Friday morning at six

We are walking to school.  I am in the front, Seema in the back.  We no longer walk in line, except if there is traffic.  Rather we become two groups, some of the girls in the front with me, some behind with Seema.  It’s a process of natural seclection.  I am a fast walker, so the girls who walk fast are with me.  A chill has come in the mornings, but the girls are dressed as if it were late Fall in the Northeast USA.  They have red sweaters, red head scarves, and red leggings under their uniforms.  This is the custom now.  And our girls, who never had any uniforms before, are certain to put every possible accessory on, whatever the weather.  They love their uniforms.  some of them wake in the night and slip into the other room, dress for school, sweater, leggings, uniforms, scarves, and go back to sleep!

On this morning, as we are walking, we see just off to the side of us, at an intersection, two women and two children, boys about 7 or eight, climbing out of a fancy gray Tata Sumo.  We all stop, looking back transfixed…. the women look discheveled; the boys look weary.  I see one man get back into the car.  it all just looks bad.  Then the car passes us, with four well-dressed men grinning, grinning at us.  I learn later that the group in the back heard the woman protesting to the man, as he gave her money, "Is that all I get?"

For the rest of the way to school we talk about it, and the girls talk with Seema.  They all know what is going on.  They lived on the street.  We tell them this is why they are with us, so this doesn’t happen to them; this is why we educate them, so they do not live on the street; this is why we watch them all the time and don’t let them out of our sight.  One of the girls tells Seema that the night before she dreamed about her mother and cried all night.  "Is she safe? Is she hungry?"  Seema tells her, and all of them, that they must work to make their mothers proud, wherever they are, here or with the Gods.  She tells them that they will grow up to help other children like themselves, because they know how much pain there is.  Always she/we tell the girls they must make their parents proud.

A poem I wrote some years ago:

There are Cobwebs in my Heart

There are cobwebs in my heart

Where mama used to be,

A room preserved…

Frozen in the moment of her

Leavetaking.

The growing strands of thin floating filaments

Encroach,

From the corners of

Her room,

And gather over time to mark the emptiness.

Enshrouded,

An alter of love remains,

Built long ago to call for God,

— Just in case he was listening –

A dainty layette,

Delicately embroidered

White on white

Awaits the newborn,

Booties, hand sewn in some distant land,

Where women feed their own

Knitting for the children they’ll never know.

A lullaby plays, the needle jammed —

The cradle will fall.

The cobwebs soften the harsh notes of the broken music,

They blur the searing loss,

And comfort the dying infant

Like gentle shrouds of lingering memory.

Oh mama, if only you had stayed.

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November 2007
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