During some of those trips we met our children on shop corridors – either sleeping or inebriating themselves to sleep. After two or three such encounters, Kat made it a practice to pack the remaining dinner for them. Sometimes, she took away small packets of alcohol or glue from their pockets.
“Don’t do that stuff today. Come with us for a movie.”
Mostly those movie trips ended up in Kat’s apartment where we all roared with laughter watching cartoons. Neighbours greeted us with cold stares when our unruly kids walked out of the door in the morning. Mostly after these visits, Kat missed some of her trinkets from home.
“Somebody nicked my watch. That’s not nice,” she complained once.
“The gaudy one you brought from the antique shop yesterday?”
“It was not gaudy, but a charming piece of art with an intricately designed chain.”
“I am glad to know that one of your students does share your aesthetic sense. He found it so appealing that he decided to take it with him.”
“I doubt it. He probably took it for other purposes – like a source of fund for his next fix. Anyway, I don’t blame him. I used to steal things when I started doing drugs. I was mad at Mom for making me Katherine Bach through her second marriage. We were in constant battle, me and my mom. But Mr Bach was very kind to me. He gave me everything I needed –money, cocaine and cuddles. After a year, I went through an abortion and Mr Bach was thrown out of the house. I became such a pest struggling with drugs and insomnia that Mom had to send me to a rehabilitation facility. The one good thing I learned from there is that I can express my feelings without being destructive. Slowly I got rid of the addictions but the passion for sharing my ideas remained within. It finally made me a filmmaker.”
“I don’t know whether I can generate any money from this project. But if I can, I will set up an independent fund for the children,” Kat said while toying around with the last of the spinach. I tried hard to suppress the growing uneasiness in my mind.
“What do you think about it?” she asked again.
“Let us postpone that discussion till we have a clear picture. It is better to avoid giving vain hopes to people.”
“Come on. I am barely announcing it to a group. It is not about the fund. Isn’t it? What is it about? Why are you acting like this?”
“Why did you come here, Kat? To promote your image as a socially committed film maker? To realize you were lucky compared to many others around you?”
“Alright. So you think it is a part of self-indulgence. A project designed to quench my inner insecurities.”
“I didn’t get a better explanation. It is true that your experiment empowered them for a while. Probably for the first time in their lives, they felt like respectable members of the society. But the moment you wound-up the project, they were kicked out from that Utopia. Now they are back to their filthy world which treats them no better than a stray dog. You have even snatched away the remains of that dream – those photographs. It’s brutal.”
“I came here because I thought it is important to evoke hope in life,” Kat muttered. Her eyes gleamed even in the dim light of the alley.
“You chose an ideal group for this hope-inducing- journey. Don’t you realize that they are too young to be enlightened by your grand gesture?”
“Let us stop it here,” she replied in a hoarse voice. “Can we have a hug before you leave?”
“I don’t think that will resolve our differences.” I turned away to walk back home.
A nasty headache woke me up in the morning. Last night’s quarrel disturbed whatever sleep I had . The clock sang nine. Kat must be in the plane huddled up in her seat. I called in sick to catch some more sleep.
Hunger finally dragged me out of the bed in the evening. It rained while I walked towards the usual restaurant. Trees added to the rain showering red petals all over the sidewalk. The sight of youngsters splashing water at each other made me angry.
“I don’t know what is so special about this dirty rain,” I muttered.
A shout from the distance made me turn around. Mittu ran into my umbrella in a minute with Chetan at his heels. The boys were breathless with excitement- – two slender figures drenched in rain and mud.
“We went there to meet Kat. They said she left,” Chetan said pointing to The Home’s office around the corner.
“Hi, how are you boys doing? Yes, she left this morning.”
“We didn’t say goodbye. So we wrote her a small note. Can you send it to her?” Chetan lifted his hopeful eyes.
“Definitely,” I said while carefully putting the wet sheet of paper inside my purse. “Want to have tea?”
“Not now. We are going to play. Will see you around,” Chetan shouted before running in the rain holding on to Mittu’s hands.
I stared at the computer screen for long before keying in the words.
I met Mittu and Chetan this evening. They asked me to convey this message to you.
“Thank you for showing us that it is possible to live life in a different way. Thank you for the wonderful time we spend together. We are going to miss you.”
I wish to add a few more lines to it.
Thank you for being there for me in my sleeplessness. Thank you for showing me that it is possible to overcome a dark past.
I was concerned about the children. I thought your love might cause them more pain. But I was more concerned about myself. For me, the time we spend together was like those photographs in the children’s hand. I was not ready to give it up.
I know I have offended a good friend. I hope she will forgive me.
I am looking forward to hearing from you Kat.
It was still raining. I opened the window to let the cool air inside. There were few children on the road side playing with paper boats. One of them looked up and waved at me. I smiled back and took the umbrella from the shelf. It would be fun to go for a walk now, I thought while locking the door.
Smitha Peter is a freelance writer based in India. She has completed her Masters in Science Journalism from City University, London in 2010. After her studies, she worked as a campaigner and researcher under Indian ecologist Dr Vandana Shiva for the not for profit organisation Navdanya based on New Delhi, India which promotes sustainable agriculture and alternative life style.