ON our way back from Mussoorie, we were sitting in the waiting lounge at the Dehradun airport. The wife left to buy bakery items. A young woman walked in, with her toddler daughter in tow. The child dragged a small wheeled backpack. Unzipping the pack, she took out a crayon book and began scribbling. She had an angelic face, with big dazzling eyes.
The girl whispered something and the mother requested me to look after her bags while she took the daughter to the restroom. The wife returned and looked enquiringly at the unattended baggage on the adjacent seat. I said I didn’t know the owner but I was caretaking. After they returned, and the mother thanked me, I felt an urge to talk to the child.
‘May I see your crayon book?’ I asked. Normally, children are shy and possessive and I expected a no. But she was neither and gladly handed me the book and the crayon box.
‘Do you want to play a game?’ I asked, hoping to amuse her with some smileys. She shook her head.
My wife was now talking to the mother. They were on their way to Mumbai to visit her parents to celebrate the daughter’s second birthday.
‘Come, I will buy you chocolates,’ I said, making a second attempt at befriending her. This time, she nodded. After getting the go-ahead from the mother, she wrapped a tiny palm around my finger and walked with me on canty steps. Her trust in a total stranger was overwhelming. Children at that age are impeccably trusting.
At the chocolate counter, she looked around before finally settling for a packet of Gems. Just a single packet, no greed. As I was paying, the man at the counter pointed over my shoulder. I looked back and noticed that she was gazing at stuffed toys chained together.
‘Give her whatever she wants,’ I told the seller. After much deliberation, she put her tiny finger decisively on a pink teddy bear. The man untangled it from the bunch.
I asked her if she wanted anything else, but she shook her head. Taking her new possessions in one hand, she clutched my finger with the other. ‘I am sorry if I am spoiling your daughter,’ I told the mother. ‘No uncle, her dada-dadi and nana-nani do it so often,’ she said. ‘Well, she now has a great-grandnana too,’ I remarked.
Opening the packet, the child offered the first chocolate button to me. Thinking that a refusal would break her heart, I accepted it. The wife declined, thanking her with a cheek-pat.
She placed the next Gem on the chair and made a gesture of feeding it to the new toy. We soon went our own ways, perhaps never to meet again. But the feel of her soft, feathery fingers and her blitheful flying kiss are my lifelong keepsakes.
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