Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Missing Child

Biologically, memories are the reactivation of a specific group of neurons stimulated in a frequency or pattern when you first heard the word, or first saw the image or experienced a moment for the first time. Memories are the reminder of spectacular moments I have lived. Memories impart in me a sense of how long I have been experiencing the nature and this animate world. 

As I indulge in making shakshuka (a common Mediterranean dish) at my home in Beersheba- Israel, vivid memories of the evening when I was stranded with palpitating heart flash through my mind. In late 90s, as kids we were fond of playing outside home, in sand, in mud, under the tree, on green grass and open sky. During those days, families followed customs strictly, there was routine and most importantly fear of parents! I doubt if it exists now as we do not have an acronym FOP. We are a family of five- my mother, father, two sibling and I. My father worked in public sector and my mother took care of us. Damn!! Home making is tougher. One evening my father planned to take us out to play in a park near India gate-New Delhi. The park did not have any specific name (not that I know of) and it was popular as children’s park among us. We were excited as the park was far away (rather 5 kilometers from home) and during childhood bus rides were additional joy to the swings and ice creams in the evening. We went to Amma, got dressed up and went back to Abba pulling his shirt to hurry up. We started from home and the first thought that crossed my rosy mind “wish the park is empty and I get to play on all the recreational equipment”. We started gossiping and planning who would play what, who goes the highest on the swing, where we will have ice cream while returning etc. I wanted everything to be sorted so that we do not confuse Abba and end up getting scolded (without ice cream). 

We reached the park, contrary to what I wished for; the park was swarming with people of all ages. Some old people talking their stroll, kids running around for their turns in merry-go-round, slide, jungle gym, sandbox and in every playground equipment my sight could reach. My father stood with us in queue until our turn came. It took forever until we got our turns because of the long queue. Time was running out and it made me restless. “Probably they have been playing for a long time; look at those dirty dresses and muddy hands, why don’t they just go to explore something else and let me play for now”, I murmured. My father decided to take a seat and told us to go around and play. He said, “keep in mind I am wearing an olive-green T-shirt and I will be waiting right here. As siblings, we did not like the idea of sharing same playground equipment. So, each one of us went on to find our favorite rides. I went on to play the swing, my brother chose jungle gym, and my little sister chose the sand box. Time passed like the river flows, and gradually evening turned into nightfall. Suddenly, I looked around and realized the park was deserted. Although reluctant, I decided to stop playing and went to the spot where my father said he would be waiting. The moment I reached there, I gasped and stood stunned. My father was not there. I could not see my siblings as far as I could gaze. Where did they all go? Did Abba forget me? And how could they forget me? How is it possible, I am his first daughter, even if he had to keep a count, he should start from his eldest one. No, no please dear God, this is one last time I am asking for your help. I might have said this a few times, but this is the most important of all. Please help me find my father and my siblings. I will not ask you anything anymore in life. While I was whispering these prayers, I frantically kept looking for my father. “Uncle did you see my papa, he is wearing dark green T- shirt with a crocodile on it (Lacoste logo I was referring to).” I asked random middle-aged men near the entrance of the park. While enquiring, I was in distress what if someone kidnaps me. I would resist, I would shout for help if someone tried to talk or allure me. As I planned the tactics to protect myself, I reached a small shop inside the park where I could see balloons, chocolates, chips, and all sorts of snacks to tempt the children. Whimpering, I asked the shopkeeper, “uncle did you see my father? to which he replied in a worried tone “Who is your father kid? I said, “my father is wearing a dark green T-shirt which has a crocodile on it. “No sweetheart, I don’t remember anyone with those details, but you wait here until I manage to find your dad” he said. 

Teary eyed, anxious, trembling and feet covered with mud, I waited at the backside of the shop. All I wanted to hear that moment was that he found my father. I was anxious and hungry. I could not imagine what I will do if I do not reach home. When my frazzled mind was busy questioning imminent uncertainties, I heard escalating voices from the front. I ran to check. The appearance of my father and siblings seemed miraculous. That sight elated and instilled a sense of relief like the morning breeze on my face. My father and my siblings were talking to that shopkeeper uncle. “Oh, there she is” he pointed at me. The search came to an end. That moment I felt my breath, I felt alive. With immense relief, I ran and hugged, and I sobbed “where did you go Abba?” He said, “I went searching for you when your brother and sister came to me”. He took me into his arms kissed me and hugged me tight. He had tears in his eyes too, which he wiped off quickly. I felt the moment of respite which could not be compared to anything in this world! 

I thanked Almighty, I thanked the uncle for his help. My siblings were quite and unaware of the emotions I went through. I do not remember what bus we took or how we reached home. Home felt like luxury and what happened at home was very much expected. My mother and father both asked us to gather immediately after cleaning ourselves. Once we three gathered, I saw my mother serving us hot fresh dinner while father started with lectures. My siblings learned that they must stay together, and my mother told my father to be little more vigilant next time. 

Ah! The shakshuka is smelling delicious and I am famished.

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The Missing Child