His hair was full of mud. Small feet that kept moving frantically from here to there midst a dozen of people at the beach. Extra large trousers that were hanging till his ankles. His rib cage bones could be counted clearly. He was skinny and malnourished. Something seemed very attractive about his eyes. Those sparkling eyes. It seemed as if he had some sort of treasure in the jute bag that hung over his shoulders. Those eyes of his started looking at me.
” Babuji, do you have water?”
He looked down at his small dirty feet while doing so. His hands were shivering.
I looked at him. Then I looked at the sea. The waves. It reminded me of a poem I had read sometime back during my schooldays, “The rime of the ancient mariner” and its lines. Water water everywhere not a drop to drink. I got lost into thoughts when I felt as if someone had touched my shoulder.
“Babuji, can I have at least a sip of water? I will die Babuji. Please!”
His sparkling eyes were not shining anymore. I saw a lot of things in those eyes. Pain. Struggle. Yearning for little things. His nose was dripping wet . He had still not taken of his dirty hands of my shoulder.
” Okay. I will get you some water.”
The sand had got trapped in between of my toes.The roaring waves washed my feet every now and then. It was a Sunday evening. People were hovering around like a swarm of bees. And the endless list of couples. The cool breeze that hit my face. I had come to the beach after months. I hated beaches. It reminded me of Sheena.
I looked at him.He reminded me of her. The sand had even got into my jhola. I emptied the jhola. Held his hand.
” What is your name?”
I was searching for a shop and I scanned through all the possible vendors at the beach.
” My friends call me Heera.”
I laughed. Laughed hard. He started giving me a stern look.
” Don’t laugh. I am an expert in collecting things and I earn a lot.”
A six year old boy was already earning. I got worried. I was worried at the way he was happy at making money. The way he boasted about his “skills”. Worried about a lot of things.
“Have you gone to school any day?”
I mustered up to ask him. Most of the small kids ran away whenever I asked them about this. I held his hand tightly. I didn’t want to lose him. He looked at me again but with gleaming eyes.
” Is it that place where children wear good clothes, bags and shoes and go?”
I looked at his keenness to know about schools.
” Yes. That is the place I am talking about. ”
He started blabbering about it as if he was never allowed to talk about it.
” I have always seen those children. They look so good. I will also one day collect so many things and earn so much that I will go to school. I will wear shoes. Babuji, I love shoes. And then I will play in the ground inside….”
I found a water shop finally after lingering around the whole beach. I was feeling tired. But Heera had not stopped talking about school. He was speaking incessantly.
We were at the shop. The shopkeeper looked like a dacoit. Full and big moustache with pointy ends. A big mole on his left cheek. Thick lips. His face looked like a pumpkin. He asked me,
” What do you want, bhaiya?”
“A bottle of water”
A Bisleri water bottle cost me twenty five rupees. I had no change. I had a lot of money in my pocket. I had to donate it to the “Amba Kids Home” ,an orphanage. Today, I felt tired. So I thought of coming to the beach and then go there. I took out the bundle of ten thousand rupee notes and somehow managed to get change.
Gulping down water down the throat, Heera finished the whole bottle of water. He put the empty bottle in his jute bag.
” Heera, what is that jute bag for?”
Looking at his bag for a while I asked him.
“Okay Babuji, I have to collect a lot if things now. I don’t feel thirsty anymore.”
He was going to leave. I held his hand more tightly.
“Let me go Babuji. I have to meet my boss too.”
“If I help you, will you go to school?”
I felt something piercingly painful on my arm. Heera was gone. He had bit me on my arm. My arm was bleeding heavily. My pockets felt lighter than ever before. I slipped my hand into the left pocket of my kurta. It was gone. All the money. Ten thousand rupees. Gone.
Those small feet were running away fast trying to get away from the good time he was going to see. Why did he want a bottle of water if all that he wanted was money to get away with? I wondered.
He seemed to like the bad world. He was running back to it. He didn’t even look back. He disappeared into the crowd. Those beautiful eyes had led me to a dungeon.
Heera was gone.
My heart was thumping in pain. I tied a handkerchief round my hands. The blood was flowing out nonstop. I sat down. Again on the sands. Looking at the waves. They came and they went.
My hands went to the pocket of my kurta again. I wanted to light a cigarette.
I was missing Sheena. I had lost her five years ago at the same beach. A five year old kid was too small for the big waves. The waves took her away from me. I kept on feeling my pockets. They were totally empty. No cigarettes even. And no matchbox. No bundle of notes.
Heera was indeed an expert in collecting things. He had come to me an hour ago. And now was gone.
He was indeed a Heera. Like a diamond. One in thousands. A ragpicker. A bottle of water was never enough to quench his thirst for money.
A thought of school was not at all enough to leave his jute bag there and come with me. His innocence was killing me. The confidence with which he ran away.
It was getting dark. The sun was orange. Drowning into the sea.
The waves of the sea have always come with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm and left people without any attachments or any expectations.
Heera. The waves. Both intrigued me.