‘how much is the fee?’;

four li’l heads bobbed up and down as i gazed out the window trying to crack a supposed intellectual work problem. it took me a while to snap out of it and realize that i wasn’t just imagining it. i smiled. if it was night, i would have been scared our of my wits – the intensity of their stares was something else.

pavi went out and spoke to them. i was trying not to lose focus again. all i could see was pavi listening intently. it must have been something she asked, because all of a sudden, all the four children pointed at me. my heart raced wondering what i had done now. pavi called out to me and i went out.

there was a sparkle in the childrens’ eyes. so it couldn’t be all that bad. i recognized them from my window watching experience a couple of weeks ago. i knew they were children from the nearby slum. today, i would get a chance at give them an identity rather than calling them slum children.

they were hesitant to approach me but their body language showed that they wanted to. they were fascinated by me. i started wondering if there was something in my face or were they merely curious cause of the way i dressed. i started talking to them in kannada. they were surprised. they thought i knew only english. going deeper into that conversation helped me uncover all the juicy details of their venturing out.

they had seen me come every morning and leave every evening to and from a beautiful house. they thought i was mad to be running away from such a lovely thing when they struggled to find space in their own humble lodgings. they had seen me open the doors and come out into the balcony when the volunteers were practicing their dance. they were surprised that anyone in the locality played music. as far as they knew, this was a strict community that didn’t like sounds disturbing their peace – even if the sounds were that of music.

what’s more, they had seen me play cricket with the other children, seen me walk in and out of office with my phone, sometimes with other people. mostly, they had seen me walking around the neighborhood with a different man everyday. apparently, i had never failed to smile at them. i felt guilty when i heard that because i don’t even remember. they said that they came everyday on to our streets just to watch me.

i was moved beyond belief.

i invited them into the office so they could see the inside of this routine they had created for themselves. they were fascinated. meghana, kavya, vinay and gagan. they were brother-sister couples. they had only the experience of having one room in the house with semi partitions for kitchens and what they call a bathroom. most days they use the public loo. i shudder to think of it.

i took them around the house and then upstairs. they couldn’t understand how another house could stand on top of an existing house. i remember thinking the same thing when i was four years old. the oldest one here was 10.

something happened as they entered the bathroom upstairs. they held it in awe and refused to enter it. they had made it magical place and i was afraid to shatter it. i walked in one step at a time to show them that there’s nothing to be afraid of. they followed, clinging to me, slowly. they started murmuring amongst themselves. they told each other that it was exactly how they saw it on TV. my heart broke, they had not seen something i take for granted every single day. the innocence with which they held on to the mundane things made everything magical for me.they lovingly touched and caressed the surface of the W.C and the bath. i couldn’t help but crack a grin.

then i took them to the terrace and we sat around for a while, giving them time enough for the new experiences to sink in. they all held my hand and we sat in silence for a while. the oldest one, meghana, turned to me shivering and asked me ‘akka, i would like to come here everyday. my father is an auto driver and sometimes we struggle for money, but if i insist and go for work myself in the summer we can make enough money for the fee. tell me, whatever it is, i will try and get that money. how much is the fee?’

for giving you what you should’ve gotten at birth, for the pleasure of your company, for banishing dark clouds that were forming in my head, for loving me and looking for me, how much is the fee?!!!

free. i said. for letting yourself be a child and bring back magic into a stone building, the price, is free.

they came back to office the next day and brought some more of their friends. the picture here is one i clicked on the day they returned.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Henri says:

    They look soooo cute sitting in the bath! he he he! I like that, “How much is the fee?” litta babies!!!! Awwww


  2. WOW. This is the last thing I ever imagined to read ANYWHERE!! There is a lot going on in my mind but I can’t put it in words right now. All I want to say is that I really admire what you did.


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