Beyond the Wall
I remember nothing of life in my father’s house. In my dreams however, my mother carries me in the garden. I cling to her long black braid, and toy with the barrette at the end. I smell the passion flowers and take my first steps in warm green grass.
I understand her decision to leave me on the street rather than at the orphanage, which, I have no doubt, would have been my father’s directive.
For over a year, I lived with a group of street children, like a feral family. I didn’t understand Hindi spoken by the others and couldn’t tell them my name. I can never know for certain but I suspect that my mother spoke to me in Urdu or Punjabi, dialects from the north where she was born. Radika, old and wise at eight years old, named me Shakti. I didn’t learn my birth name until twenty-two years later. How do I thank Radika? Not only for taking care of me, but for saving the barrette I wore in my hair that day, the single clue to my identity.
Life on the street meant drinking rancid water from puddles, never bathing, and eating garbage, sometimes bugs or grubs, and always watching for danger. One morning, a taxi pulled up to the curb next to us. The driver cast an evil light. I yelled “RUN!” but a man jumped from the back seat, grabbed Amana, and her little brother then jumped back into the taxi and sped away before any of us could move. Radika, Jamal and I huddled together, too startled to run. Of course we never knew what happened to Amana and her brother. Children were often grabbed from the streets, sold for labor, adoption, or child brides.
As we splashed and laughed in a hotel fountain one afternoon, Radika yelled “Run, hurry!” as the hotel manager slowly walked toward us through the humid air. I dashed toward the sack-dress I’d left by the palm tree. A blond woman handed me the dress along with a Styrofoam box of rice and dahl. For just an instant, I couldn’t breathe. I had never seen eyes so blue, or skin so pale but I felt like I had known her even before I was born. Bright light glowed between us and I knew she would be important in my life.