The sibling and I were at a late evening meeting, planning for voluntary community work the next day. At 9.30pm, it was late and we had about 20 minutes’ walk ahead of us from JB Nagar. Instead of going home directly, I bothered the sibling, begging her to join me to check out a certain electronic item that I wanted her opinion on, even trying to bribe her with promises of a snack at the famous Merwan’s Cake Shop nearby.
Despite the time, she agreed. As we walked the dull, nearly empty street at top speed, hoping the shop wouldn’t close, we passed by a balloon seller with a bicycle, a few fancy balloons and a bundle in his left hand. Gingerly, he raised his eyes to look towards us and said softly (in Hindi), “Please…buy a balloon”.
We had already passed by and walked quite a distance before it struck us as odd. Normally, a hawker would just shout out or offer his wares to passers-by. I had never come across one whose voice was filled with such desperation. It was a plea. And what man would sell balloons on a nearly empty street at this hour? I had only heard his words, not seen his face, but my sibling had noticed something else. The man’s face was filled with embarrassment, his eyes were pleading, his voice shaking. He was approaching us, two adults with no sign of children around us, knowing we would be least likely to buy balloons from him. Yet, he tried. He was forcing a smile.
We turned around. As we approached him, I got a chance to see him clearly. His wife was nearby, also trying to sell some of the balloons. They were migrants, and seemed new to the city. The bundle in his left hand was a baby. The old bicycle had most of their belongings.
The balloons we bought cost us Rs 70/-. I looked at my sister and her nod told me that the snack at Merwan’s didn’t matter anymore, we’d rather spend the money for somebody who needed it. As we made the purchase the man, gratefulness and relief spreading across his face, found his voice and explained that they were desperate to make some money so they could buy food. They had eaten nothing all day. All they wanted was enough money to buy a few chapattis and a bowl of cooked vegetables. We smiled, a bit ashamed of our own privilege while this family was starving.
As we walked away with two very fancy balloons, we realised that had we not noticed, had we not cared…this family would have slept hungry tonight. Not yet having had our dinner, our stomachs growling, we knew what that felt like, but at least we had a warm dinner waiting for us at home. We even wondered if we had been taken for a ride, if that family was lying – but all the facts surrounding the interaction convinced us that this was no case of tricking people. If he could help it, he would not have asked us to buy balloons but would have approached a family with children. If he could help it, he wouldn’t be selling balloons at nearly 10.00 pm with his family in tow.
I don’t want to bring up that family’s poverty as much as I bring up the fact that we, the citizens of this city, who in our face-paced life, often do not want to spend a millisecond looking around us and observing what is happening in our neighbourhood. Do we listen to more than what is being said to us? Do we recognise the unspoken that connects us as humans? Do we care for those who might not be able to reach out to us, but are in need? In that split-second, a desperate story presented itself to us. We had the choice to ignore it….or to listen and make something wonderful happen.
– Rachael Alphonso
(About the author: Sometimes, the author’s heart melts.)