The Roof of Hopes Crushed
Cu-ckoo cu-ckoo cu-ckoo
This sound by a bird is the alarm clock of thousands of people living in slums.
Another day the sun comes up. The summer mornings are beautiful unless you are a day laborer living in your dark dungeon of a place. It was a total of one room. You could finish the whole place in mere 5 steps. The kitchen was outside on the small narrow street. I need not tell you where they excrete, you can guess yourself.
It was around 5:30 in the morning. Ram got up and sneaked out of the place without waking up his two little kids. It was his morning ritual for the last one year, to wake up and walk 2 km to the well. On his way was a large neem tree from where he used to break a small branch and clean his teeth while keeping enough in his pocket for his kids. From the well, he draws two buckets of water for the whole day, which consisted of cooking, cleaning, and drinking. His kids were always up, by the time he gets home.
It was a regular day for Ram. He prepared breakfast for his kids which usually consist of two burned chapattis. Kids never said a word about the chapattis being burned or not having enough water for the day. They managed. Like the millions of people all over the world living in slums manage. A year ago, Ram’s wife used to take care of everything, Laxmi. She was the perfect housewife to the imperfect Ram. She used to take care of the morning to late night chores.
She died from dengue a year ago. The dengue-causing mosquitoes fly below the bed level. But for Ram and his family, there was no bed level. They all sleep on the floor. What else do you expect? They didn’t have the luxury of a bed.
Sonu, the elder child was in class 5th while the younger child, Ashok, was in 3rd class. They reach school by 8 am which was an open garden enclosed within walls so that kids don’t escape. It was more of a place where laborers like Ram sent their kids just because they cannot take care of their kids in the daytime.
Ram and other workers assembled at a place outside the slum from where the contractors would hire them for a daily wage. Some days Ram lifts bricks, other days cleans hospitals. He found himself fortunate to at least find work. There were days when he had to just sit for the whole day and there was no work.
Ram was already in debt of a bulk of money which he spends on his wife’s medical expenses. He had to pay two contractors and the owner of the grocery store.
Today, Ram was working at a construction site for one of the contractors he owes money. Construction work is the most difficult work to do in summer time. The weather was cloudy by afternoon. Light wind was blowing. It was a relief for everyone.
At sharp 5pm contractor came.
Ram needed some money so he asked his contractor for some.
Contractor replied saying “You are not even getting today’s wage. You owe me a lot of money now. From now on you’ll have to work for me for a year to get rid of this debt. If you want money then go ask somebody else.”
Ram worriedly said “But, Sir I don’t even have anything to eat at home. My kids will die of hunger. Please, I beg you. I’ll return all your money as soon as possible.”
“Did I say to have kids? Why do you people have kids when you can’t take care of them? Don’t ask money from me, for a year now. Let your kids die. Anyway, they will have to live in debt from the money you owe everyone.” The contractor said before leaving.
Ram was in huge debt to almost everyone he knew. He didn’t have a penny in his pocket. He tried asking for money from his fellow workers but everyone denied.
He stopped at the grocery store on his way back. Like always he got his ration for the week packed. Just before leaving the owner stopped him.
“Where’s the money for all this? And when are you paying your debt?”
“I’ll return your money in a few days.”
“No, I want my money now. Otherwise, leave this packet here and leave. I’m giving you a week to pay the rest.”
“You know me. I’m a good person, don’t do this to me. I have two kids waiting for me.”
“I don’t know anything. Your excuses never end. I can’t help you anymore.”
“Please sir, please.”
Owner snatched the packet from him, leaving Ram no choice but to sleep empty stomach today. This will not be his first time. But, it was about the future about which Ram was worried. He had no money. Where will he get more money from? He had sold his entire wife’s jewelry last year.
It was a long walk home. His mind was looking for solutions. There were none.
He reached home and found his kids having two sandwiches in their hand. Sonu rushed to his father.
“Dad, here take this.” giving him his sandwich.
“Where did you get this from? Did you steal? Have I taught you this all these years?”
“Dad, stop. We would never do such thing.”
Ashok the younger kid excitedly told his father. “Today, an uncle and an aunty came to our school celebrated something with us and distributed sandwiches to everyone. All the kids ate their sandwich at the school but, we brought ours home so that we can all eat together.”
Ram got tears in his eyes. They were standing just outside the house. Ram went inside without saying anything to the kids, while the kids stood confused.
“Dad, Are you okay?” Ashok asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. Why don’t you two eat your sandwich and then we will pray.”
“Will you have some? We will divide this into three” Sonu said.
“No, I ate on my way here. You two go and finish.”
Both the kids sat in the corner and ate their sandwich in silence. Ram was looking at them and thinking about how things turned out for today.
Just like every day, all three of them walked to the temple close to their slum to thank God for everything.
Ram prayed “Just like today please God take care of rest of our days.”
Just when they came out of the temple, strong gusty wind started blowing. They could see the lightning every other second. Ashok got scared from the sound of the thunder. Ram was holding him in his arms. They rushed to their home filled with dust. As they entered the narrow street, Ram saw roofs of many houses displaced by the strong winds. Ram was praying every second for his home to be all right. Just as they reached, he went to his knees, taking Ashok back on his feet. There was no roof. Some of the items were lying outside the house. The wind was too strong for the weak houses of the slums.
Ram was crushed. His hopes were crushed. His mind was numb.
Ashok and Sonu started collecting their things. Ram couldn’t move watching everything happen. Just when nothing more can go wrong. It started raining heavily. Ram stood up and held hands of both his sons and went under the shelter opposite to his house.
I hope you are all doing well and if you are then you are not among the 880 million people living in slums. Find a way to serve and help others. If not now, then maybe in the future.
If you want to add anything then the comment box is open for everyone.
Let’s make this world a happy place, not by criticizing others but by bringing a change in ourselves.