I crouched down in the corner of the park, watching the trio. Two boys playing on the seesaw; holding the handle with one hand, and rapidly melting icecreams in the other. The third was a little girl, wearing a pretty dress, which probably cost what I made in a month. I should know; I worked in a sweat shop which made such dresses.
The girl stood a little apart, slowly unwrapping a large lollipop. One that was surely too large for her to finish by herself. When the wrapping was undone, she pushed the paper into her pocket for disposal later. Perfect, I thought. To dispose of the wrapper, she would surely approach the garbage bin close to me, very soon. My kind of girl.
I just needed to wait.
It was summer time, and the leaves of the bush that was my concealment, were rather sparse; so I needed to be careful. If spotted by a parent or the watchman, I could be thrashed or worse, handed over to a cop. My clothes and general appearance made me an unlikely candidate for an innocent visit to the park.
My choice of position was brilliant. To my left, a scant foot away, was the garbage bin, giving me instant access if anyone came to discard something. To my right was a wooden garden bench with broken slats, which meant that I could insert my fingers through, if needed.
This park was not really my first choice or even my second. I generally preferred school grounds, with its larger number of children and easy pickings. A couple of schools which had lax supervision and fool-proof hiding spots, were my favourite. Luckily, my job required running errands for my boss and took me past these schools. I was always careful to keep a safe interval between the school visits. Even on the days that I was unsuccessful, I never lingered, lest I come to the attention of some alert watchman or concerned parent.
But summer vacation had rendered the school grounds empty and many days had passed since my last success. I was feeling the familiar yearning within me. Hence, this visit to the public park. Today was my monthly day off. My co-workers were watching the television outside the window of the electronics showroom. Some were catching up on their sleep, of course. A fourteen hour work day at a noisy factory which manufactures clothes, can make sleep very important.
Not for me, though.
I surreptitiously changed my position, at regular intervals, because cramped feet meant that I would not be able to run, if needed. My agility had saved me every single time, a fact that I took great pride in.
One of the boys had finished his ice-cream, while the other tossed down his half-eaten one. He would not be approaching the garbagebin, I thought, disappointed. With his fancy schooling, he should have known that the bin close to me was meant for tossing garbage! Swachch Bharat indeed!
All my hopes were pinned on the little girl. She watched the children at the swing set, lazily licking that huge lollipop with her pink tongue darting out delicately. She seemed to have no nanny or parent close to her. I was starting to feel lucky. Would she walk away or tire of the lollipop and walk to the bin to discard it?
I waited anxiously, perspiration trickling down my neck.
Too much time had passed and I was conscious of the chances of detection rising with every second. She suddenly turned her head and with the uncanny perception of very small children, glanced my way. Her gaze collided with mine. I do not know what came over me, maybe it was my desperation, but I did a very bold thing. I held out my hand and beckoned. With the innocence that comes from being a protected child, she walked towards me of her own volition. As she neared me, I held out my hand. She extended hers.
As her hand touched mine, I heard a shout. “Wait till I catch you, you good-for-nothing.” It was the watchman.
My cover was blown. I took to my heels and ran for my life. But, I was smiling triumphantly. This was the best haul yet. A large lollipop, the largest that I had ever seen or held.
Smelling of itself, not the other refuse in the bin or worse, thrown down in the dirt and needing to be gingerly dusted away. It was almost like receiving an early birthday gift for my twelfth birthday, which I knew fell sometime in the month of the first rains.
It was a gift from the Gods, who were surely smiling down on me today.
Behind me, I could hear the paunchy man muttering, out of breath,”Ye, aaj kalke Bachhe!”
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