Saturday, 20 January 2018

Persona Non Grata: The Sound of Rain

How and why Chotey was working in that roadside restaurant was not known to anyone. All that the regular truck drivers, landfill workers and construction site workers knew that he was a Muslim child who had run away from his home.

Ahmed, as they knew him, never bothered to correct them. He was 15 years old now, scrawny as ever. A lot had changed in the past 9 years that he had been working there, but not his physical shape. He was stick thin despite working at a restaurant, where he ate all that he could. He has only grown taller, just enough than the average male. 

And in all these years, he was silent as ever. The occasional sounds out of his mouth were either to refuse a customer that an item they wanted to eat was unavailable or tell them how they had to pay. Chotey never demanded anything from the restaurant owner. A young balding man that he was, the restaurant owner too never had any complaints from Chotey.

In this part of the town where he worked, Ahmed often came across patrons who had wanted to take him back with them so that he could stay with them and study more. These people came in cars. Cars which were of all shapes and sizes, makes and colors. And on the odd occasion in summers, when Ahmed had to take food to the people sitting inside the car, he would wonder at how the vehicle was so cold when the Earth outside was burning hot.

It was one such which had rescued him from the site he was kept at with many other children of his age 9 years ago. Post the disappearance of his father, Chotey had come to the town to look for his mother. Fate had different plans. When the kid, who he first met while looking for his mother, told him he was wrong, Chotey decided not to believe him. It was for the first time that he was being told the right thing, and Chotey did not want to believe he was wrong. He thus ignored. 

Clutching the small piece of paper, on which apparently his mother's address was written, tightly in his hand, Chotey walked in to the belly of the shanty town in front of him. The kids, who should have bullied him or beat him up, were too busy fighting and abusing to notice a new leper. Chotey walked straight past them like a phantom and into the heart of the slum.

He managed to come out only a year later. For one year, he stayed in different huts and makeshift buildings inside the slum. The people he lived with always gave him food and promised to help him find his mother. That they never actually did was never a problem for Chotey. He was getting just enough food to survive and no one ever bothered him. The people he lived with often told him he must eat and get strong so that when he went to work an year later, he could be strong.

That was until one day there was a lot of commotion and the adults that lived in those buildings had started running helter skelter. Ominous clouds hung over the morning when the armed policemen and the people in cars came. Ahmed had just about woken himself up. He was sitting wondering where the sound of the rain went, when one of the policemen pulled him aside and asked him to go sit in the van. 

Before he could fully understand, Ahmed was taken to a nice hostel of sorts. Here, he would have no problem, he was told. He wanted to tell them that he had no problems in the slum either. He wanted to tell them that it was in the slums that he could be himself. That he could be Chotey. 

In fact, Chotey had slept to the sounds of the rain. He missed the pitter-patter of water drops fighting with the tin roof of his home in his village. And thus Chotey slept like a baby. The following morning when he woke up, it had stopped raining. And just like that, Chotey was Ahmed again.

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