Often, without knowing it, she would cry or moan in her sleep. The weary beggars paid no attention.
Her bent neck would sometimes become stiff with the permanently held position. Occasionally she would lift it and for a few seconds watch office-workers boarding buses, groups of laughing students going together to their institutions, cars roaring by, housewives absorbed in their shopping.
Once in such an unguarded moment she found herself looking up into the eyes of a flamboyantly dressed young man, who studied her face appraisingly. When he stepped forward to drop a ten-rupee note in front of her, his hot hand touched hers, lingeringly.
Her companions had not noticed.
The beggars, it seemed, never changed their clothes (as, so far, neither had she). The stench became unbearable. After a few nights she stealthily moved a little apart. The women told her next morning she should not have done that. It was dangerous, they said. She did not understand
Two nights later she was terrified by something pressing down hard on her nose and mouth, something with a sharp pungent smell. She was choking. .She fought, but then ceased to do so. Soon she had gone limp and couldn't even shout.
The other beggar women shook their heads bitterly the next morning at the sight of her disordered clothes, the broken buttons. Her whole body felt bruised with her heavy fall on the pavement when, she vaguely remembered, the three young men threw her out of the jeep just before dawn. She felt sick at the smell coming from her clothes.
"May God make them rot with worms inside their living bodies. Couldn't the hungry animals save even an insane wretch from their filthy lust?"
"And the poor thing, totally mad, not doing any harm to anyone, coming from where, only God knows."
She became very weak during her pregnancy. The women gave her tea and whatever left-over fruit they bought in the evenings or collected from outside the vendors' shops. Even the men, in that strange strong camaraderie gave some of their money to buy her a little milk every evening.
When she collapsed in her seventh month, her ragged companions consulted with each other.
"It would be best to take her to the free hospital. If she dies here, there is going to be trouble for all of us."
"Do you know what would happen if we took her there?" The speaker was a thin young man who seemed as if he had once had some education. "When you do not give them the father's name the police immediately arrest you on a charge of adultery. She will be stoned to death."
"Much more likely they will just frighten her, and keep her in the police lock-up till the baby is born. Afterwards they will move her to a cell, where from the S.H.O.
downwards all will have a good time with her. No one will ever get to know what became of her."
"Yes, when there will be nobody looking for her. Even we know nothing of where she comes from, or who she is."
She survived, and the thin feebly squalling baby was born behind a make-shift screen of old rags, on the Empress Market footpath.
It was a boy. She had been moaning something like 'Zebi' during her labour, so they named him Zubair.
"Give the baby to me, you know that you cannot raise him here. You will have an extra mouth to feed, and will have to neglect your work to take care of him."
"What will you give us for it, Sahib?"
"Ha! you know you cannot afford to keep it, and in a few days it will die, so how do you expect to get any price for it? All right, I will give you one hundred rupees for it That is a week's earnings for most of you."
"Sahib, we will not accept anything under five hundred."
"Are you mad? You cannot afford to keep him and he cannot for several years earn anything for you. I shall have the burden of looking after him and feeding him till he is old enough to be of some use to me"
"We have to ask the mother. She may not agree to give him away."
"The mother is not going to live even three days. And then how are you going to explain his presence to the police? They will charge you with kidnapping."
She died that same evening. If they had taken her to a hospital the doctors would have exclaimed in horror at the infection she had picked up from the wet, unswept pavement and the grime-encrusted unwashed hands.. They would have been taken aback by the painfully undernourished body of the young mother.
Zubair was sold for two hundred and fifty rupees to the passer by. The men and women who were her only friends in the world used most of the money on her shroud and burial.
At six years, Zubair started work at his master's small welding shop. In the evenings he swept the rooms, and washed dishes, in his employer's house.
He is now in his sixties.
In the beginning he used to enquire repeatedly about his father and mother, but no one told him, because nobody in this world knew.
And no one told him about the cake from Davico, or the picnic by the waterfall, or the unripe mangoes hauled up into the 'barh' tree house, or about the hibiscus tree.