Saifi jingled the money in his pocket, as he looked outside the window at the red light. Ever since his dadi had started telling him stories of bravery and generosity he had decided to give some money to a needy person. He had kept aside some of his eidi to donate but he hadn’t been able to find the right person for his donation. He knew if he told his mother she would send it to someone like she always did. But he wanted to give it himself. He wanted to feel the warmth his dadi said came from giving. Besides; he glanced down at his pocket; it wasn’t a big amount. His mother would smile and tell him to keep his 50 Rs and say she would send something on his behalf. But surely there must be someone out there who needed 50. He thought of giving it to a beggar but he knew his father would get angry. He always used to say the beggars were thieves. “Instead of working they will beg the whole day then smoke or get drunk” his father used to mutter. He saw a little girl begging with her brother and immediately sat up. His heart leaped surely this must be the right person. But before she could come towards the car the signal changed and their car moved forward. Saifi sank back into his seat with a sigh. “What happened beta,” asked his mother turning around to look at him. Saifi shook his head and didn’t reply. “Saifi” said his mother sternly. He looked towards her and she raised her eyebrows questioningly. “Nothing” he said shaking his head vigorously. He knew instinctively that his mother wouldn’t understand. Sometimes it was difficult being 7. People just didn’t seem to understand anything. Everyone was thought he was too small to do anything. Well everyone except his class teacher who was always going on and on about how they were big students now that they were in class 3.
Saifi took a deep sigh again. “What is wrong Saifi?” asked his mother turning around with an irritated look on his face. “Why are you huffing and puffing? I told you it’s just a small function then we can go for dinner. You agreed, then why are you acting all upset now?” “I’m not upset,” said Saifi angrily. “Then why all the deep?” sighs asked his mother. “Can’t I even sigh in peace,” said Saifi in an irritated voice. “I’m not complaining. To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking of that but you always think I’m doing something wrong mummy” he said and crossed his arms. “Ok I am sorry but why are you sighing?” asked his mother. “Arre I just told you can’t I even sigh in peace without any reason?” Then he muttered under his breath “always looking for a problem and then she says I am always creating new problems.”
Zarine took a deep breath as she turned back towards the road. “Now why are you sighing?” asked Saifi churlishly. “Ok baba I am sorry,” said Zarine. “I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have made a big deal about you sighing. I’m sorry.” “Humph,” said Saifi hunching his shoulders as he crossed his arms. “Ruined my mood unnecessarily. I was trying to do something good and look what happened.” “What good thing were you trying to do?” asked Zarine. “You won’t understand,” he replied grumpily. “I’ll try” she said. Saifi was quiet for a few minutes. “I wanted to give some money to a poor person,” he said quietly after a few minutes. “Dadi says when you help the needy god is happy with you.” “That’s very nice beta,” said Zarine. “I tell you what; there is a collection box at the convention centre we are going to. Why don’t you put your money in that?” “No mummy I want to give it to someone myself. I just have to find the right person. Dadi says when you find the right person you will know from inside.” “Okay,” said Zarine with a smile on her face. “It’s nice of Ammi to teach him all this. I just wonder how long it will remain on his mind” she thought. Mother and son continued on their drive silently.
In a short while, they had reached the convention centre. Zarine was here to attend a friend’s book release. They were early because she wanted to give her friend moral support. While Zarine and her friend were busy setting things up Saifi was morosely kicking a ball around. By mistake, he bounced it on a crack and it rolled away. As he ran towards the ball he saw it stop next to an agitated lady sitting in a torn sari and wailing in Hindi. “Oh god, why do you test us every time? I had promised the child I will bring her a chocolate if she passes the exam. How was I to know that then we would be in these circumstances? How can I tell her that I do not have the money for a chocolate? That we work day and night to pay their school fees. If I tell her then her innocence will be lost but if I don’t…if I don’t she will think I lied or worse did not care enough to remember. What shall I do god? What shall I do?”
Saifi listened to her lamentations curiously. Suddenly he realized that this lady might be the person he was looking for. As the lady ceased her lamentations and broke into tears; Saifi quickly took out the 50 Rs note and silently moved closer. “Aunty” he said timidly extending his hand. The lady turned towards him with a startled air. “Please take this money and buy chocolates for your child.” “No, no,” said the lady in a horrified tone. “Please aunty” said Saifi entreatingly. “My dadi gave it to me to buy chocolates for some children. Please take this money and buy some for your daughter. Please don’t get angry aunty I just want to help,” he said. He was worried that the lady might think he was treating her as a beggar. “No beta you don’t understand,” said the lady. “Saifi where are you?” came Zarine’s worried voice. ”I am coming mummy,” said Saifi turning around. He put the note down next to the lady and said “please take it. Please don’t say no.” He screwed up his face to stop the tears from spilling. He had found the right person with such difficulty, was she going to refuse to take his money? The lady looked at his face and wavered. “Thank you, you little angel. May god bless you,” she said in a cracked voice. “Thank you,” said Saifi as he turned around and ran back with his ball. “Where were you Saifi?” asked his mother. “The ball rolled away towards the plants” he told his mother. “I just went to get it.”“Well don’t just disappear,” admonished Zarine “there are so many Audis here; you can easily get lost. Now come with me.” Saifi leaned back and saw the lady looking at the note in her hands with astonishment. He felt happy. He had finally found the right person to help, and dadi was right it did feel good to help someone. He imagined her going home with chocolates and her child jumping happily. Yes, he thought as he entered the Audi holding his mother's hand; he had done something kind.
The lady sitting among the plants in the dark was still staring at the note in a daze. “Hey Nidhi snap out of it,” said a man clicking his fingers in front of her. “If you’re so nervous forget it. I’ll get Arti to do the old lady’s role.” “No, it's ok I can do it,” said Nidhi snapping out of the daze. “Are you sure?” asked the man peering at her? You look zoned out.” “I can do it,” she replied confidently. “I was worried that my acting is unconvincing but when I was practicing my lines right now; a little boy gave me money to buy chocolates for my daughter.” “What!? You took money from a kid!” “I didn’t mean to,” said Nidhi. “I was just caught unaware and that little boy was so earnest I didn’t have the heart to tell him I am an actress. Anyway, he only wanted to do something kind; and he did; he made me believe in myself.” This was the first time Nidhi was acting on stage and she had been very worried about how believable her performance would be. “Besides,” she continued after a pause “it’s not like I’m going to keep this money. I’ll buy some chocolates and give it to the kids at the red light; which is close to what he gave it for. It’s just that it meant so much to the kid….you could see it on his face. If I refused it would have broken his heart. It was kinder to just take the money.” NOTE: This short story is nominated for the SALISMANIA.com Best Short Story Of The Year Award 2017.