I caught sight of this homeless girl who emerged from the shadows in this leafy part of Browns Road in Manurewa, Auckland. The bushes and the particular kind of small pebble under my feet reminded me of some place in Bangalore. The girl was light complexioned but very dirty. And she was just a child, about thirteen or so with a little squint. I would have normally walked away, but I felt that she was far too vulnerable to be alone in this city. So I struck up a conversation with her. I finally decided to take this matter to someone, maybe the police.
This office was on the third floor of a very old building, reminiscent of an official building in an Indian palace complex. I went by myself initially and was asked to produce the child, so I went back down to get her. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I felt a bit disoriented in the dark. I tried to push the large door open. I could see the rays of light through the opening. That’s when I turned around and saw my daughter Lydia. She looked so lovely as she came down the stairs, offering to quickly bring the child in. She must have been with me upstairs, I think. She has always been good at finding out just what is needed in a situation. She was gone before I could see if there was another way out. She must have passed over the few people sitting on the bottom stair and taken another flight of stairs going down into the basement. Clever.
I tried to open the large door again, and it did budge a little, but it did not smell right, and I soon found out why. Just outside the door were large garbage bins. While I was wondering what to do, Lydia was back with the girl, almost apologising for the delay. Funny, I had not noticed the time passing. Apparently the child had wanted to be more presentable and had been resolutely determined to wear a dress that she had with her. It was a nice long dress with a jolly floral print. She still had a dirty face and the endearing squint. We went up, and in a very short time, her family was present.
This is where it gets really weird. The family did not address the issue at all, but instead they wanted to have a little celebration. They did not seem to know that I was a part of their story now. When you give up a certain responsibility, as I was doing in letting go of my concern for the child, the mind has to go through a winding-down protocol of sorts; it has to be done with propriety. But I was being ignored and the protocol was being stymied.
Next, for some unreasonable reason, I found myself with said obnoxious group in a little restaurant, a gracious old Muslim place, the kind that would have meat samosas and ruddy cardomom tea in the evenings and mutton biriyani for lunch. The group was noisy, and it was getting to be too much for me. I went up to the lady who I assumed was the child’s mother and told her in no uncertain terms that she had to face reality, her child had been in a dangerous situation and it was I who had taken the child to the authorities. “Don’t you have the courtesy to at least ask me what happened?”
And then I woke up in disgust.