Every night she lay tracing the cracks on the walls, one crooked branch breaking into next, falling off to sleep dreaming of the branches on the Bargad back in her village. The huge Bargad stood next to the river and the sisters played around it the whole day. As the night fell, they rushed to the safety of their home. They had heard many stories about the Bargad tree, some one said if you stayed under the tree at night your body would be possessed by the spirits, and it would be caught in the tree branches never to be free, others said if you hear any voice from the Bargad do not answer back or engage in any conversation because it might be the spirit trying to entice you. Also if you plant any other plant next to it, the Bargad would grow & strangle it especially the little delicate ones.
Next day they left for the big ritual bathing in the holy river. Ma told them it happens only once in many years and this time she is sure that Ganga Maiya would listen to them and give them a younger brother soon. The place is far and the bullock cart moved so slowly it took them 2 days to reach there. Once there, they all went to take bath in the holy river. The river was crowded more than expected, it being the most auspicious day to take a dip. Ma asked them to take a dip one by one in their vests and keep their clothes on the stone over there while she got something to eat. She being the youngest her turn came the last, when she entered she found the water dirty and refused to go head down in it. She thought if she goes a little further where the water was cleaner she would take a proper dip. It was not that deep for sure as people were standing with water only up to their waist. When she looked back her sisters were dressing up & searching for Ma to feed them. She moved towards the cleaner water and once there she could take tens of dips even in the name of her sisters, friends & people she knew in the village who could not make it here but had wished to come. She was enjoying playing in the water when she realized that she was hungry and decided to return to get something to eat.
She reached the corner wet & cold, embracing herself with both arms searching for her mother & sisters, but there was nobody. Feeling embarrassed to stand there in a vest wet & transparent, she thought of finding something to cover her fast. On the next rock she found someone’s petticoat lying. She picked it up to wrap herself, but even before she could someone pulled at her arm and gave her two slaps. A crowd of people gathered around to watch the spectacle.
“Thief! Thug! Shameless! See everyone, this one here tried to steal my clothes.”, the woman cursed.
“She looks so innocent from her face, what would be her age hardly six or seven. My God!! they start so young.”, another woman implied.
“I am sure she is part of the gang of the thieves who send innocent looking children to steal jewels & clothes of people when they are taking a dip in the river.”, some one added.
“Where are her other accomplices, they must have all run away but this one must get a punishment.” with this the woman hit her again.
“Oh sister! What is the point of beating her when the entire lot is a menace to the society!” some other woman said.
“I have to teach her a lesson, so she never even dreams of doing such a thing again.” She gave the girl four more slaps.
“What is the matter, why such commotion here?” a constable came to enquire why the crowd had gathered. Everyone told him how this girl was trying to steal the clothes of this poor woman.
“Hmph!! So this little one here has learnt to fly even before her wings have grown. I will take over from here, you people can disperse.” The constable held the girl’s hand firmly and took her to the police station.
He made her sit on the bench in one corner & carried on with other important police business. With such a big festival and so many children lost & parents desperately trying to find, he had no time to look into the details of a petty thief. The girl kept sitting in the corner in her thin vest, shivering from the cold, her eyes searching for her mother & sisters. When the night fell the constable pushed her into the cell with other prisoners & lay down on the bench to take a nap. She looked around the prison cell and found them staring at her with a glint in their eyes. She squeezed into a corner embracing her knees, hiding her face, covering her ears & closing her eyes tightly as if this was a bad dream and would go away as she opens her eyes.
She woke up with a scream but there was no sound in her scream, her heart was beating fast & loud but her body was numb & cold, her eyes were wide & open but empty & dry. She lay down again trying to retrace the cracks on the walls of this asylum where she was brought 16 years back when she was pronounced mentally unstable & a thief.