This is a story within a story and you need to know both of them to get the whole picture.
Let’s start with Gia. I met her while walking with Moy Moy one afternoon. She approached us curiously and started asking questions about why Moy was in a stroller, why she was drooling, why she couldn’t speak, where she went to school, what did she learn there and what was the point if she couldn’t talk. Her questions were rapid-fire, as if she couldn’t keep up with her own mind. None of my answers satisfied her. She asked the same questions over and over, as if hoping to trick me into telling her the truth.
But WHY can’t she talk? I can talk. Why can’t she? How can she not be able to walk? My legs work. Why don’t hers?
Sometimes questions like these really bother me but with Gia, they didn’t. Her curiosity was genuine and respectful – she wasn’t asking idly or without acknowledging Moy Moy’s presence. She really wanted to understand how something like this could happen.
A few days later, my sister was here and we met Gia again on the street. She walked along with us and, again, talked non-stop. Where were we going? How were we related? Why was our skin so pale? Who was older?
She kept it up until her road veered off to the left and she parted from us reluctantly, saving her last goodbye for Moy Moy, then scampering down the road without a backward glance, her book bag – almost as big as she was – bouncing up and down as she ran.
“She’s exactly like Jill Wheelock,” my sister remarked, even though she hadn’t understood a word of what she had been saying.
Jill was a childhood friend and a legend in our neighborhood for her free-spirited outspokenness and talent for mischief. We all adored her, admired her and wished we could be like her. Mary was right. Gia was Jill.
One afternoon I saw her walking by our house and I called out to her from the kitchen window. She stopped and said, eyes shining, that today was her birthday. I had been cleaning cupboards and had come across a beautiful sketchbook with felt tip pens – still in their wrapping. When I gave them to her, she seemed overcome, unable to believe they were really for her. Carefully, reverently, she opened her knapsack and placed them both inside, looked at me in wonder again and slowly walked out the gate.
A few evenings later, her mother appeared at our gate. We had never met, but she had found me by asking people on the street. Gia was missing. She had been expected home from her tuition class over an hour earlier. It was now dark and her mother was frantic. “I only have one daughter,” she explained, near tears. I got the car out and suggested we return to her home first to see if she had turned up while she had been searching. As we drove there, she told me that her husband used to beat her and she had finally divorced him and was now bringing up Gia and her little brother alone. The little boy, two and a half, still didn’t speak. “I don’t want her to be a domestic worker like me,” she said. “I want her to get an education. That’s why I send her to tuitions. So she can BE someone.”
Gia was waiting at home when we got there – she swore she had been there for an hour; her mother insisted it couldn’t be so. Home was a hovel – a tiny, cramped servant’s quarter behind the house where she worked – and Gia looked as if she knew she would be spanked as soon as I left. “I hate sending her all that way alone,” her mother said. “But it takes us 40 minutes each way to walk. I can’t carry him all that way and I can’t leave him alone either. If I had a cycle, I could do it so quickly.”
If I had a cycle.
Part II of the story.
When I turned 50, I asked Ravi to give me a bicycle as my birthday gift. We went together to select it and it was a beauty: bright blue, sturdy, no gears. I rode it maybe four times in two years. It seemed like a good idea when I asked for it, but in fact, it wasn’t practical at all. Whenever I have time to get outside, I also have Moy Moy to think about. Since she can’t sit on a cycle, I prefer walking with her in the stroller. On those rare occasions when I want to nip quickly to the market on the cycle, its tires are invariably flat because I use it so seldom.
The very DAY I met Gia’s Mom, I had been thinking about my cycle. “What a waste,” I was thinking. “Who can I give it to? There must be someone for whom it would be a God-send.”
Enter Gia’s Mom.
The moment I heard her say that about needing a cycle, I knew who it was meant to go to.
I’m not telling this story to make myself look good or generous. Just as a reminder that if we ask a question, we will get an answer. It happens every time.
Like Gia’s persistent questions about why Moy Moy couldn’t talk, which now, suddenly, having met her brother, I understood her concern with and had an answer for: let’s get that little boy in for an assessment. Karuna Vihar is right down the street. We can help. That’s what we’re here for.