Nisha first saw her when she reached the bus-stand before time.
Nisha was hardly ever early. With stray curls flying in every possible direction, and a half-zipped bag slipping off her shoulders, she would meet the schoolbus just as it appeared around the corner. Having entered the bus, she would proceed to empty her skirt pocket.
The makers of her school uniform had shown some foresight in making the pocket capacious. However, even they couldn't have predicted the level on which it would be exploited.
Poking its head out of Nisha's pocket was an object that vaguely resembled a spiked club. It was a hairbrush, a monster hairbrush designed specially for straightening out stubborn tangles. Somewhere in the cavernous depths of navy blue, rested a rubber-band and hairpins.
Besides these hair-flattening weapons were the house-badges. In these few moments that they weren't pinned onto a shirt front, they co-existed harmoniously, even harmonically, clinking and clanking against each other!
The final inhabitants of the pocket were a cell phone, handkerchief, and occasionally- a pair of socks.
Nisha was lucky too. She had missed the bus a few times, but so had everyone. She was convinced that she had a guardian angel who allowed her an extra half-hour of sleep each morning, something The Efficient Ones lost out on.
But on that particular morning, Nisha was early. And just a few feet away from her was the little girl- a streetchild.
She was playing with a puppy. She was thin, quite thin but there was a peculiar grace in her movements. She rolled about, scraping her skin against the roughly hewn stone, streaking her dress with dust and grime.
She was so unconscious of herself, so devoid of restraint, that every fling of her limbs seemed to speak of a glorious freedom.
Half the girls at school were always fiddling with their hair, adjusting their shirts.
They would cast surreptitious glances at any surface that was remotely reflective. A new pimple could ruin a day, a satisfactory image evoked smug little smiles.
The young girl was smiling too. But the difference!
Her teeth stood out startlingly white against her dusky face, her eyes glittered with pure, unadulterated joy. The puppy seemed to be smiling back at her as it bounced about, its tongue lolling, its miniscule tail a blur.
Nisha suddenly felt a tremendous unpsurge of tenderness towards the girl.
Who WAS she? Did she have any parents? Was she cruelly treated, unwanted, the stray animals her only playmates?
Was she the illegitimate child of a flourishing businessman and a poor dancer? (The girl's movements were a joy to watch.)
Maybe she was an undiscovered genius! Those long eyelashes, those waves of hair- surely they hinted at a latent sensitivity, a natural refinement.
Minakshi! That was her name. It didn't matter what her parents called her. Every person was born for a name. This child was a Minakshi.
In a haze of dreams, Nisha hardly noticed the arrival of the bus. All the way to school, she was lost in thought.
The following week, Nisha continued being nearly-late-but-really-not. In spite of that, she couldn't help wishing for another glimpse of Minakshi. Maybe one day, she wold discover Minakshi making chalk drawings on the road- they would be intriguing, enchanting... artistic masterpieces, all! And then, she, Nisha would introduce her to the world. She would become Minakshi's patron, mentor, an older sister of sorts!
Sometimes, Nisha would laugh at herself for being so fanciful. She was on the brink of obsession! She could hear her some of her friends' responses to her thoughts-
"Fuck man, how cheesy can you get?"
"Some day, the world will have more social activicts than poor people. THEN what will you do?"
"A paedophile, and a lesbian one at that!"
Ah well... she could've been worse- suicidal... exam-phobic! Her obsession was a poetic kind.
Then, there came the day when she saw Minakshi again. This time, she wasn't early, the bus was late- also a rarity.
She nearly didn't recognise Minakshi. The girl's hair was neatly tied back into a ponytail. Her frock, though faded and ill-fitting, was perfectly clean. And on her shoulders was a brand new schoolbag.
Accompanying Minakshi was a woman. There was no mistaking that small, bony figure, those feminine features. And the eyes- large, dark with a dancing spark in their centre. Undoubtedly, she was Minakshi's mother.
Minakshi was saying something in Bengali- rapidly, with vigour. Nisha wasn't really paying attention, when a certain word caught her ears.
The mother replied, saying- 'Na Tuktuk. Amar dara hobe na.'
'PLEASE'? The girl spoke English!
'TUKTUK!' Cute. Comical.
As the whimsically gifted name of Minakshi whithered in an instant, so did the aura of romance about the child.
Suddenly,the whole affair seemed grossly ridiculous. The 'please', so incongruous on Tuktuk's lips, rang in Nisha's ears like a jarring alarm bell. The name Tuktuk itself... the very sound of it was hopelessly lacking in glamour or elegance.
The colours of the schoolbag glared in the sunlight. All of a sudden, Nisha noticed the cartoons on it. They were garish, crude. For a second, their frozen smiles and glassy stares were pos'tively frightening. They seemed to be leering at her, mocking her stupidity.
'Really, some day I should go see a psychiatrist' Nisha thought to herself. Then, with the familiar rumble, her schoolbus appeared around the corner, and the whole incident passed out of her mind.