Tales of the wretched
Ashok and his mother – chapter 2: Bread for the baby boy
24 September 2015
Annie scurried hurriedly along the sidewalk, weaving her way through the crowd that passed by her unseeingly with some of its male components almost knocking her over a few times if it were not for her stocky build. She thought to herself that it was curious how once upon a time all male members of a similar kind of throng would have given way and whistled or tried to flirt with her and some had even tried to follow her and make acquaintance.
She had been pretty back then and everyone noticed her as she strutted by in her tight fitting clothes, her lush brown curls waving at each step. Now, with her sullen look, shifty eyes and swollen face, people seemed to have grown blind to her and it was with a genuine surprise that they cried out when she hurled something foul-mouthed at them if they bumped into her.
Society seemed doomed to develop some kind of strange blindness to poverty-stricken members of it, she mused bitterly. Once upon a time not only had she been a beautiful member of this same society that shunned her today but she had also been one of its finer thinkers. An English literature teacher in one of the most prestigious schools and with a career that was quite remarkable for her age, she was an example to some, a challenge on quite another level to others and a remarkably pretty teacher as far as the Head principal had been concerned.
Now she was nothing. Not even Annie. Tonight she had had her number with her, the precious number she had queued up for and that had enabled her to fill her stomach again, to be able to pull through another night and also to get something for her precious little one waiting at home. Today she was only a number but that number had become more important than her name had ever been. Sometimes she even wondered if that was her real name. It had been years since a person had voiced the letters into the sounds that she was familiar with.
Tonight like so many other nights before, she was nobody, nothing, an invisible spirit that none could see. Except for that young man, she thought. It was so strange that he actually looked at her. Not only did he look at her but he even spoke to her and did not report her when she took the food away with her, that precious food tucked away safely close to her heart. She touched the place again to make sure that it was not gone, perhaps slipping from the loose grip of the bra that hardly held anything anymore as the elastic band had almost melted down to nothing. She felt the precious load and smiled to herself with a renewed faith in life. Tonight again she would have some bread to offer to her young one bit by bit as she broke the crust, like a sparrow feeds pieces of a worm to its little ones.
She turned right at a dark alley leading to a couple of buildings in ruin that were waiting to be demolished. Day after tomorrow she would have to move out again and search for a new home as this one was set to go that day. It may be ruins for others but for her it was a perfectly inhabitable place with the walls still standing, the roof almost fully intact and some of the rooms still in perfect condition. She had made hers and her baby boy’s room in one of such rooms and even had a proper mattress put in with the help of one of the poachers from above 22nd Street where she sometimes went to beg or wash cars’ windows to get some money. She felt her way through the rubble and carefully removed the three planks she had put to hide the opening to the doorway.
Once she was in, she carefully replaced them and as the darkness welcomed her, so did a tiny voice that started clamouring as soon as she was in. It almost felt like her baby boy sensed her presence immediately before it was even audible to him, as if in all this darkness he had developed some extra sensory perception of her. She climbed the stairs feeling lighter with that precious load between her breasts, all the time cooing “Mama is got something for her baby boy. Just wait until I am there my precious. Mama has food again today for her precious little boy”.
She opened the door to the small room and rushed to her precious bundle of joy sitting in his crib watching her run in. The moonlight fell on the fluffy baby hair alongside his head and gave him the air of an angel as she gazed at him dumbstruck as usual at the sheer beauty of his face and the gentleness of his eyes. She took out the pieces of bread soaked in the sauce that she had kept in between her breasts inside her bra and broke the bread into pieces and fed him while he ate gravely one little piece after the other, his face alit with the pleasure of filling his little stomach again with something. While she fed him, her mind devoid of anything else than the pleasure of witnessing his happiness at calming his hunger rambled on into logorrhea “Bread for the baby boy. Who brought bread for the baby boy? Who brought bread for the baby boy?”