This was a long time ago. An era of less problems and more life. Yeah, that long ago. It was a rainy evening and the rickety woody tea stall was right next to me, spewing warm steam which immediately diffused into the sheet of rain drops. Or perhaps merged with what was its own, after all.
A few minutes passed, some more rain drops fell, and the tea cups were plonked on the bored aluminium tray, which lay mutely on the wooden plank serving as a makeshift table top. A grey coloured torn and wet cloth lay alongside, seemingly in grief with the tray. Every now and then, spattered drops of water would perk up the tray and the cloth would just stir up, absorb the drop and go back to a lull.
The tea cups were sticky, with unwashed stains of unknown ages. It was sticky not to the extent of being annoying. It was sticky to the point of making one feel comfortable. The tea was sweet. A sweetness which, in any other scenario, would have made one cringe, but here it made one feel glad. Perhaps it was the steam, the rain, the cups, the tray, the cleaning cloth or the tea itself. The gamut of things were just right for a perfect sip. And then, there she was. A little over 5 years old hopping around in a dirty frock which had the word “beautiful” arranged in the front. The letters were broken at places, but the word was conveyed nevertheless. Perhaps it is the character of any child to wade through all veils.
She hopped up, placed her little fingers on the tray and looked at us. Another beggar, the thought sprang up in the head and was doused by another sip of the sweet tea. The evening was too precious to be distorted by a blip such as a beggar usually is. The tea-cup holding hand lay the cup down, went inside the warm jeans pocket, fumbled for a coin, carefully analyzed a two rupee coin against a one rupee coin, and brought the latter out in a serving gesture towards the child.
The child looked at it, didn’t understand what was going on and looked back in earnest. For the first time perhaps, the outstretched hand of a giver was embarrassed, not benevolent. The tea sipping was resumed and the child broke into a smile. It was not an evening of hierarchy. It was an evening of equal right to a wonderful evening.
She looked at the glazed plastic bottle filled half way with toffees. She looked at us and commanded for a chocolate; a gesture that was not supported by pleading or guilt. It was a rightful request, like a child makes to a parent. The tea sippers obliged and the toffee was devoured. With the same hop and skip, she turned around, dropped the wrapper nonchalantly and walked away in the evening. The kettle steamed a bit, whistled a bit and the last sip of the tea was the sweetest.