I soak the knife and the long blade in the hot boiling water, I count till 30, slowly, like Baba had told me to do – he said that boiling water can kill germs, and if I forget to count or count wrong, then the children will get infected. Then I count 10 more just in case, and hand over the knife and blade over to Baba. He grunts and takes the blade, leaving the knife in my hands. I take a step back into the darkness of the tiny dank room. Only the bench in the middle in which the child is lying with her hands and legs tied, is lit by a low hanging bulb. The screaming is about to begin.
The knife feels heavy. The blade is lighter, it would have been easier to hold onto. But I like “blade-days” better, when Baba takes the red hot blade and makes slits all over the body of the child. When he is at the task, he looks like a monster – he is a big burly man, and the effort makes his muscles bulge out of his yellowing singlet, torn and smeared with the blood of children – not one, but probably three or four children before it gets its weekly wash. You would think that the leader of the biggest beggar ring in Mumbai could afford better clothes, or at least a more frequent rinse.
“AAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHH…….,” I jump at the sound. The scream of the first slice. That is always the loudest.
“Stand still, you idiot!” Baba glares at me. “Every day the same thing, and he still can’t stand still. I have great hopes for you, and this is how you act. Come closer and learn!” His eyes are blood-shot, round, large and bulging; his nostrils open and shut so heavily that you could almost feel the short gusts of wind. Red sticky paan dribbles down the corners of his mouth – when I was new here, I thought it was the blood he drank from the children he cut.
Every time I hear the screams, even though I have lost count of them by now, it is as if a shot pierces through my heart. I start even when I try very hard not to and my hair stands on end. They scream so long and so loud, even on the blade-days. I wish I could tell them that they are the lucky ones, because they didn’t come in on the days when Baba chooses the knife instead. When he takes the knife first, it is usually to gouge out the eyes.
I cower further back into the darkness. Baba won’t notice, he is already onto the second cut. The second scream is a little less loud, but more frantic and they start to try and flail their arms and legs. Once I forgot to tighten the ropes well, the boy was strong and he punched Baba on his face. I still remember the force of Baba’s kick when he turned around and kicked me. I lay crumbled on the floor for hours after. But today the ropes are tight.
I move forward and stuff the dirty linen into her mouth. Baba says it is good for them to scream a little bit. I suppose it helps to deal with the pain and shock. But two is enough for the cuts, that’s what he says, and he allows three for the eyes. I don’t know whether I was grateful he let me scream thrice. Or maybe he allowed me just two and a half screams; after all he only took out one of my eyes, as he never tires of reminding me. I don’t remember, it was nearly two summers ago.
I try not to look at her eyes, but she is shaking her head so hard. I hesitate to touch her golden curls, but I have to hold her head down and it takes all my strength to stuff down the dirty linen. I catch a glimpse of the eyes. I had never seen blue eyes before. They are the blue of the ocean, and look just as deep.
When I met her this morning, Amy was playing on the beach with her little brother. I could see her mother and father, drinking beer and sitting at a table slightly away. I figured she must be around eight or so, about the same age I was when I got here. I put on my Mickey Mouse sun glasses, my ticket to the happy world. The darkness of the shade and the whimsy of the design hides the maimed eye behind them, and I could almost pass off as normal. I walked up to Amy, opened my palms and showed her a sea shell – it was white, flawless and beautiful.
“Is it for me?” She asked me politely.
“Yes.” I moved carefully towards her, and held the sea shell gently up to her ear. Her head grazed my shoulders. “Listen…do you hear?”
“The sea…” her eyes lit up. I smiled.
[to be continued]
This was my submission for last week’s assignment at the Writer’s Studio workshop. The assignment was to write a first person persona narrator, who introduces a bizarre world to us in a matter-of-fact tone. For inspiration, we read George Saunder’s “The 400-Pound CEO”
About 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade. 300,000 children across India are drugged, beaten and forced to beg every day, in what has become a multi million rupee industry. For true stories, visit EqualityNow or CNN’s Freedom Project.