Rajat knocked on my door yesterday and held up a very swollen foot. “Uncle Yip told me to ask you for ice.”
While he was chopping wood for the kitchen, a bee stung him. I gave him an ice-pack and said he could take it with him and go lie on his bed if he wanted. He chose to stay, so I sat down with him while the ice-pack slowly melted.
I opened the conversation by mentioning a story I heard about his broken chappals (flip-flops). We laughed about how the cobbler mended his chappals and they soon broke again. Afterwards he went barefoot for a couple months, preferring it to any kind of footwear. I looked at his feet, remarking on his nice looking, new chappals. He lifted up one foot, staring with admiration. “It’s good to wear chappals, because it’s easy to step on thorns.”
I asked Rajat about his family.
“I was born in Bihar. When I was a baby my family moved to Dehradun, into a colony called Chor-kala, meaning black thieves. And that’s how it was. Dark and sinister. No one was trust-able. It wasn’t a nice place.
My father never went to school, but had a job working on cement trucks. He married my mother when she was 14. I have a sister four years younger than me. She is 12. I’m sixteen. My mother is 29 now. My father was not good. He drank a lot, and when he did, he would beat all of us. The doctor warned him about his drinking, saying one day it could kill him. He didn’t listen.
When I turned 6, my mother wanted to put me in school. My father was against it. He thought school would make me turn out bad, like him. My mother disagreed and they argued. She thought school would be good for me and was determined for me to go. They kept arguing about it. The result was he drank, and then beat my mother, my sister, and me. In a real act of bravery, Mom enrolled me in school anyhow. She got another beating for that. I was in school for one week. Then Dad died.
Mom married again. My stepfather is okay, though he drinks and beats my mother, and us, sometimes. I call him Father. He is not as bad as my real dad was. My relationship with him is improving. From their marriage, I have a little brother. He’s 5 now.
My birth father had AIDS. My mother has AIDS. My stepfather has AIDS. My sister has AIDS. Only myself and my little brother do not have it. When my brother was born the doctor advised Mom not to breastfeed to give the baby less chance of being infected. She spent extra money and walked daily to the bazaar for his milk. It kept him safe. My mother just put my brother into school. I’m glad she did that.
My family now lives in the mountains. I was stuck at home during the covid lock-down and couldn’t return to school. My father had me work in a chai shop. I didn’t mind, but it’s difficult at home when he drinks and beats us. His doctor told him to stop drinking and eating so much chili, because one day it may kill him. Like my first dad, my stepfather doesn’t listen to the doctor’s advice.”
Rajat came in to my house in the evening for another dose of the ice-pack. I fed him cake and showed him pictures. In the morning he came again for the ice-pack. This afternoon his foot was less swollen, so he asked my husband, Yip, for permission to play soccer. Yip playfully raised an eyebrow and looked down at his foot. “I suppose your shoe will fit over it?” He winked.
After Rajat left Yip told me why he let him play. “Boys will be boys.”
Seemed reasonable, but I also knew boys sometimes need an excuse to be brave… brave enough to talk. For Rajat, it was a bee sting.