Lakshmi picked up her bag and left for her home. She hurried. Her husband Ganesh would be back soon and before he reached home, she wanted to keep lunch ready. It was not that he was demanding or would beat her if the lunch was not ready. In fact if she was late he would start rolling the rotis himself. But today she did not want that. He had worked the afternoon shift the day before; coming home at 10.30p.m. and had left at 5 in the morning for the early shift. So today she wanted him to have lunch made by her and then take some rest.
Ganesh was a simple guy and living with him Lakshmi felt safe. Although she longed for some excitement. But there was barely any. Some day they may have a child and then their family might be complete. But beyond that there was nothing to look forward too.
She was lost in her thoughts when someone touched her waist. Taken by surprise she jumped.
The man grinned and cycled away when Ahmed the gatekeeper and generally the Man Friday of the anganwadi where she worked ran and caught him by the collar and gave him a solid whack. Lakshmi ran to where they stood and then joined Ahmed in adding her two bits. Both of them beat him nicely till he begged for mercy.
‘You go now’, Ahmed said ,’or else you will be late’.
At that time, Lakshmi noticed the tattoo. Ahmed always wore shirts with full sleeves, Today the sleeves were rolled up and she saw the mermaid tattoo. She had seen that tattoo before, if only she could remember where
It was night, After a long time they had spent some time without any tensions and any hurry. Cradled in Ganesh’s arm Lakshmi thought of the turns life had taken. She rarely thought of the past but today she did not know why her thoughts were in such a jumble.
Born of parents who worked in construction sites, Lakshmi longed to study. She knew that it was education which would make a difference to her life. To her good fortune, the builder’s wife sensed her need and sponsored her education till she finished her 10th. There was another boy whom she was sponsoring- Ratan.
Lakshmi sat up breathing heavily. She remembered everything now. Ganesh pulled her back to the bed. ‘Sleep now dear, else you will not be able to get up in the morning’, he said.
Morning she went early, Ahmed was nowhere to be seen. She came to know later that he had been sent to the head office to collect some papers. On the third day she managed to encounter him.
‘Why have you changed your name Ratan? Where had you disappeared? And what has happened to your face?’. Ahmed had a scar on his left cheek. The children who came in new, would be scared of him.
‘Ratan…what are you saying, I am Ahmed’, he replied.
‘Don’t lie, Ratan. I know that tattoo. Your father had burnt you with a hot iron rod because you were reading and had not gone to work. And to cover that mark you had got this mermaid tattoo done. I remember everything Ratan.’
Ahmed sat down with a sigh.
‘Yes, Lakshmi, I had got this tattoo made to hide the burn mark. ‘
‘Where had you disappeared Ratan suddenly after we had passed our 7th grade?’
Ahmed started talking with a low voice as if the pain in his heart would weigh him down.
‘Yes Lakshmi, I had been so happy that day. I had topped in the whole district. I finished all the jobs and came home. My father was beating my mother in his alcoholic stupor. He saw me and pounced on me too. I resisted him. My mom came to rescue me. He banged her head on the walls till she fell down. Then he attacked me. But by then our hut was on fire. My mother while falling down had tipped the oil lamp, the only means of light of her hut. And soon there was a raging fire. My father ran away leaving me and my mother in the fire. I tried to drag my mother out but a beam fell on me.
I awoke the next day in the hospital. Some people had rescued me. But the scar on the left part of my body remained. My mother had not survived the fire.
I was lucky that the attendant of the burn ward took me to his home and raised me as his own son. He gave me my new name Ahmed.
When you joined this anganwadi I recognized you but thought better not to disclose myself’, he said with tears in his eyes.
Lakshmi too had tears in her eyes.. The whole of his life he had fought for an identity. And though he was such a kind, gentle and intelligent person, people would always remember him only by the scar on his face.
This post is a part of the Write over the weekend an initiative for Indian bloggers by Blogadda. This time the post had to include, ‘He/She had seen that tattoo before! If only he/she could remember where’.