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A Helping Hand

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On my way down the hill
from my evening walk
I meet them,
every day without fail –
a man, woman and a child -
hurrying home in tandem
from their day’s labour.

I see them from afar
coming up the gentle slope
against the setting sun.
As they approach near
their worn-out, suntanned faces
strike an accord with the fading daylight.
Their disheveled, discolored hair
and their scanty, shabby wear
blend with the evening shadows.
They stomp home,
dragging their tired feet
in their wafer thin flip-flops -
loose, torn and worn out with time.

They always carry two flasks -
to collect fresh water
from the municipal tap
on their way home -
and a shoulder bag
for their sparse shopping for dinner -
a pumpkin, cabbage or cauliflower
often sticking out,
and, sometimes,
a bottle of country liquor,
bought from the shop below.

Often times we exchange casual glances
as we cross each other.
They are so focused on the path
that they hardly ever look at me
watching them,
and every time we cross
I get this urge to say,
“Hi, hello, how do you do?”
but desist from saying so,
not wanting to startle them
or spoil their natural rhythm,
not daring to distract them
from their homeward course.

As a stranger to them,
I have no reason whatever
to accost them
except this impulse
that I stifle with such care.

As we cross each other
and I miss yet another chance
to accost them
I turn and look at their retreating figures
and suppress another urge
to rush after them.

Every evening,
as they come up
striking that familiar picture -
their noses on the road,
their eyes in the distance,
hardly speaking to each other,
and never pausing a moment
to look around or behind -
I get this impulse
to carry their burden for awhile.
and walk with them to their mansion
of rags, weeds, bramble sticks,
jute, canvass and polythene.

I have this burning wish
to fetch buckets of water
to give them a refreshing bath,
oil their sore hands and cracked feet,
dress their bunions and callosities,
massage their tired limbs and aching bodies,
and cook a nice dinner for them,
even serve a draught of wine
as a night cap,
to refresh them
for the next day’s toil.

We have been crossing each other
for a full year
and I feel no stranger
for I spend hours thinking of them –
a man woman and their heifer.
Does it matter
if they do not know me
or do not care?
I would yet submit to my whim, one day,
to proxy for them in their work
and at their home,
if only to know how it feels like
to be one of them.