially when it comes to food. In fact Amma used to give us very little so that he may have the lion's share.
I pack my lunch and start for work. My last pair of slippers was torn six months back. When I told Appa, he whacked me black and blue, saying, "You irresponsible boy! Am I running a shoe factory here! You shall have no shoes from now. That will teach you a lesson." And that was it. But the next day he bought a table fan which he would always keep facing him. Once I moved it slightly and had got kicked over it.
I start walking. A year ago my life was colourful. I had to sell cotton candy and other sweets in front of a school. The boys there were good to me. They gave me sweets, marbles, tops, broken toys and sometimes even a bite of their lunch. Life was good then. Until the big Fat Lady in a fancy car saw me. She made a big row, took me home, scolded Appa and Amma and took me back to school where she spoke with some people. Then she told me that from the next day onwards I had to go to school to learn. Of course when I went home later, a whacking was in store for me. But Appa was too scared to mess with the Fat Lady. Akka later told me that the Fat Lady had threatened to put Appa
So I too went to school, the same one in front of which I had to sell sweets. The school was the same but the boys had all changed. Only a day before, there they were with all smiles, sweets and yummy lunch. But when I went to school, they mocked and teased me. No one sat near me. They beat me. I don't know why. I had no friends.
The teachers scolded me on the first day. From the second day they started whacking me, saying that I was a stupid, dumb boy, put there to make their lives miserable. I didn't understand what they taught me and they refused to understand why I was there!
Yet I was going to school. The Fat Lady came to visit me regularly for the first two months. Then her visits reduced. I was put to work in the evening. Her visits stopped altogether. I was taken away from school and made to work in this horrid factory where she or no one can find me!
Oh! Why did that awful Fat Lady have to come and make things worse! I was happy then.
In a few minutes, I will be joined by Shankar, my best friend, who also works with me. He always makes me laugh, even when I am very sad. Even if we have to work very hard, he always makes it fun. Every Sunday we spend time together exploring, climbing the nearby mount and playing. He has no Appa (He is very lucky!). His Amma is very sick. Muthu, his neighbour, told me that she has AIDS but he has no idea what that is, only that all people with AIDS die. He also said that Shankar's father died due to AIDS and that Shankar has it too!
I have not talked about this to anybody, not even to Amma for she would not allow me to be friends with him anymore. Every night before going to bed I pray to God to cure Shankar and his Amma so that he may live happily ever after!
As I keep walking, I see a man lying in his own vomit. It reminds me of Appa. Almost every day he would come home swaying and dancing and stinking. We would all run away from home and come back only after he has slept after beating and kicking Amma. If he catches us then he would beat and kick us instead. Last week he vomited in his food. Ugh! The smell of it! Amma and Akka had to wash the house and him. He fell asleep instantly, snoring. We all had to sleep outside because of the bad smell. When he woke up in the morning he beat Amma and Akka for not cleaning the house properly.
At days when he is not drunk, he used to come home with all smiles and praise and sweets for Amma. After dinner Appa would kick us out and lock the door. We have to sleep outside whatever be the weather!
Whenever Amma's stomach swells, she would look very sad and angry and shout at Appa that she is not going to have another baby after this one. Then Appa would kick her and she would beat us. Akka told me that she said these exact words after I was born.
I always dream of running away somewhere where there will be no Appa, no factory and no awful Fat Ladies. There I would go to school and when I grow up, would become a Collector or a Doctor, because Shankar told me everyone, even Appa would respect me then. But I would miss Amma, Akka and Shankar terribly! Maybe I would take them with me as well! And I would find a way to cure Shankar of that AIDS!
As I walk, lost in my fantasy world, a very thin, fragile boy smiles and waves at me. Shankar's face is red and hot as he has been having this awful fever for more than a week. Yet he grins showing all of his yellow teeth (of course some are missing). A smile slowly spreads across my face which soon turns into laughter as I break into a run to reach him. Joining hands (his hands burn mine), we skip along to work, laughing and singing happily! ***