#209 Ma, are you there?

by Fatima M Noronha

The scent of roasting red peppers and coriander seeds filled the little room, their home. Kamala sat cross-legged on the floor near her grandmother.

“Ammama, who broke the window pane?”

“Boys playing ball, Baby, long ago, before you were born.”

Her first memory was of a butterfly so big only its wings of pink, orange, blue and green were visible to her, as she lay on her mat by the window. Her mother’s voice was among those colors. Always, on waking, her eyes circled the room, hoping to see that brighter butterfly, her mother.

At six, Kamala joined Tera-Mera School, the school for working children. In the corner of the veranda they piled their assorted luggage—those who wore slippers left them there, some brought their bedding, usually a cotton sheet tightly rolled up, others, like herself, brought large poly-fiber bags which, after school, accompanied them from dumpster to dumpster around Shanti Nagar. From the rank mixed garbage, they quickly collected plastic and metal items, and whatever bits of cardboard and paper could be salvaged. The middleman they called Uncle weighed their finds and paid them twelve rupees per kilogram, though he paid the aggressive teenagers fifteen.

Kamala found a glossy calendar in the garbage. She took it home. She cut out gaudy pictures to stick on the walls and on the cracked window pane. At night the trains clattered past the closed window, lighting up all its colors like sudden memories.

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