I am very happy to announce that, this one got published in the Shishir (Winter) 2019 issue (collections on Love theme) of Active Muse– a journal of literature, poetry and art. You can also read it here.
A skinny, eleven-year-old girl, clad in tattered Salwar-Kameez came running to the umbrella shop. Her uncombed hair flew wildly in the wind and a cloth bag hung heavily on her small, bony shoulders. The shop was still closed which meant the shopkeeper was a little late today. She sat down near the entrance of a small temple across the street, to wait and catch her breath.
The hours were early, but the sun was shining bright, marking the beginning of the scorching summer season of northern-India. Devotees returning after their prayers gave her spare fruit, few even gave her money. She appreciated the money over the eatables as this will increase her saved total. Since last year she had been stealing one coin daily from her daily collection before handing it over to her mother, who had no clue about her new habit.
The loud rattling noise of the opening of the shop-shutter alerted her; the umbrella store was finally open. Excited, she crossed the narrow lane with long steps and was at the entrance in a few seconds. The shopkeeper was lighting incense sticks while muttering some prayers under his breath. He was a middle-aged man in the late forties but looked older due to grey hairs and big potbelly. Before she could have stepped inside, the half-closed eyes of the shopkeeper opened completely and irritation flashed in them.
“Hey girl, stop! What do you want?” he growled.
She quietly stepped back not afraid of his anger, she was used to this treatment.
“I want an umbrella”, she said with sheer excitement.
“I don’t have any old umbrellas to give you, come back later. Now go, don’t waste my time.”
“No, you don’t understand. I want to buy one; I have money.”
The irritation was replaced with curiosity by now.
“How much money do you have?”
The girl took out a container from her bag and emptied it on his counter. Coins, lots of them, sat in a small heap.
“Please count these.”
“1, 2, …363.”
“You have three hundred and sixty-three rupees. Which one do you want to buy? Look around, take your time.” He asked her knowing very well that there was a small spectrum which she could choose from.
“That one in the top right corner- the big one in bright sky-blue colour”, she replied instantly without even sparing a glance to others.
The shopkeeper smiled at her innocence; he knew the umbrella was way out of her budget.
“You hardly looked; look again, maybe you will like something else better.”
“No, I want this one. Amma will like it”, she said, a soft smile played on her lips.
Her mother has always loved clear skies; she often says that it’s because of the sunshine and colours, but even as a little girl, she knows that the reasons are much more pragmatic. Their life on the road is much easier when there is no rain and the sun shines, more people are there on the streets to beg from. Without the rain, it is easier for them to find a place to sleep; the more uninterrupted the day, more the coins collected which means more food. The list went on but she didn’t tell all this to him, the last thing she wanted was his pity.
“My mother loves a clear blue sky. How much this costs?” she said with a small pause.
“Why an umbrella? You can buy yourself a decent dress; it will be more useful”, said the shopkeeper looking at her old Salwar-Kameez.
“I have clothes; I need the umbrella”, she said with a small voice.
He decided to give her the umbrella. A little monetary loss seemed okay to him this time.
“Here, take this. Sixty-three rupees is your balance.” He handed her the umbrella, showed her how to use it properly and put sixty-three coins back in her plastic can.
“Bring it back whenever it breaks down, I’ll fix it for you.”
She walked out of the shop with a big smile on her proud face. She knew that her mother would be very angry once she sees the umbrella; she would probably beat her up in frustration. All of this didn’t seem to upset her one bit; she was content knowing that when the rains will come this year, Amma will have a personal clear blue sky, protecting her.
Some love and compassion is all our world needs; make the most of this festive season by sharing the warmth. And if you liked the story, do tell me, I always love to hear from you all!
Much love, AS