Tales of the wretched: Ashok and his mother – Chapter 3: A place to call home
5 October 2017
After he had eaten all of the bread, Annie washed her son’s face with the little water in the bottle she had carried from the shelter and hugged him. She then lay him back in his pram and fell asleep next to him on the mattress on the floor. The otherwise silent night was interrupted only by cooing of her son who seemed to be questioning her presence and to which she responded by a croaking type of cooing that seemed to delight her son. Slowly, both fell into a deep slumber.
The next day, Annie went to the shelter again, feeling more emboldened by the previous night’s success. She looked for Ashok and finding him there volunteered a smile which somehow lit her otherwise crumpled and unhappy face. Ashok smiled back at her and moved closer, hoping that she would tell him more about herself. It was not that she interested him in any way personally but somehow he felt that if he could help her, then it would be like compensating the time when he was not able to help his mother. Today the meal was vegetable patties and he had saved a couple for her which she took with gratitude and slid into her bra.
As she made her way out after the meal, Ashok followed her stealthily and found out where she dwelt the night. His eyes took in keenly the presence of the child and the feeding scene that brought tears to his eyes as it reminded him of a time when his own mother had fed him like that. He retreated soundlessly and promised himself to come the next day so as not to startle her during a timing when most women would feel vulnerable, especially that she would know he had followed her. He did not want her to mistake him for a stalker although funnily enough it could be viewed exactly that way as he had followed her from the shelter.
The next morning when he arrived he was surprised to see a bulldozer on the premises knocking down the building. He started running towards the house before he was stopped by one of the workers.
- You can’t go in there Sir, said the worker
- There’s a woman and her child in there
- Nobody lives in this place Sir, it is a deserted building and we had put the warning signs that this building would be knocked down today for any squatters that might still want to use the premises
- I tell you there is a woman with her baby in there
The workers stopped and Ashok raced inside to where he had seen Annie last with her baby. Sure enough she was there lying on the mattress with her baby next to her, oblivious of the fact that the building was about to cave in on her. Ashok woke her up and the trio left the building closely followed by the workers. One of them who seemed to be in charge mentioned they would have to report the incident to social workers as there was a baby involved but Ashok mentioned that there was no need for that as he would take in Annie and the baby. The man resisted but Ashok and the other workers sided together to convince him that the matter was better solved this way.
Annie followed Ashok to his home wondering why he was being kind. Many thoughts raced across her half-dazed mind on what may be the reasons: was he a weirdo, would he hurt her but that thought disappeared as soon as it surfaced, would he attempt to pimp her off, etc. Meanwhile Ashok just glanced at her from time to time sitting behind with her baby in her lap and the seatbelt fastened on top. He thought to himself that he would need to buy a proper baby seat now. For some reason it created a tight knot in his neck which was not uncomfortable. On arriving home, he opened the car door for her and took the baby from her while she eased herself out. He could see that it was a long time that she had not been in a car from the awkward way in which she came out as if emerging from a pool.
Ashok put the baby back in his pram that he retrieved from the trunk of the car and pushed the pram along while Annie was taking in the surroundings still dazed. This was a nicer neighbourhood than any she had been in aside from that neighbourhood a long time ago when she had worked in a beautiful office and earned a lot of money. She sighed thinking that sometimes one ruins one’s own life with some very small mistakes that cumulate over time. She could not even remember how she had slowly got into debt and how it had lead her to prison. She could not even recall properly the time after that when she had had a child with a man who had then abandoned her. Slowly but surely her descent into her wretched state had finally led into living on the streets with her baby.
When they reached the house, Ashok eased the baby out of the pram and put the child in his mother’s arms. He then proceeded to show her the bathroom mentioning that she could bathe the child there while he would fetch some clothes. He left her and the child and rapidly went to a convenience store to fetch some food as well as some clothes both for Annie and her child. Upon his return he could hear loud splashing and when he knocked on the bathroom door Annie mentioned he should not come in so he mentioned he would put the clothes on the floor and waited in the living room. Shortly after he had started putting together a meal, Annie entered with her baby. Ashok was surprised to note that she looked less grumpy and was almost pretty though her face was still puffed up. He smiled at her and she smiled back.
- You may consider this place your home, said Ashok
- Thank you. I am very grateful, she said
- You are most welcome
Annie could not hold back her tears and rushed to Ashok and hugged him tight, feverishly repeating may God bless him to which he answered that he already felt blessed because his mother was surely smiling now from where she was.
La Terre vue du ciel – Arman Amar