Walk with an angel

The voice belonged to a little girl who stood hesitantly in the middle of the road.

I was in a tiny hill town in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. The place is known for the picture postcard scenery, steep winding roads, incessant downpour in rainy season and monkey menace through all seasons.

On a cloudy August morning, I was on the homeward leg of my walk, on a  straight road with a steep gradient. The gradient causes gravity to act rather acutely on your body. And if you are carrying any additional bulk than insurance company charts would recommend, it is difficult to appreciate the weather, the beauty of the morning sky, and the surroundings while climbing up.

So, when I heard a feeble voice over the rather loud sound of my laboured breathing, I was slightly startled. The voice belonged to a little girl who stood hesitantly in the middle of the road.  She was dressed in a school uniform and was carrying a folded umbrella in one hand. An identity card was hanging from her neck a la corporate employee.

My eyes smarted as sweat beads from  the forehead ran into them. “Uncle please walk me down this patch of the road,” she said in a small but confident voice. “Why what happened?” I enqui-red. She pointed to the many monkeys on both sides of the road. Going downhill with her implied coming up again! But believe me there was something in her; you couldn’t turn down the request even if it meant climbing an Everest on return. 

She was the one to strike a conversation, “You live here?” “Yes,” I said.  “Hmm, do you fear monkeys?” “Well, I do, a little.” “I am really afraid of them,” she said. “Where are you going so early?” I asked. “Tuition, and then school,” she replied. “Why do you go alone?” I asked. “C’mon, alone you’ve to go, who else will come with you?” she stated matter-of-factly with an easy confidence. 

I was reminded of Rabindranath Tag-ore’s “Ekela chalo re...” Coming from a 10- or 11-year-old, these words showed the steely nerve behind a fragile frame. I looked at her; she was composed and no longer worried about the monkeys. I felt good having walked with her. “Where is your father now?” I asked, imagining a lazy man snuggling in his bed, while the child braved monkeys and rains every day. “He should be up and on his duty. He doesn’t stay with us.”

“Oh, where is he and what does he do?” I asked. “He is in a JAK RIF battalion in the army and posted in field area.  I stay in ‘separated quarters’ with my grandmother, mother and a younger brother; and my mother would be getting the younger one ready to walk him to pre-school,” she replied. I now knew where the steel in her nerve came from, “What’s your name?’ I asked. “Richa,” she said, “Angel,” I heard; and sent a silent salute to all those in the army.

“Uncle, what’s your name,” she asked. I smiled, turning back, and said, “We have reached your destination child.” 

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