When I Understood

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
September/October 2009

By Malini Gandhi

NEW DELHI, INDIA, 2002
Staring wide-eyed out of the car window
I look down at the dusty bodies of children clustered below me.
Their hair is streaked with dust and grime
Their skin darkened to a crisp by the intensity of the broiling
summer sun.
Their writhing hands clutch at the shiny silver metal of our car
Grabbing hungrily at the colorful juice boxes my parents offer
from the windows.

I know I should be enjoying the bustling world around me,
but somehow I can’t.
The road is a blur of color and life;
Vendors shout from their stalls
Advertising a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables
Or fine cloth dyed sunset orange, rose pink, indigo.
Sweat clings to their dark skin as they haggle and argue
with customers passing by
Or just catch up on the latest gossip.
Chickens strut through the crowd like confident butlers;
A cow slowly ambles its way through the people.
Despite the crowd the blasting honks of cars’ horns sound
as they force their way through,
Shiny metal islands in a sea of bodies.

But I am taking in none of this;
My eyes are riveted to the children.
I catch sight of a girl about my age,
Seven,
Her dark hair pulled back in a messy braid,
Clutching the grubby hand of a wriggling two-year-old.
Seeing the look of amazement and longing that fills her eyes
As her gaze sweeps over our car
I offer her one of the juice boxes
With trembling fingers.
She grabs it
Immediately handing it to her little sister.
Just watching the little girl inhale the sweet drink
Its contents spilling from her mouth and running down her chin
like a thousand rivers
I think of all the times I’ve stormed out of the room crying
after losing a game of checkers,
Argued with my brother about who had to go first
for piano lessons,
Made faces when my parents made me eat vegetables.
I can remember those times when my mom got angry,
Yelling, “Don’t you understand, there are children dying
in the world?”
Looking down at the thin, hungry bodies of the children
surrounding me
At the toddler devouring the juice
At the grateful look the girl gave me
I realized that,
For the first time,
I did understand.

When I Understood Malini Gandhi

Malini Gandhi, 13
Auburndale, Massachusetts

About the Author

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