It was five am and the sun was barely peeking through his sheets, but the day had begun with purpose. Kalyani woke up with a smile on her face. She leaned over and brushed the curls of the sleeping child next to her. What a peaceful vision, she thought to herself. It was hard to believe that she will be one in a couple of weeks. The preparations for her grand birthday party were already in full swing and everyone seemed genuinely excited to celebrate. Every morning on their way to the temple, she was met with a hundred questions. “Aunty, have they bought a new outfit for her birthday yet?”, “Aunty, will there be cake?”, “Aunty, are they planning a feast for the whole neighborhood?” Kalyani answered each and every question proudly. Yes, this was going to be an occasion to remember. First birthdays are a milestone and no expense will be spared.
She made a quick mental note of all the things to do that day… On the top of her list was the shopping trip she had been anticipating all week. She had dreamt of it a week ago and had been excited ever since. A beautiful silk outfit in a rarest shade of peacock blue, she paused, it had to be the exact color and it wasn’t going to be easy. It would probably take the entire afternoon and if she was lucky she would get back home before sunset. But it was the one thing she really wanted to buy for her little girl’s birthday. It’s the one thing that would be from me, she thought.
When the child’s parents had stopped by from their shift, she had casually mentioned her desire to see if there would be an objection. But, thankfully there was none. From their tired voices she gathered that they may actually be relieved by the gesture. When would they have the time to shop? She thought to herself. Their hectic schedule left no time for home making and she had stepped in to take care of the baby in their absence. That’s what friends are for, she had told herself. Besides, this little girl had brought unimaginable joy to her life in the absence of her own kids.
The 10:20AM bus was late as usual and it came tilting to the left. “Standing room only” announced the conductor as she squeezed into the bus. The air inside was stifling as her entire body dissolved into a pool of sweat. Why bother showering in this summer heat, she thought to herself. But the very thought of the cool water over her body felt refreshing. The bus stopped frequently as more people piled on. Where is the space, she buzzed as she struggled to keep her grip. Only thirty minutes to the train station, she reminded herself, this is doable. Even more people boarded at the next stop and the bus swayed as the engine sputtered in protest. Please don’t break down, please don’t break down, she prayed as the loaded bus slowly started chugging. But, in less than a hundred meters, as if on command, with a loud hiss, the bus stalled and came to a complete stop.
The passengers moaned in disgust as the bus driver turned the key in vain. Nothing happened. Some pushed their way to get off the bus, but there wasn’t any room to spare. Kalyani looked at her watch, 11:00AM. She should’ve been at the train station by now. She sighed and wondered whether it would be faster to walk to the station. It was just a couple of miles and she could make it in less than an hour. Waiting for another bus might delay her further. No, she thought, walking is better. She quickly exited the bus and made for the nearest shady tree. The midday sun scorched high above her head. She wiped the sweat off her forehead and examined her leather sandals. They hadn’t been broken in and walking might be difficult in them, but was there a choice? Time was ticking away and she had to keep moving.
The hour passed in a hazy blur. Kalyani quickened her pace as she neared the train station. The leather sandals hung on her finger like a towel on a hook. The blood on the straps still clearly visible and the back of her ankles still painfully crusty. She needed a band-aid, but first she needed a cold drink. She ordered a chilled soda from the corner store and settled on the stool nearby. She looked at the sandals again wondering whether to throw them away. “Do you want to buy some band-aid?” the store boy enquired as he noticed her bloody ankle. “Yes,” her voice was flat. Buying another pair shoes on her tight budget was not feasible. What would her husband say? She had already taken every last bit from him for this impending purchase.
The train ride was pleasant in comparison to the earlier ordeal and the cool breeze almost lulled her to sleep. The pain in her ankle had subsided but her body was stiff from the tiring walk. The clock struck 2 when she finally arrived at the bazaar. Kalyani let out a loud sigh. She had hoped to be done by now. The evening crowds would start to gather in an hour and shopping will become more cumbersome. She walked into the first store and an eager salesman approached her. “I want to see the silk fabrics with gold zari,” she said cutting him off. “I’m looking for a particular color… peacock blue.” She watched the salesman sort through the blue textiles, but nothing impressed her. “Not this light blue… it has to be the color of the neck of a peacock. Don’t you understand?” she scoffed. The selection left little to the imagination. She flipped over a few more rows of fabric but nothing came close to the vision in her dream. On to the next store, she thought wearily.
Half a dozen stores later, Kalyani was in tears. Nothing she’d seen so far was worth her time and she had started to wonder if she would was on a wild goose chase. The best stores in the bazaar were combed through only to be left empty handed. The straps on her sandals once again dug into her skin as the band-aid slid from the sweat. She looked at her watch, 6:05PM. Where did the time go? She wondered. Her husband was waiting for her at home with her little girl. It was dinner time and they were probably worried about her. What if I don’t find what I’m looking for? She drew a sharp breath as the mist around her eyes thickened. No, she said to herself. This is not the time to lose hope. She would try another store and another until she found her wish. Help me God, she mumbled a quick prayer and walked into the dimly lit store.
The store was small compared to the other ones with just one row of display. Why would this store have what I’m looking for, she wondered. The salesman noticed her but stayed in his seat. She looked up at the display case and eyeballed the inventory. Her heart sank into her stomach. The options were bleak. The old man eyed her intently and finally cleared his throat as if to demand attention. Kalyani looked up at him. “What do you want?” he demanded. “I’m looking for a particular color silk fabric with gold zari”, she repeated the worn out line from the day. “It has to be blue… peacock blue” her voice trailed in disappointment. The old man stirred. “Blue silk?” he repeated as he walked towards the back of the store. “I don’t have many,” he said unlocking the glass cabinet. “Someone ordered this last week, but never came to pick it up,” he pulled out a package wrapped in muslin. He shuffled over to her and untied the knot to reveal the blue silk fabric.
Kalyani’s heart skipped a beat. There in front of her was an unimaginable shade of blue silk. Perewinkle, aqua, indigo, sapphire, cornflower, navy, sky, royal? Were her eyes deceiving her or was she seeing this in front of her? The perfect shade of peacock blue… the iridescence of the peacock’s neck and the gold of its feathers perfectly blended. The vision in her dreams. Tears filled her eyes as she clutched the fabric in her hands. She fought back the emotion as she squeezed the fabric into her chest and the old man cleared his throat again. “Are you okay?” he asked softly. “Yes” she said finally, “how much?” “Two hundred,” he read from the tag. That was all the money Kalyani had and she had come prepared to haggle. But the events of the day had drained her. Can you put a price on your dream? She thought to herself. She was exhausted. She was joyous. She had found what she was looking for and nothing else mattered. She handed over the crumpled notes to the old man and walked out of the store clutching the bag close to her heart.
My little girl, Kalyani beamed as she made her way back home. This is for my little girl. She imagined the little dark eyes staring back at her and a lump filled her throat. I may not have given birth to her still she belongs to me in every way imaginable. Tears filled her eyes. We must claim our families wherever we find them, she thought as she clutched the bag again. She may be on loan to me and one day leave my sight, but today she’s mine and my job is to love her. Kalyani closed her eyes in deep content. She knew her place. She was the force around which a little girl’s world revolved and that was not to be taken lightly. Love never leaves, she reminded herself. Not now, not ever. This is for my little girl and I’m her mother.