The big boy eyes were filled with curiosity.
The small boy was cute and plump, dressed in a rose banian and trouser.The looks of the dresses told that they were as smooth as silk. His banian had many colorful cartoon faces. He was playing sitting in the porch of the big house with his expensive toys; a robot, a car, a bus, a train, a plane and some other things which the big boy couldn’t identify. He wondered whether the small one even knew what all his toys were . The kid was so lost in playing, that he didn’t notice the big boy standing in front of him. He was talking unclear to himself while playing.
The big boy stood in front of the porch at a little distance, but he could see what the small one was playing with. He was wearing a torn and shabby shirt, which could have been white in its good days, and a black trouser. He was standing with his left leg crossed behind his right leg like a crane in the field. His hands were folded behind him. Near him lay a big jute bag. Behind him rested his cart.
The big boy was a waste picker. ‘YES to school and NO to rags’ remained his dream. He was waiting for the man of the house, the small boy’s father. The man has called him in while he was passing the house, with his small cart, asking for wastes, in his most loud voice. He had a small banana for the breakfast and it helped. The man has offered him some bottles and other things which he wanted to get rid of from the house. They boy was waiting for the man to take out all those from inside the house.
The big boy could hear the kid’s mother calling “Chottu..!” from inside the house and the kid made a sound, which the mother might have heard and registered as a ‘Yes Ma’. Because, after that, the call has ceased. The mother was convinced that her boy was safe, playing in the porch.
After waiting some more moments, the man came with many rags, bottles and tin containers, which looked at least half a century old; rusted and damaged pieces. The big boy couldn’t believe that they all came from inside that big house, which looked new. Anyway he should do his job.
He took the balance out of his jute bag to weigh them so that he can give the man the cost for those ‘precious treasures’.
“No need of weighing and all, you can take them for free and clear the place soon!” The man hurried.
The boy was happy and loaded everything in his cart and moved out of the house.
He walked pushing the cart. He felt jealous thinking about the kid, for the kid had parents, home, toys and everything he lacked. He looked at the sky. It was blue and clear.
He reached the junction and saw a small crowd. He stopped for a while to check what was going on. A woman in white saree was delivering a speech, in an exploding sound into the microphone.
“Education for all children must be ensured. Children unde 14 must be in schools, not in streets, hotels or construction sites, working like animals…”
He passed the crowd, he didn’t know whether the children mentioned by the woman included boys and girls like him. And then he heard the crowd giving a good applause, the meeting might have ended.
He resumed but halted again in front of a bakery that sold sweets and pastries. As he saw the delicious things inside a glass shelf, catching his eyes, heart and brain, with its captivating colours, his mouth became watery enough to sail a ship. But he knew he could never get any of those things. If he had parents, he might have had a chance even if he was a waste picker. But neither he nor any one in his group had parents, which only gave them the choice to wish, dream and stare at what they liked.
As he stood lost in thoughts, a firm hand grasped his shirt by the collar.
The alarmed boy turned back and saw the man who gave him the waste bottles for free, catching his collar with his right hand. He held his kid in his left hand.
“You son of scoundrel! Where is it? Take it out!” Shouted the man.
The boy turned pale as he was perplexed.
The people in the junction turned eyes in their direction.
“Otherwise you will end up with police and will get all your bones broken! Take it out!”
“What?” The boy was terrified.
“Stop acting, so you don’t know what?”
Now people from the junction as well as the people from the meeting gathered around them. The boy became panic.
One man asked. “What is the problem?”
“You know, he came to my house a few minutes back and I had given him many waste materials for free.” Eyeing his kid, he continued. “My boy was playing there and this one was waiting near him when I went to pick up the things from inside. Since he left, my kid’s gold ring is missing. We searched everywhere but didn’t find it. And the kid pointed to the gate. This one was the last to visit and leave our house and it is sure he had taken it !”
“I didn’t take anything; you can check me, if you want. I haven’t even seen a gold ring!”
Then the man put down his kid and started checking him, removing shabby dress. Someone in the crowd took out all his collections of the day from the cart and threw them to the ground around. They had to find the tiny gold ring from him or his cart.
The boy started crying and told he hadn’t taken anything from the kid, but none heard him. The man slapped him two or three times and the pain made him blind.
“He might have handed over the ring to some other person in his group, that is how these people do!” One voice said.
“Who all are there with you?” Some else asked.
“No one!” A tired voice whispered from his mouth.
The panic and the pain made the boy almost unconscious.
“What if, he had swallowed it?” The boy looked and saw the woman in white saree who was delivering the speech minutes before, asking the question as if she had got the clue.
“Anyway we can take him to the police station!” All agreed.
They dragged the crying boy. His cart lay empty on the road side and his collections were scattered around it.
He didn’t remember anything after that. When he opened his eyes, he was lying in the corner of a room.
As he looked around he understood it was not a jail, but a large room where one police officer was sitting on a chair before a large table, talking over the phone.
As he ended the call, he saw that the boy has become conscious.
“Constable, ask the boy!” He ordered.
One man came from somewhere and asked him the same questions those people had asked.
His answers were “I don’t know”, “I didn’t take anything”, “There is no one with me”, “Please believe me”.
The man slapped the boy five or six times which again made him unconscious. He laid in that corner, the marks of fingers didn’t make appearance on his cheek, as he was dark himself.
The police officer was about to leave, when the man who had accused the boy of stealing the gold ring, came in.
“Sir, please leave that boy!”
“He didn’t actually take my kid’s gold ring. The kid had put it in his toy bus and was playing. We came to know this only now. Please leave the boy sir!”
“What do you think you have done? You brought the boy here on mere speculation? You said you saw the boy taking the ring and he ran to escape. That’s why we had punished him. People like you must be punished first!” The enraged officer shouted at him.
“I told that to get a punch, sir… as we all believed that he took it!”
“You are a teacher, aren’t you? Don’t you feel ashamed to speak like this?”
“I am sorry sir!” The man stood with his hands folded and head down.
“Who needs your sorry, man? Me? Or that poor kid? What have you learned by your education and profession? Shame on you! Now, get out of this room!” The officer roared.
The boy opened his eyes when someone sprinkled water on his face. The officer helped him get up.
“I didn’t take anything, don’t beat me again!” he started swearing and weeping again.
“Ok, you can go now!” The officer told.
He got up and walked lope-sided. Neither the officer nor the boy spoke of the ring.
He has to find his cart and refill it with the items thrown out of it, if he has to live another day.
The police officer sighed as he looked the weak boy moving out.
He viewed the photo hanging on the wall opposite to him, which read:
‘Even if hundred guilty persons escape, one innocent person should not suffer’.
He couldn’t help, but gave another deep sigh.
Published at YSC