This is the second story from my book: SHORT STORIES FOR YOUNG READERS - BOOK 1
It was getting dark and I was getting worried.
Bhavana, my sister and I studied in the same school and she was in the sixth and I was in the tenth class. Ever since I bought a used bicycle from my senior, for a scrap price, we went to the school together in my cycle. The government buses plied less frequently in our route and we were used to have long waits for a transport. On occasions, they would never turn up and we would have to walk three kilometers each way. So, the arrival of a cycle was a boon to us.
Twice a week, Bhavana went to a teacher who stayed close to our school, for music lessons. Charu teacher who taught music was very dedicated and strict. She took students only selectively. My father, who worked as a fitter in a factory in the nearby town, would pick up Bhavana, while returning home from work. Every alternate Monday, he had to work overtime and bringing Bhavana from her music classes was my responsibility during those days.
That day, Charu teacher was in more than her usual enthusiastic moods and spent more time with Bhavana, who equally matched her teacher’s enthusiasm. The class went on for a long time and I waited for her. When finally the classes got over, both Charu teacher and Bhavana spent some more time appreciating each other and that day’s lesson. It was really late and getting dark.
When she finished, Bhavana got on the carrier of my cycle. I took the small bypass road that connected my village to our school and that reduced our commuting considerably. A cycle ride through this bypass was very exciting and enjoyable. A cool breeze blew over, across a wide ridge between two nearby mountain hills, all through the year.
The bypass was lined with thick banyan trees on both sides.
As I pedaled back home, I cautioned Bhavana that we must rush, as the lighting was poor and it was becoming dark. Besides, that day was a New Moon day. She said, ‘So what! Even better…. I could watch birds and bats returning back home.” She was the fearless one and I was her opposite. I feared the darkness. A host of other things too, scared me.
Midway, it became pitch dark and my stomach churned. Only some street lights were shimmering here and there and I pedaled faster. Lots of fireflies were illuminating the dark sky.
“Arun, stop for a minute,” Bhavna shouted from behind, suddenly. I hesitated, but she had already jumped down.
“I hear a child crying,” said she.
“What? A child crying in this wilderness! Why do you worry? Some villager should be taking care of it. Let us not waste any more time. Come on.”
“No……… I know for sure, the child is crying. Let us find out whether there is any problem,” insisted Bhavana. She had already started running in the direction from where I too heard the cry of a child. I ran behind her.
Behold! There under a tree, in a cloth cradle, from where the cry came, was a small child, hardly a year old. Bhavana looked around to find out whether there was anyone, but there were none. She rushed back to the cradle and lifted the screaming child. My attempts to stop her were in vain. The baby was already in her arm and she was cuddling the child. The girl baby had nothing on her as cover and she was completely wet. She had a running nose and her hair was sticky. Her body was painted with black dirty mud and she appeared ugly to me, but nothing bothered Bhavana. I detested the very sight.
“Bhavana, this is too much. We have to go back home. Our mother will be anxious and worrying about us. We are very late. Leave the child where she was. I am sure her mother or father will come back soon and take her away. Be assured.” I told her.
“What Arun? Leave this hapless child here? How can you be so cruel and inhuman?”
I was becoming restless and angry with Bhavana. But I could also understand her compassion and felt she had a point. The place was dark and scary and I was afraid. Poor Baby! I was ambivalent. More time passed. Still, no one was in sight.
“Let us take her home. Our mother will advise us on what we can do with her.”
Bhavna already started walking back to our cycle, carrying the child on her shoulders. The baby was quiet by now, though still crying on and off, and Bhavana was comforting her.
I pedaled faster and Bhavana held the baby tightly, even as she adeptly tried to balance herself on the cycle. Our mother was anxiously waiting and on seeing us bringing a baby with us, she was shocked and alarmed. Panting heavily, we explained how we found the child.
“We can’t keep the child with us. We need to report to the police. We would run into a problem.” She said, worried. Some neighbors too, had assembled by that time and raised sharp questions. Our father too, reached home.
Sundar uncle in our neighborhood brought his scooter. We all squeezed ourselves in the back seat, our mother holding the baby in her arms. He drove to the nearby police station and our father followed us in his cycle. There, we met with a policeman, who looked bulky and threatening. He questioned us in a menacing tone, but soon became very understanding. Bhavana answered most of the questions boldly and I was half hiding behind her. The Sub-inspector of Police (SIP) too arrived soon. We tried to explain once again as best as we could, how and where we found the child. He was very appreciative of our gesture, even while he expressed concern that being a rural place, it was possible that the baby’s mother or father must have been working in the nearby field and possibly, would now be searching for the baby. Realizing that he could not keep the baby in the police station, he was in a fix. Sundar uncle came to his rescue and saved him from the embarrassment, by suggesting that the baby could be left with our parents overnight, if that was okay with the SIP. He also suggested that the SIP could identify some suitable place for the care of the baby, later during the next day. Bhavana was quite happy about the turn of the events.
Not immediately finding any other solution, SIP agreed and ordered another policeman to keep a watch over our house, for our safety. However, he also wanted to visit the spot and make sure that the baby’s parents were not looking for the child. So, he took me with him on his motorbike, while others returned back home. However, the place where we found the baby, looked dark and deserted and no one was sighted there. I didn’t seem to fear the policemen now, as much as I used to be.
Our parents were very appreciative of our compassion for the child. It was almost midnight by the time the baby was given a bath, wrapped up in a towel, fed with milk and put to sleep. Bhavana was taking keen interest in everything about the baby. I slept away. I heard the baby crying from time to time during the night. Bhavana tried to be awake, but she was also overtaken by sleep. Our mother had been awake for the whole night. The policeman sent by SIP was with us for sometime in the night and he too retired back to his house, with a promise to come back in the early morning.
Next morning, the SIP arrived in a jeep borrowed from a nearby police station and arranged for sending the child to a Children Home run by a Sai devotee we have heard of, not very far from our place. Overnight, he had also arranged for publishing the news in the local newspapers. He also took Bhavana and me to the spot, where we found the empty cloth cradle still hanging loosely from the branch of the tree. He made inquiries in the nearby localities and there was no clue.
The news spread quickly and it reached our school headmaster too. He, too, arrived at the spot. We became instant heroes in our school.
Bhavana was not to allow the matter to rest. She suggested that we go back to the place again that evening and make more inquiries. I was apprehensive, but conceded. Her enthusiasm was contagious and spreading to me too. We met a number of local villagers. We also went back to the children home to inquire about the baby. Bhavana had already christened the baby as ‘Muthu’ and she was very happy in the company of Muthu, who was all smiles now, not even knowing that her mother was not there to look after her.
The routine continued for a week. In between, we also visited the police station and couldn’t get any further information about the baby’s parents.
One day, Bhavana looked so sad and miserable. Someone in the class had told her that probably, the baby’s parents could have deserted the child and ran away, like they had seen in some movies.
“How can a mother do it?” Bhavana questioned me angrily. I had no answer.
Thanks to Bhavana’s inquisitiveness, on the eighth day, there was some break. One of the villagers reported having seen a nomadic gypsy group roaming and camping near the area where we had found the child and that there were a few babies too, in that group, though he could not be sure how many. We dashed to the police station and luckily, the SIP was available that time. We reported what we learnt. He lauded our efforts and enthusiasm and promised to look around all the gypsy camps nearby.
The very next day, there was some unconnected news. A woman’s dead body was found floating in the nearby pond. However, no connection could be made with the child. The body was sent to the mortuary in the government hospital in the nearby town.
In another town, the police arrested someone on suspicion and during his detention, he had blurted the truth. Two gypsy groups had had a quarrel about money while camping. He was part of one of the groups. When the group parted ways after a bitter quarrel, he picked up another private, nasty duel with one of the women in the group, while she was putting her baby to sleep in a cloth cradle. In a fit of fury, he had severely beaten that woman who swooned and fell to the ground and he left the scene to join other people in the group. She must have regained consciousness and managed to reach the pond, looking out for some water. She, probably, lost her balance and consciousness while she reached the pond and that answered for her body found floating in the nearby pond.
Alas! The poor baby lost her mother, but gained a place where she would grow securely and would have some education, decent food, clothes and lots of love. Bhavana and I visited the children home once in a week to meet “Muthu”. Even our parents visited the child. Gradually they took more interest in the homeless children and decided to spend the weekends in their company. It was a nice feeling we all had.
Should you like the story, you may read the entire book: SHORT STORIES FOR YOUNG READERS - BOOK 1 by downloading the book from www.amazon.com