“You remind me of the other men.”
Komal had not talked for a very long time. And for a very long time I had been trying to make her talk. It was painful to see an almost-eight-year-old girl always balled up in a corner, away from the other kids, beating herself up for faults that were not hers.
I had smiled, had joked, had played the clown, had even taken her to a very good ice cream place. But she had refused to talk. Until the day I almost gave up, cried, told her a bit about the sadness I carry in my heart, showed her a bit of the burden I carry on my shoulders and implored her to help me out.
“You remind me of the other men,” she said. And she said it like I would know.
“I will stay away, then. Thank you for talking to me.”
“You are not like them. You just remind me of them.”
“Then I should stay away, no? I won’t bother you again.”
I turned to leave. It wasn’t hard. Not nearly as hard as it was for her to see my face every day and relive every night she was forced to be with men who were old enough to be her grandfather.
“So, you will go away too? Like them all?”
They had found her with eleven other girls. The anonymous tip had said they were being taken from one surburb to another. It was a ritual they followed every few months. “They cycle the stock so the clients get fresh maal each time.”
It wasn’t hard to leave. Not hard at all. Only a few tears and a heaviness and the face of a girl who had learned not to hope, but had dared to anyway.
It wasn’t hard to leave. Till she started crying. And I started crying. And we sat looking away from each other for a very long time.
With the help of the NGO who had rescued her, I took financial responsibility of her rehabilitation. It wasn’t all that costly. Big men and bigger corporations were already funding the NGO. They just needed someone to be there. Because big people may be charitable with their money, but not so much with their time and presence.
I met her once in two weeks. I was traveling a lot those days and I was not always in the best of health. Maybe I wasn’t much better than the big people with my time and presence. But I was there twice a month. I was there and she was there, but she didn’t laugh. Not even once.
Eight months I was a guardian. Eight months before she found a family she was ok with. Or rather, a family who was ok with her. They called me once to say thanks. She was laughing in the background. She loved her toys.
Yesterday, I sent her the whole Harry Potter set. Her new mother got it in the morning today.
“Why did you send her these? You know she can’t read or write much yet.”
“Because one day she will.”
“You want to talk to her?”
“She isn’t called Komal anymore. It reminded her too much of who she was. Sonal. That’s what she is called.”
I talked to Sonal. She said thanks. She asked me how my writing was and how my loved ones were. Komal never talked this way. But then, she isn’t Komal. She is Sonal now. I will have to remember that.
“You still remind her of her past, Minakhi,” her new mother said. She was polite.
“I understand. I will stay away.”
It is not hard to leave. Not hard at all.