She stood in the corner of the playground, face pressed to the iron fence, looking out. There was a pond there with some lotuses and water lilies, tadpoles and frogs jumping around. The occassional sparrow getting a drink of water. The school bell had gone off about 10 minutes back. All the kids ran towards the gate, eager to get home. But she just stood there at the far end of the school ground. The playground emptied, except for a few older kids playing dodge ball.
She looked around her and casually shifted her attention back to the pond and stared at the lilies and the frogs oblivious to time passing by. She was making circles with her foot in the mud, as she watched the life of the pond unravel in front of her. The slow ripples in the water caused by the jumping tadpoles or the quiet breeze, the water droplets like pearls on the lotus leaves, the grass on the fringes of the pond, dancing in the breeze, reflecting in the water. It looked like magic, a world where there was beauty in everything.
She heard someone shouting for her. She was torn away from her day dreaming. She turned around. It was Ajit Bhaiyya, the rickshaw driver who took her home everyday. She started walking toward him quickly. She had tears in her eyes. She was late, she was supposed to meet him at the gate. She approached him and he smiled at her, it was the warmest smile. He was relieved. ‘Uff! I am so glad you’re ok.’ He said. ‘I am sorry.’ She said. ‘I didn’t realise I was late.’. ‘Its been 40 minutes since the bell went off.’ He said gently. He looked worried. ‘Are you ok?’ He asked. ‘Yes’ she said softly.
‘Let’s go, Amma must be worried.’ he said as she slid her hand into his. She walked quickly beside him, trying to keep pace. ‘Were you crying?’ He asked. ‘No’ she said. He didn’t say anything. He thought he’d seen tears in her eyes. They reached the rickshaw, she climbed up behind and he got on his seat and started pedalling. A few hundred metres from the school he stopped and got off. ‘Stay here.’ He said. He went into the bakery across the street. She watched intently. What was he doing? He was buying something. He came back with a cream cone in his hand and offered it to her. She shook her head refusing it. ‘Take it’ he said. ‘Its for you.’ She took it and smiled.
Amma never bought her those. She always wanted them. He got back up on the rickshaw and pedalled. She ate the cream cone quickly, wanting to finish it before she got home. She wiped her face, drank some water from her bottle, and tried to hide her obvious joy. He rang the bell as they approached home. She got off at the gate and waved to him with a big smile. He smiled back and turned around and pedalled his way back.