The moon sat atop a sea of clouds with the purple mountains giving it some company. The trees rustled as they admired the view. A twinkle here and a flashlight there. Dusk had its own beauty. And the three of them just sat there, looking out at the lush highway as the sun dipped its head in between the mountains and slowly disappeared. The road had now transformed into a ribbon of streetlights. She sighed deeply, filling her lungs with this dusky magic when she heard her scream.
The spell broke. She looked around frantically. Neither of her friends had heard the scream. One of them was happily chewing on a spicy pizza lathered in schezwan sauce and grated cheese while the other was digging into a pot of frozen lassi. “Did you hear that?” She said.
“Hear what?” Just then the woman screamed again. “THAT! Did you hear it now?”
The other two girls looked at each other quizzically and responded in unison, “No.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I heard a woman scream. Twice.”
“Are you tired? You’re imagining things. Let me drive now. Get some rest. And eat this pizza, it’s insane.”
Shrugging it off as a trick of her mind, she let it pass. Then again. She heard it. This time it was much louder. So did the others. She ran out of the dhaba looking out to see if she could see the woman in trouble. She sat on a chair ailing in pain. A little boy came running in her direction, a brown paper bag in his hands. He came into a dhaba and got a bottle of water, all for free and gave her a dose of some medicines. She was still in a lot of pain. But she looked at her son lovingly. It was as if the look in his eyes helped ebb away the pain more than the medicines he was giving her.
Her heart ached for the two of them and went over to the little boy and said, “do you need any help?”
“No! Mom has been unwell for the past few days. She has a bad stomach ache. But I will make her ok.”
“Where is your papa?”
“He’s a truck driver. So he is on duty right now. He comes back home once in a week some times. So I am the man of the house.”
She beamed at him and his positivity and walked away, knowing they were both fine. The boy then came running after her. She turned to look at him and he said, “Didi, how did you like the pizza?”
“How did you know I had it? It was really good though.”
“It’s my recipe. I cook here after school and pay for my ma’s treatment from that money.”
“But didn’t you say she just has a stomach ache? And that your dad has a job?”
“Ma doesn’t know the truth. She’s unwell. Doctor said some big words that I couldn’t understand but she needs good care and medicines. Which I provide. And pa drinks when he’s not driving.”
Her heart felt heavier listening to his story. She opened her purse to give him some money.
He looked at her shamefaced and said, “No Didi. I only earn my money.” And then with some more enthusiasm he said, “Get another pizza may be?”
She looked at him with a tear in her eye. But made sure to pack a lot more food than she needed for their onward journey.
But a part of her heart was left behind with this little boy and his mother.