How Can She Smile?

It is a very hot summer’s day in Mumbai.  I hail a cab to my place of work.  Soon, I am immersed in some report that I need to review.  As always, at this time of the morning, we stop more than we move.  There are a number of traffic signals on the way.  I am done with my report and look out of the window.

A boy on drums and a little girl, knock on my window.  They put up an acrobatic show for the few cars around my taxi.  The space between the cars is not much, but the girl is emaciated.  She manages to do cartwheels, loops her hands over her head and swings her entire body through that loop, does some impromptu dancing to the boy’s beat, and takes a bow. The performance is over.  Now, they patiently knock on each window with sweet smiles and grins on their faces, asking for coins.

I open my window to drop a coin in the girl’s hand.  She smiles her thank you.

How can she smile, when she has so little?

From what I can see, only two people give them money.  When the signal turns green, they navigate the maze of cars and quickly climb on to the pavement, awaiting the next set of people, who will probably drop them a few coins, and provide their one meal for the day.

As the taxi revs and passes the signal, she catches my eye and smiles again -a golden drop of sunshine.

How can she smile, when she has so little?

The next day, I eagerly scan the signal, she doesn’t disappoint.  After giving her some money, I ask her, “Why don’t you go to school?  Will you go to school, if I give you money?”

She only laughs in reply. She says something to the boy in a language I do not understand, and they both laugh, eyes looking merry.  Does she understand what I say?  I feel helpless as I look at this little girl.

What are her dreams? Will she know ever know the joy of going to school and reading books?  Will she ever know what it means to have safe and clean water and a home to live in?  Will she ever get three wholesome meals a day?  Does she have parents who love her?

My heart aches for these small children, who live on the streets and to whom staying alive on the streets is a challenge every day. I make up my mind to get down and talk to her the next time I see her, maybe even meet her parents.

There is a cacophony of vehicle horns as the signal turns green; nobody has even a second to spare, as they rush to their meetings, their deadlines and to another privileged day.

As my taxi crosses the signal, she catches my eye and waves out again with a huge grin of recognition.

         How can she smile, when she has so little?    

       Is it because she has given up hope or is it because she has accepted that this is her life?