‘Are you home?’ she screamed, her voice barely audible above the shrieking and shouting in the background.
No I’m not, I said, ‘what’s wrong?’
Are you home, she shouted again. No, I repeated, what is wrong?
By now the shrieks in the background were getting louder and I began to feel my heart sink. A child was screaming in pain. There were loud voices. She was distracted while trying to talk to me. ‘I need your help’ she said before cutting the line. I called back, my fingers unsteady – WHAT did she need my help for?
The OA and I were on our way to the railyway station to drop Chhota Nana and Chhoti Nani and Cousin J. And the Brat and Bean were playing in the apartment complex play area with the maid overseeing them.
The more I asked, the more hysterical she sounded and I could get no sense out of her. The OA jammed brakes, unsure of what was wrong and whether we’d have to turn and rush home. Finally she managed to get it out – Her 4-year-old son had fallen from his cycle and was hurt and she needed help. I told her not to panic and that I’d do something.
I called Cousin K who is staying with me during his summer internship and told him to wear a pair of jeans, grab the other set of car keys and rush down to the park and look for a spot where there was sure to be a crowd and a bleeding child. I messaged them each other’s numbers and we went on to the railway station because now we were too far from Gurgaon to be of any use to them.
Cousin K drove her to the emergency ward of a nearby hospital where they stitched up the little boy whose head had split open. And for the rest of the evening I couldn’t do anything about the knot in my stomach. That could have been my child. For the few awful minutes until she could bring herself to tell me what was wrong the worst had passed before my eyes.
The OA and I rush to her home after we finish with the railway station where we hurriedly dump Chhota Nani, Nani and Cousin J in a heap with their luggage, even while they urge us to rush back and help. Cousin K was there and had been of a lot of help. Driving them to hospital, being there with her, and now going to collect their elder son from the neighbour’s place where he’d been left. Cousin K is a gem. Being a local guardian has never been so easy and he’s done more for us in the last 2 years than we have for him.
The little boy is quiet and pale, his head entirely bandaged up like a cap. He put up a fight when they gave him a shot in the head before they could stitch it up. Cousin K quietly tells me he’s never seen so much blood and was close to throwing up. The OA and I exchange glances – it was more than most college boys would do for strangers. I offer to send them dinner, keep their elder son for the night, send them lunch, anything else they need. But for the grace of God, that could have been my child, both had been downstairs on their new cycles too, cycling around with them.
And it is for reasons like this that neither she nor I can go back to full-time work. Not right now at any rate. Because of the maid who burnt my 7 month old son. The burn scar is fading as his stomach goes from round baby tummy to a flat, little man belly. But I carry the scars in my heart and they will stay a lifetime along with the stretchmarks and the cesarean scar. I’ll never forgive myself that 45 minute grocery run and trusting someone else with a piece of my life. Because my child will never mean as much to anyone else as he does to me. No one else will peel their eyes and watch out for him as he turns the corner on the bike and skids. No one else will notice him shiver as he passes the AC. No one else knows the difference between him being sleepy and angry. Which is not to say that no harm will come to him on my watch, but to say that I’d rather be the person on watch than anyone else.
I wonder what my maid would have done if it were one of mine who had been hurt so badly and I draw a blank. She’s uneducated, cannot dial my number and so I have it on redial – but she’d not be able to get someone else to make that call down in the park. After a particularly bad delivery herself, she’s lost full use of one arm and walks with a limp. But she’s gentle and kind and loves the kids. None of those qualities are of any use in an emergency.
I recall a post some years ago when I’d poked gentle fun at the kids who wear helmets when they cycle. We all learnt to cycle without helmets. And we all fell and got scraped and bruised. But it’s not everyday that I am in my home and can be called immediately. Like this – on my way to the railway station or to office for my weekly meetings or out for an interview or a shoot. I am not always available. And it is this that makes the huge difference.
When we were kids, Mama was always home and help was within earshot. Today no one has time for anyone else, parents are at work and neighbours won’t bother unless they see blood seeping out from below your door. Even if my maid could dial, I’d probably be two hours away from home. Two hours too late to be of any earthly use to my child.
At my last job, I’d blanch each time my home number flashed on my mobile screen. Sometimes it was a simple request – Mama, can we watch TV now instead of the night? Mama can we have Maggi? At other times it was worse -He has a fever or, she’s broken out in a rash. But it was all within control. I’d be home in 30 minutes and most days nothing happened in that 1.5 hours between their and my getting home. But from Gurgaon I don’t have the heart to do more than short quick trips out and I am most at peace when I know there is a family member home with the kids.
And the truth is that crash helmets can only protect you on cycles – what about the rest of the day? The OA carries a scar (very Harry Potter-esque) on his forehead from falling down a flight of stairs in school. I look at the mother’s tired face and see that she’s aged in those few hours since her son fell. I know this is one more nail in the coffin of her career. Only a few days ago she spoke to me about how she was wondering if it was too late to go back to work after her ten year break. Only a few days ago she took on a short assignment and was thrilled to be back in the work force.
And then I notice her arms. They’re covered in his blood. Dried blood doesn’t look as scary as angry, red, flowing blood. It looks brown, paint like and deceptively tame. In fact you will never know that it is blood unless you’ve been told it is. And yet it tells a tale if you care to listen. She follows my gaze and shrugs in embarrassment – I haven’t had a chance to wash up yet. I nod in understanding. It’s an image I’m not going to forget in a hurry. I mentally write off the call I got in the morning, again checking on whether I was interested in a certain job – a rather tempting offer. And I tell myself that maybe it is time I finally learnt to drive.