A ten-year-old child was there calling out to people to get into the bus. His clothes were tattered and torn everywhere and re-stitched in many other places. The yellow stains of spices and oil were clearly shining from his dark, muddy clothes which probably had not seen water for days. His bare feet were covered with dust and one could easily tell that he had not taken a shower for months. A four-foot tall, lean figure with sunken cheeks, he looked as if he was suffering from malnutrition. From his outer appearance he looked too weak to speak and yet, he was continuously uttering the same words,”Ratnapark, Ratnapark…..”
While back in Nepal, I used to go to my college by bus. I had been to the station hundreds of times and had seen many child conductors but I was struck by the sight of the child that day. He was working to earn his living at such an tender age when he should have been going to school. Life was not easy for those children who work for long hours to earn their living. Their life was limited to earning a living to survive in this cruel world.
It was an early morning and there were not many people at the station. So, he was still shouting as loud as he could to get people to his bus. Slowly, people started to come and soon the bus was almost full. I had taken a seat at one of the corners to observe that child. I was too curious to know more about that boy. Then, the child said to the driver that the seats were full. He did not realize that there was a seat vacant at the back. The driver saw the vacant seat and shouted to the kid “You street child! Can’t you see the seat vacant at the back? Go out and call another man.” The helpless child went out and started shouting with the same high-pitched tone “Ratnapark….”
Soon, another man came and the bus was full. It was an old bus, so it made a loud, hoarse noise before moving at a slow pace.
The child started to collect the fares from the passengers. Even though he did not go to school, he knew the different currency denominations very well. The child had no problem collecting fares until he came across a man who was in his mid-twenties. He was well built and seemed to have been under the influence of drinks. His eyes were bloodshot and skin looked dry. He gave only 75% of the total fare and said,” I have a card.” The child then humbly asked him to show his card.1 The man gave him a hard stare and shouted angrily,” Do you know how to read? What will you do with my card?” The child turned back without uttering a single word in reply. He looked terrified and fear had taken over his innocent face. No one spoke a single word. I was angry at that man, but unfortunately I could not bring much courage to defend the poor child.
The bus continued to move on. Time and again, people were boarding and alighting in their respecting stations. At every stop, the child,without a fail, would shout out to people walking by the road,” Are you going to Ratnapark?” It was such a hard job for a child of that age.
The bus was moving smoothly when all of a sudden it made a loud noise and then made an abrupt stop in the middle of the road. The tire had punctured. The driver started to change the punctured tire while the curious child watched the driver’s every move. He seemed to be very interested in the work of the driver. Then, he asked, “Can I also try?” The driver gave a sharp look at that boy as if he would eat him alive. The scared child turned back and sat on the pavement on the other side of the bus until the driver started the bus again. Possibly, the chances of smiles on the face of that child were always held at bay by the continuous threats he received from his boss and the passengers.
Soon the final destination arrived and all the passengers left. However, I did not get off the bus. I was planning to ask that child about his life.
It was only then that I realized that his face was swollen. There was also a cut in his left knee. “The driver beat me yesterday,” he said in a low voice so as to avoid being heard by the driver. He looked so innocent and helpless. Then, he realized that the driver was looking at him from the driver’s seat.. The child was too frightened to speak to me. I could see him sweating in fear. I told him that the driver would not hear from behind the glass. He still looked scared. I was so sorry for him.
“I dream to be a driver,” he said to me with a smile and hope in his face. That was the only job he could think of, I thought. “Then, I would earn enough money so that I can eat stomach full,” he continued. I was beginning to feel the pain, the pain of living a life of a child conductor. While many children of his age dreamt about buying a new toy or playing the latest release of computer games before other friends would get a chance, he was dreaming about eating to his stomach full. He does not have dreams of going to school, let alone colleges.” How can I go to school? Who will pay for me?” he replied when I asked him if he wanted to go to school. “Schools are for rich people. They are not made for us,” he looked serious. He was so mature at that early age. Life had taught him many lessons which we never learnt from books. He knew the world was unfair. At a time when he should have been playing with his friends, he was working hard to earn his living. I had read about the world being unfair in books but it was for the first time in my life that I had felt the pain of being the unfortunate in this unfair world.
“Chakrapath, Chakrapath…” I heard the familiar voice of that child again. He was already there in front of the bus calling out to people to get into the bus. I again looked at that child. Like any other child, he looked sweet and innocent, and yet his life was full of difficulties and pain.. But he was not the only one. There were hundreds of others like him. If only we could give them a chance for a better life-I thought.