I sit next to her on the bus everyday. She likes to save a place for me. I get into the bus now; settle down into the window seat. She shows me her file, the card she made in art class and the invite to a birthday party. I look at them all, smile at her and say it is all wonderful. Especially the card. She is not vibrant like the other kids. She is boisterous and rude. She does not like to smile. But she guffaws like a crazy donkey when she sees something funny. Sometimes, she reminds me of myself.
The bus scurries along. I hug my bag close to my chest, and sink deeper into the seat. She is looking straight ahead, frowning in thought. She is all of six years old. The only time I saw her smile (a ‘real’ smile, I mean) was when her Dadi and Dada visited her. She was full of life for a couple of days. Then they left, and she was back to her angry self.
I look at her now, browsing through her file for the umpteenth time. Slightly broken, slightly yearning for affection. She will not accept false displays of love, though.
Strong little girl.
Slowly, with the lilting movements of the bus, she dozes off. I am looking out of the window when I feel something soft on my shoulder. It hits my shoulder very softly and moves away. I feel a vague loss until the head comes back to place again.
Against my left arm.
She sleeps, with her head on my arm. She looks so calm and at peace with herself. I let my mind drift. Does her mother hug her enough? Does she tell her she is loved? I take a strange pleasure in having her head against me. The very feel of her wispy hair and the soft cheek-at times on my elbow, at times through the sleeve of my kameez, makes me happy.
Content, in fact.
I do not want the bus ride to end, just so that I can have her sleeping by my side forever.
Soon enough, it was time for her to get off. I gently nudge her awake, give her the file that had dropped to the bus floor, and watch her get down, thumping on the steps.
The next seat seems painfully empty now. My left arm, curiously enough, feels lost.
Tomorrow, maybe, she will doze off again against my side.
I want her to.
I can never have enough of it.