New to street lifeBewildered, he moved around aimlessly, waiting for his mother who would never come home again.
The air was warm. Unlike most mornings of winter, the sun was sharp and the sky did not have a cloud in sight. Birds were chirping. The sun’s rays came through the window onto his mattress on the floor. Kale couldn't sleep anymore. He woke up, stretching his body.
Kale, aged 8, walked around his rented room with a worried expression. He had been living there with his mother after his father eloped with another woman. But there was no sign of his mother.
He walked around the room, searching. He found his red sweater, a blue jacket, and a pair of his favourite cotton pants. Apart from his clothes, he found a football that his mother bought for him last Dashain. Was a football enough to make him happy? Were those clothes enough to cover his pain of having no parents? Pokhara, one of the most expensive cities in Nepal, was a hard place to survive in.
Kale didn’t know if it was his fault his parents went their own ways. His father was a teacher by profession and could not stay married to a woman who did not have any quality apart from her looks. Soon, he eloped with an educated girl. Rumours were that his father had settled in Dharan.
Bewildered and unclear, he moved around aimlessly. He waited for his mother while sitting by the door of his room. He tried to calm himself, give his soul some solace, playing with the street puppy or watching children playing outside. Evening came but no sign of his mother. He went out on the streets calling her name but no one called back. He came back to the rented room find nothing except hollow darkness. He went out again, eyes transfixed at the light in his neighbour, Shanti's, house.
For a long time, he stood beside the broken door of Shanti’s house, watching a cartoon show on the TV in her veranda. He kept watching the show until Deepak, Shanti’s husband, a bicycle repair person, noticed the timid Kale standing by the door. “What are you doing here? When will your mother pay me back my 500 rupees? Bitch never pays me back. Hasn’t she sent you to ask for more?” Deepak shouted at Kale.
But he kept standing dumb. He didn’t move an inch. Listening to the roar of Deepak, Shanti came out of her yard. “Hey, why are you shouting on the poor kid?” she said, adding, “Where is your mother?” Kale swallowed and uttered, “I don't know."
“She must have run with one of her suitors, bitch!” Deepak shouted again. Shanti could not respond to the situation. She was also sure that Kale’s mother had run away. There were rumours of her affair with some street hawker for the past month. Poor Kale had no concern about what folks could synthesise. Night was prevailing. So Shanti thought the kid needed some shelter. The daring Shanti asked Kale to come in, without looking at Deepak.
After eating some rice, Shanti asked Kale to sleep on the floor beside Shanti’s eldest son, Rajan, a 14-year-old boy. Kale fell asleep soon. “What would you do of this bitch’s son?” Deepak was muttering. “He is a lonely child. Maybe his mother will miss him and come to see him, or take him with her.” Shanti replied. “Aaan… bustard! She will never come back. Those who elope never come back.”
Recollecting some memories, Deepak abused looking in the darkness, lying beside his youngest son on the floor. “Take him to work if she doesn’t come back.”
“Work... He’ll work?"
"If he wants to eat, he'll have to work!”
Deepak was sensing the burden that Kale would add to his family of seven.
“Deepak! Dogs in the streets will tear him up.”
Deepak was silent now. He shuddered at how many times slum dogs had eaten him up.
In a few days, Deepak took Kale to his workplace. A period of one month passed, listening to Deepak’s abuse as Kal couldn't do the job well. Deepak would often pushed him against the wall violently when he got things wrong. It wasn't that Kale didn't want to work but Kale's mind would be thinking of his mother most of the time that he'd be lost in his own thoughts. That’s why he didn’t listen to his master carefully. This violent push would also be accompanied with a bombardment of slaps and punches on every part of his body. Kale had forgotten to weep.
Leaving him behind, Deepak would go back home. But one night, Kale didn’t go back. Shanti inquired about him a little and thought best to let things be.
At midnight, it started to rain. The only clothes Kale had were on his body and he felt cold. He felt hungry. Because of the rain, even the dogs were quiet. Kale felt no fear except hunger. With a tormented body and heavy head, he started walking.
He walked as fast as his body would allow. He feared that Deepak would appear from some corner and start hitting him again. But an empty belly stopped him beside a hotel. People sitting outside the shop were eating breakfast. Kale sat on the footpath and smelt cooking food. He was trying to take deep breaths so that the aroma of food could fill his empty stomach. It didn’t.
Kale’s only problem was his hunger. He wanted to vomit, but nothing would come out. Sitting beside the tap of water near the shop, he tried to drink as much water as he could. He had forgotten about his wounds, his discomforted limbs. He crawled to the dustbins of the hotel. But even so, he couldn’t dare search for anything. He looked at the footpath and heaps of garbage. Flies and larvae did not terrify him. The stinking smell hardly told him whether leftovers were edible or not. There were two or three tomatoes and a half-broken radish that he saw and collected to eat. Now he searched with more curiosity. There was also a half-eaten slice of bread, covered with flies. The dry piece of bread had some jam on it too. Somebody had thrown it, probably too full to eat. Kale found this hard piece of bread sweet. By the afternoon, he had learned to search for food in the garbage. His limbs were hurting now. He didn’t know where to go. He kept on sitting in the yard behind the poultry shop near the sleeping dogs.
The darkness of the night knocked at his eyelids again. Where could he sleep now? He sat by a closed chicken shop and he fell asleep. He was woken up by a sharp kick on the back. He could see nothing lying on the footpath, except the shadow of a big, urine-stinking body. It was a teenage boy who had hit him.
“Are you new here?” the shadow asked. Kale didn’t answer but curled his legs and pressed his knees in his empty stomach and pretended that he was sleeping. For the second time, the kick came flying, with an order: “Get away from here and join those boys!” Slowly collecting himself, Kale moved to a group of malodorous boys who were sitting 40 yards away near the pole by the side of a barren road.
Bit by bit, he came closer to those boys and found a spot by the side of a boy who appeared to be of his age. Kale again closed his eyes, his ears listened to the boy: "Did Jaya send you here to sleep with us? Jaya doesn't let us sleep with the groups of big boys.” With a bit of interest, Kale listened to his age fellow.
“They are wicked,” the boy added. Kale had understood the word “wicked” fully by now. The boy looked at him closely and kept on speaking, “Big boys collect garbage, but we do not... We only beg for money on the street and give the whole amount to Jaya. He gives us food, and lets no one beat us in return.”
Kale heaved a sigh of relief knowing perhaps that now no one would beat him. The boy’s hands searched for something in the torn pockets of his dirty black pants. He took out a twisted, plastic bottle, with a jelly-like substance. He opened it and brought it closer to his nose saying, “It rained today, I couldn’t make enough to buy food. So, I sniff my glue, when I’m hungry.”
Kale didn’t look at him. He was sensing some evil in the darkness.
“Are you hungry?” the boy asked. Kale didn’t answer and forced his eyes shut, as if he never wanted to open them again. The blackness stretched in his closed eyes was darker than the night.