“Girl, where are your shoes? You can’t work without them. Did your mother teach you nothing?” She elbows the other chubby one and now they both scan my feet. “Fine, you work today, but go buy some shoes for tomorrow.” Both roll their eyes, turn and march further down the station.
Ma doesn’t like to offer advice. She wants to me to learn, like how she had to. If anyone asks; say you are seventeen, that’s all she told me. I don’t think I look seventeen but she says the harder I work, the older I’ll look. I regret telling her I don’t want to walk with a limp when I’m her age. I shut my eyes and bring my palms together at my chest. I let a whisper depart from my lips but the activity from the train interrupts my plea.
I open my eyes to a sea of people pouring themselves on to the platform. Women in embellished sarees furrow brows as they are pushed beside women with missing teeth. Men in torn shirts brush against men in tailored suits. Children stay hooked to the palms of their mothers, fathers and grandparents.
I tip-toe, hoping that someone takes notice.
A man with narrow eyes and a heavy moustache pauses. He stares at me as if he’s witnessed a tragedy. I say nothing to change his opinion. I lower my heels and point to his bag then point to my head. His empty smile pushes parts of his moustache up inside his nostrils.
He holds out his bag.
I take it.
My grip breaks.
My armpits itch and feel wet. My face burns.
The man comes forward, he takes the bag and places it on my head. I take over and he lets go. His lips move but I’m deaf to his foreign words. I should nod. I nod. He puts his hand over the bag, it doesn’t take away from the weight. Maybe I will walk with a limp.
At the taxi stand he unravels the paper: twenty rupees: it’s damp, he must have been holding it for a long time. I smile. “Thanking you,” I say. He says something else I don’t understand.
I leave and walk back with the rupees in a tight fist.
I approach a lady whose lips are painted as red as the vermillion dot between her eyebrows. She must live in the clean part of the country because when I wear white, it fades into yellow which fades…