Hope, Always

Hope, Always

“May I?” 

A pair of brown eyes looked up to meet his gaze. There was nothing but sadness written in them. 

The young man repeated. “Let me help you.”

This time the little girl tilted her head. Lines formed on her forehead as she raised her eyebrows. 

He knew the look too well. It’s not easy to trust a stranger. Extending a hand, he caught the bundle that she was gripping and brought it down. But the girl did not budge.  

“Come with me. There is nothing to fear.” He assured her. But she looked away. “Is there anyone else with you?”

Silence. 

“I am a registered worker in this area. There are many children like you. We will track your family.” 

The girl’s eyes met his briefly. He saw the pain. “Come hold my hand and get off the boat. We don’t have much time.” 

He looked at the rising water level. The dinghy was not safe. Not a moment to waste. So many had lost their lives to the mighty Brahmaputra. Placing a hand on the swaying boat, he reached out with the other towards the girl. She shrank away. 

Losing his balance, he tumbled into the boat. 

There, at the bottom lay a young woman. Must be the mother for the semblance was striking. He bent down and felt for the pulse. None. Sighing he covered the face with the woman’s dupatta. 

“She is no more. Come with me.”

In between sobs, a tiny voice said. “I… I can’t leave her here.”

“Sister, there are too many bodies out there waiting for the last rites. The only way out is Ganga Prapti (water cemetery).”

“No! Never! I will not allow the river to claim her. Every year the river has robbed me. First my brother. Then our house. The lands. NOT MY MOTHER. If the river takes her, I will also go with her.” 

It was almost time for the high tide. The young man took out a whistle from his pocket and blew it. In a second another volunteer appeared. 

The body was brought ashore. The arrangements for cremation were done. Handing over the case to the team from ChildLine, the volunteers left the scene.  

***

That night HE sat watching the stars. A volunteer asked, “You have a fondness for children. I have noticed that.”

“Little girls.” HE corrected him.  “Five years ago, the flood was the worst. Everyone perished. I escaped with my baby sister. There was only one boat ferrying the survivors across the swollen river. Crammed with people, it made its way to safety. We had almost reached the shore when it overturned. I…I couldn’t find her. It was too dark.” 

“Did she die?”

“NO! Don’t say so. Some kind-hearted soul must have rescued and taken her home. Hope is that fire that keeps me alive.  I keep rescuing the children. Maybe the power above will note my good Karma and reunite us. Rescuing and praying – is all I can do.”

***

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