I never pick up my phone anymore. I’m back to hiding behind my words. You know it when you see my tweets & text messages increase.I recognise it as a warning sign – a sure fire signal that I am disconnecting from what is real.Today I picked up. I don’t know why. My hand moved of its own accord and before I could realise what I just did, I heard myself say “Hello?”.
I was transported immediately through a series of images. The past 2 years of my life. The day I walked into work after being hired – everyone looked at me with the same welcome you’d give a cockroach on the dinner table. I was replacing someone who’d been in the organisation for 3 years. In the NGO sector, that’s a HUGE deal. Not many people realise it. I distanced myself. In three months, just at the end of my probation, I not only got a permanent spot, I also got a promotion. But I was detached.I did not work hard at it. I hardly ever needed to use my brain for it. I got annoyed when people praised me for work I know I never put my heart it.That’s when she put my hand on my shoulder and smiled – that smile that first dazzled me.
I smile into the phone hoping she knows the sunshine she’s brought into my life.
I became distressed. My goal was to work with refugee children. This was just part time – I thought. I was getting sucked in. Focus Anju. Detach. Distance. It’s better this way. That’s when she offered to share her meal with me when I was playing with my bike keys in my pocket. I stayed. I couldn’t have refused. I went with her into a session that day. My first time. I never came back the same. I was in tears when she knowingly comforted me. I didn’t feel humiliated that she’d seen me vulnerable.This was back in the day when I thought I was a cold & hardened person who’d never let anyone see her cry.
Sometimes you gotta love the ironies life throws back at you.
When I was feeling raw and wounded and overwhelmed she would keep chatting. People usually don’t know how to deal with a situation like that -there is often that awkward silence that makes everything worse. Her voice always soothed me.
One day she told me her story. I still don’t know why but she did. I was shocked when she told me she was actually one of the children who we worked with in the ghettos. She had a tough life – imagine everything bad that could happen to a kid in the ghetto and she probably went through it. But she had an unbelievable thirst to rise above anything that threatned to bring her down. She belonged to another NGO we had tied up with and took a loan from them to study. She wanted to repay them so she asked our organisation for a job.She stuck with it when the turnover rate would make you giddy.
Despite everything she’s been through, she hoped and held on. She fell in love. She helped her family move from a one room house to having land and building their own house (To own land AND build a house single-handedly is a herculean feat for a mainstream kid like me who never had to struggle for anything in my life. I don’t know how but she managed) She takes care of her boyfriend’s finances – another kid from the ghetto who had drug & gang related problems & of course rage to deal with. She’s sobered him down, got him to get back to school and stick with it. Funny thing is she thinks I was her pillar when SHE was my strength.
She faced descrimination at work, at home and at college. She smiled through it all. She has changed the world around me without even knowing it. She’s caused a stir and a revolution is about to start. The proof is in this story she wrote.
Did I tell you, she just turned 19?
I snapped back to the phone call. “What did you say? Sorry. I missed that one!” I could hear her giggle and that made my heart float on clouds.She asked me to dinner. She asked me to keep my wallet locked up in my room because she had earned enough money after years and years of struggle to not all take care of family & other expenditure but to eat a good meal at a fancy restaurant. I choked. “Yes. Of course. Yes.” It was the biggest validation of the last 2 years of my life! I didn’t know if I could manage to say anything else.