Today I bought a small assortment of expensive fruits and vegetables. Mushrooms, a green pepper, two papaya, one tangerine, half a kilo of chikoos and one sitaphul (come to India and I will treat you to some!). I was at my favorite vendor’s and he was teasing me about how little I was buying. Just then, a boy stopped and asked how much the onions were. “20 rupees a kilo,” the man told him abruptly, turning back to me.
I glanced at the boy, who was now telling his mother – who stood off to the side with a young girl – the price. All three of them were bone thin. The girl was carrying her chappals in her hand and on her head she had a bundle of what looked like household equipment, all wrapped up in a piece of cloth.
The mother shook her head at the 20 rupees and motioned to the boy to continue walking. My vendor took no notice whatsoever.
I moved toward the girl. “Where are you coming from?” I asked her. She smiled shyly, then turned away.
I wanted to buy them the kilo of onions, but I felt shy too. I walked to my car and as I opened the door, I looked back at them. All three had stopped and were staring back at me.
I got in the car and drove away, thinking of all the stories I have read of people down to their last dime, for whom only a miracle will get the onions, the subway fare, the medicine. I could have been the miracle. But I let social embarrassment (what will they think?) get in the way.
I have been thinking of them ever since – that little tableaux on the side of the road: the Holy Family, thinking about onions for their evening meal but not having the 20 rupees to acquire them.
How often do we miss the chance? It won’t save the world, it won’t bring about Peace In Our Time, but why not buy someone the onions they are craving? Why not, Why NOT? Next time. This is a promise. Next time I will not let anything stand in my way.