Sunday 10 May 2020

Preeth Ganapathy, Prose 500, 2020, Shortlist

The Migrants

Everything around was reduced to shambles. The storm continued to ravage all that lay on its path - battering, tearing, shattering and shredding. At least, that is what the others in the chawl said.

But Shama hoped that it would be different for them. Shama and her parents had migrated a distance of two thousand kilometers from remote Bihar to Bangalore in search of greener pastures – for something more than a cheek-by-jowl existence and the prospect of better education through the peephole of possibility.

That night, Shama overheard the conversation of her parents.

“We can’t continue here,” said father, “The factory will close because of the lockdown.”

Shama’s father worked as a security guard at the local plastics manufacturing factory.

“Rice, dal and vegetables from the local provision store are stuff we cannot afford with our meager savings,” mother rued. ”When will things return to normal?”

“No idea. We cannot survive here with no job, no salary and no savings. Let’s go home to Bihar and figure something out with the help of a close kin,” her father replied.

Silent tears rolled down Shama’s cheeks. She had to leave everything behind - her school, her teachers and her chirpy best friend Sarita (who was also from Bihar). Every afternoon they played hop-scotch together. And when they grew tired of playing, they discussed their dreams for a glorious future while watching dusk turn into night.

Next day, Sarita walked up to Shama as she packed her belongings – a ragged doll, two frocks and five tattered books.

“We are leaving,” Shama muttered.

“We have to leave, too. Because of the lockdown,” said Sarita. ”We can do this journey together. May be squeeze in a couple of games of hopscotch during the breaks,” she said happily with a wink.

Later, Shama and Sarita sat watching people in green, white and yellow masks bustling about. The sky was overcast, waiting to burst forth with all its might.

Shama saw father tread towards them with quick steps. It had begun to drizzle lightly.

“Hurry inside children,” he said hustling them indoors.
“Could you meet him?” mother asked eagerly.
“Yes, I did,” he said.

“Sir is very good. He promised to make arrangements for us to move to his outhouse as an acknowledgement for my service. What is more, he will continue to pay my salary,” he said, relief writ large on his face.

“Thank God for that man,” mother said, wiping her eyes with the edge of her saree.

Shama let out a great whoop of joy. There was hope now. Hope to reach out for the star spangled sky. Hope to clutch the wisps of many spiraling dreams that she dreamt on those evenings with Sarita.

But what about Sarita? Sarita would no longer be with her. Tears stung her eyes instantly. She turned around and found Sarita crumpled into a heap in the corner. The rain drops on the tin roof sounded like stone pellets shot from open skies.

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