This kid keeps climbing up and down the seats, like he’s on some kind of eternal, endless and exciting treasure hunt.He pauses to look at me from time to time, as if he knows I’m writing about him. He’s climbed the same bench 5 times now.
He climbs with his entire being. He probably doesn’t get get much to nourish that apology of a body, definitely not enough to match the appetite of his curiosity, but that’s not stopping him. Single-minded dedication towards the aim getting the right leg up, after the left. He lies prostate, belly down, on the bench for about 3 seconds after he’s up; summoning strength, or perhaps deciding upon the best strategy possisble to tackle his next objective or maybe just to bask in the glory of a task successfully completed. And then he climbs down. This entire process is repeated 8 odd times, before he’s found a loose screw somewhere.
My heart skips a beat as he reaches out and fondles it. I want to grab him and pull him back; and explain to him in some form of baby-talk that he’s not to touch the big, bad screw. But I know the effort would be futile. There’s no deterring a kid who’s got his mind set on something.
I look around, hoping his mother is around somewhere, so that I might catch her eye. But on second thoughts, (and the hundredth look) I know this kid has been through worse; and, more importantly, survived.
For sometime he disappears from my sight, seemingly to conquer another innocent bench. 5 minutes later, he emerges from under mine, mildly astonishing me. He pauses to look at my rather attractive pink, frilly umbrella. For a minute, I think he’s going to latch onto it, and we’re going to have a grand old tug-o-war, right here in the middle of the train compartment. Thankfully, my umbrella is nowhere as exciting to him as the bench.
Finally the mother appears. I heave a sigh of relief. Unattended children climbing benches in fast-moving trains make me uncomfortable. Lost childhoods holding onto innocence in an attempt to feign reality, even moreso.
Clad in her burkha, the woman seemed every bit as experienced as the child. Thankfully, she’s at least smiling as she picks him up. He doesn’t seem too happy about leaving his beloved bench, that he has so eagerly conquered about 10 times in a row by now; but thankfully, he doesn’t cry. The train stops. They get off.
I’ve seen so many such kids on trains, so many times. They are almost a part of the utility – like the ticket windows, the subways, the skywalks, the tracks – omnipresent & inconspicuous. In sight but out of mind. Everywhere and yet, nowhere.
So why this kid?
Most of these kids die within the first few years in the system. What’s left is just a zombie. A hollow shell. An emtpy glass, broken long before it could ever hold anything. They lose before the fight could begin.
This kid was different. He was not lost, not broken. He was going to climb every other hurdle with as much gusto as he climbed the benches. He wasn’t going to lose. This was just his playground, his training camp. and he wasn’t done yet.