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Sunday, 2 May 2010

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What a strange world it is!

It was such heavy rain. Lightning flashed. Thunder rolled. All these created a terror-stricken atmosphere. Pedestrians sought shelter at the Maradana bus halt. They were half wet.

The scene of the people taking shelter somehow attracted the attention of a middle-aged Muslim who was standing with an umbrella. It was evident that he was waiting for the bus bound for Borella.

All of a sudden, his eyes were focused on a scene. He was surprised. “Oh! What a pathetic condition it is! How is this woman going to bring up this infant? Alas! How is she going to spend the night in the heavy rain?” he thought. He gazed at the baby crying in the biting cold. He cursed the cruelty of the rain and being unable to tolerate the pitiful sight of the mother and the baby, he stood wonderstruck. He realised after a few minutes that the bus had already passed the bus halt.

The gentleman had been working as a ticket issuer at the Borella cinema for the last five years. He was accustomed to seeing the sad scenes in films but the scene he witnessed touched his heart.

The next bus arrived. He managed to get in to the bus after some struggle.

“Hello, Cader! Why are you very late today? It is already 6.35. The show would have begun,” said his friend Ravi who was travelling from Fort to Borella after having worked overtime.

But as far as Cader was concerned, his mind was haunted by the thoughts of that woman and her baby. “Today it was because of the heavy shower that I got delayed,” replied Cader engrossed in deep thought. The bus passed Punchi Borella. “What a sin! How will she protect her child from the severe cold? She had only a tattered cloth in her hand. She looked half-naked without a proper dress. It is not even a month since she delivered the baby. The cold wind makes her body shiver and cry.

Thus, being beset with thousands of thoughts, Cader was floating in the wind of sympathy. At last, the bus reached Borella.

He entered the theatre where the manager began to pester him with various questions regarding his delay. He was uttering something aloud but it did not reach Cader’s ears. He went straight into the theatre and occupied a vacant seat. The show was in progress. He rose from the seat. He wondered “What’s this same scene here too!” On the main road, a begging woman with a baby were in a pool of blood as a result of a car accident. Cader became restless!

He came out of the theatre. He said to the manager “I am not well today.” The manager looked at the pale face of Cader who said, “I beg of you to allow me to get back home earlier”. The manager could not resist Cader’s sudden change of mood and promptly replied “Okay! You are permitted to leave for home and take full rest”.

Then Cader took lodging in a house on Forbes Lane but he could not sleep at all during the night. He was awake with feelings for that deserted woman and the agonising baby. How can this woman bring up this child at that unprotected pavement without any basic facilities for living? The question was repeated in his mind and it was like a blow of an iron rod upon his head.

“I should buy a tin of a milk food, new bangles, new toys while going home. You must buy all these toys and you should not forget!

“Who is going to buy a tin of milk food for this woman? Who will stitch a skirt for her?” Alas! He held his head tightly and buried his face in bed. Sleep embraced him somehow. The next morning he set out to the restaurant for breakfast. He saw the same woman at the pavement, begging with her baby in her hand.

He picked a five rupee coin from the pocket and placed it in her hand. There was jingle of the coin. His heart was in full bloom. “She will buy something for that baby,” he thought. He then became satisfied with the expectation that she would buy something for the baby.

Having had breakfast, he hurried to take up duty for the matinee show absent-mindedly that day. But, as it was a Poya day, there was no matinee show. Cader left for home. His thoughts centred around the life of that beggar family. The bus in which he travelled stopped at Thihariya and he got down and approached his home. He took his baby, caressed and kissed it lovingly.

“That’s right! It is almost two months since I delivered the baby! You don’t want to give particulars for the birth certificate even after two months. We will have to face problems due to our negligence!

“What can I do as a woman? How many days have passed since I told you to bring a tin of milk food? The baby is crying continuously in the night. This time you have to bring two tins when you go to Colombo!” uttered Cader’s wife breathlessly. But Cader’s thoughts were diverted to the case of the beggar family that he came across in Colombo. “Who is there to give particulars for the birth certificate of that baby? Who will prosecute against the parent after a lapse of three months?

That beggar woman eats the leftovers thrown by other people and brings up the child by breastfeeding it. But here, after drinking pure milk and eating fish regularly, there is quarrel over purchasing of tinned milk food.” His mind wondered about what a world it is!

The salary that Cader draws in Colombo is not adequate to meet the expenses of the meals in Colombo and the expenditure of meals at home. He compared his life with that of the beggar woman. The following day he waited for bus bound for Borella at Maradana at the bus halt as usual.

His eyes searched for something. It was the same person in the distance. That woman with the same baby was talking to someone. “Is he her husband?” he asked himself. It seemed that the deserted husband has come back to her. “Let her get a new life.” It was Cader’s prayer. After a while, he noticed them coming towards the bus halt. Cader overheard the beggar woman and the middle-aged man sharing a secret. Cader was restless. He stood behind and listened to the secret exchange of words.

“How is the new way of earning? How much have you got as daily collection? I have employed another woman like you to do the same job” he said.

“She has an enormous income she earns more than a thousand rupees a day. Alright. How much have you now? Hand it over to me quickly. I’ll pay you one third of your daily collection. Okay!” the man told the woman.

The beggar woman took five hundred rupees out of her torn blouse and gave it to the man. “I think you are keeping your commission with you. If you pretend in a better way in the future, you can earn more than what you earn now.

Try your best”. he advised her. The man disappeared with the collection, taking the money hurriedly without showing his identity to others in the crowd. The beggar woman resumed her usual lamentation and complaints of abject poverty to all the strangers passing that pavement. Some of them gave ten rupee notes.

Others gave twenty, fifty and maybe even more during the course of the day. Cader got the full picture of the wonderful drama played by the beggar woman and her sponsor. His mind underwent a change of mood and he got into the bus to report to duty at the Cinema. The bus ran fast carrying that gullible and the innocent man Cader whose mind is still haunted by that incident of the beggar woman with a baby.

- M. Y. M. Meeadhu

 

 

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