Sponsored tears

It was two years ago when I visited Aliyssa Khatoon in the slums of Calcutta, India. Aliysaa is one of my sponsored kids for many years now. And I have been doing my part of writing occasional replies to her regular, neat handwritten notes, sending extra cash for her birthdays and giving a few motherly glances to her updated pictures every year. It never occurred to me to take the next step. But it occurred to her.

Her letter arrived at the usual time of the year, asking about my life and my children. In the art section, she drew my favorite jasmine and club roses in a light blue vase with a request to meet me. As I read the broken translation of her fine Urdu in English, I sensed her curiosity in the curved, alien language. A tear cruised over the slight smile, descending to the flowers, staining the paper, appropriately next to her name. I folded it and in a moment I was ready to see her. All these years of procrastination and busy schedules dwarfed in front of her loving appeal.

It was my first time to visit a slum area: columns of stacked spaces, suffocated dwellings with low ceilings of single rooms where on an average a family of ten to twelve people lived, cooked, bathed and even studied amidst all sorts of disturbances albeit with open and full hearts devoid of regrets and complaints. It was awakening; it was humbling. Suddenly the recollection of my bigger but less utilized home gripped me with a sense of higher responsibility.

Our eyes met. An eight-year old girl with tightly braided hair, dusted with talcum powder and dressed in a pink, fluffy dress for which I sent the money sometime back, waved at me. I hugged her and smiled. She hugged me tight as if she had known me all along.  For no reason, I started sobbing and tears flew and took refuge in her thick, raven hair. She brought me inside her home and showed me her books,  homework, report cards with excellent grades. I saw her sketch book; colors of her imagination flew around.

Every time I met her gaze, I found her watching me, touching my silk and marveling at my presence as if trying to collect all of me through limited space and time. Never in my life, I had been observed so intently with such simplicity. Not even by myself. Instantly, I caught her hand and kissed her forehead.

Hours buzzed by silently and it was time to leave. I hugged and kissed her and in those moments she looked exactly like my daughter, and she is; I just took time to realize it. I handed a fresh sketchbook, a box of color pencils and she grabbed them with a wide smile on her face.

As I waved goodbye, I tried hard to control my tears. The taxi sped to the airport and I cried all the way.

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Above in response to the daily prompt: moved to tears

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