This past summer I was in Delhi, sitting on the steps of the Metro. Not just any Metro but the Noida Sector 18 Metro Station. Situated in the center of the city of Noida and eastwards of Delhi, the capital of India, it enjoys much more attention that it gives out. Nothing special about it yet nothing ordinary, if you know what I mean.
Right across from me, a girl not of old age wearing clothes of age old, was selling red roses. She was sitting on the steps that led to the entrance of the Metro station. Adorned in a tattered frock and shabby slippers she was perched in the corner, constantly trying to catch attention of people flocking towards the entrance. Amidst scorching heat of the National Capital Region, the air around her felt strangely warm. A bit less excruciating. She was cool as a cucumber and calm as the ocean. Only on the outside, I reckoned however. Inside I was not aware what turmoils plagued her. They did plague her mind and personality alike; that I was sure of.
She must have been young; about 12 to 14 years old. At an age when she should be making fun of teachers at school and mocking her friends’ new hairstyles, she was spraying water on some dead roses to make them look fresh. Fresh like the people rushing along in a frenzy around her looked. Fresh like the rosy cheeks of a newborn or lips of a sixteen-year-old whose boyfriend longs to find a rose worthy of her. I figured she must have to do this spraying all day so that the few people who would take time out of their apparent busy schedule to look at her frail appearance, wouldn’t be dejected by looking at a dirty flower.
With her torn up fingers and confident smile, she enchanted the passers-by to take a red rose for their beloved.
The narrow slit of an overhead window shutter was throwing diffused sunlight on her head. In the slightly dark stairway of that Metro station, bathed in humble light, she looked like an angel distributing flowers of love to everyone. And just like an angel she was being ignored. Ignored by everyone who laid eyes on her and the solemn flowers. I could see everything from pity to ridicule for her in the people’s eyes.
Rose is a symbol of love. But for her, it was a symbol of poverty and solitude, for everyone who looked at the roses would swiftly turn his head and continue on his apparently destined path. It felt like the flower which otherwise would attract people towards a girl, was repelling them away from her.
However, her immurement was her redemption too. The roses in her hand were what eclipsed her background, her tattered clothes, her haggard appearance and her empty stomach. What they couldn’t eclipse were her pure heart and her desire. A desire to be like others. A desire to trot up and down the metro stairs, not for selling a bunch of scented roses or some forgotten marigolds but for a dream she held close to her heart.
Trudging along the rickety escalator, she wanted to continue further upwards from where she stood every day; to a platform where she could board a train. A train to her dreams and to her beloved. Someone who would keep her enclosed in his love and away from all the eyes that pierced her body on that lonely step that even though belonged to her, could never be full hers.
She was waiting for the guy who would come and take her in his arms. He would give her all the flowers and chocolates and late nights that she deserved. He would fulfill all her desires. One day she dreamed he would come and instead of selling that one rose, she would give it to him out of affection. And he would too reply with a rose of his own. For just like the others around her he would have waited hours before that meeting imagining how he would give her the symbol of his love. And how she would smile the most beautiful smile in the world. That day he would sit on those steps and wait for his beloved. Just like I was waiting for mine. That day she would be just like the rest of us.
Until then, however, she would remain shrouded in her own love, and the red of the roses; shielded from all that was around her.
The wait for her was long, perhaps forever. Especially in a city like Delhi where dreams come to die. Where people come with hearts full of love, and end up with a day job and a mind full of worries. A place where artists come to vanish. In my comparatively short lifetime I have witnessed several pure-hearted people come to this city and lose their charm, their innocence and the desire to find their place in the vast universe. At that moment I was witnessing the petals of yet another dream slowly withering and making its way toward demise.
I couldn’t give her what she wanted. But I could fulfill her dream. I could give her a moment of happiness. A moment where she would feel just like the rest of us. So I did.
In an attempt to give her the joy she deserved, I bought a rose from her and gave it to her. Not in an attempt to fill her with false hope or make a mockery of her confidence-in-misery. I just wanted to steal a moment of her day and fill it with some of her dreams. The dreams in her eyes had alluded her all her life, and I just wanted to give her something. Not something grand or out of this world. Just something normal, something ordinary.
I bought two roses from her.
One for the girl I was waiting for, who was due to come shortly. I have never been someone who purchases a rose for his beloved. I’m sappy but not that sappy. After seeing her, however, I realized that those roses in her hand represented so much. They expressed her sweet smile hidden beneath the serious face and false smirk she used to sell the roses. They impersonated her longing and all the love that she was holding close to her heart, for someone who would dare to unlock it. And they symbolized her desires and dreams to be one day loved and desired.
So I took one. I took one of those symbols as a sign of love for the one I was waiting for. I took it as a token which would remind her day after day of my undying affection for her. But above all I took it as a symbol of inspiration and pure love, that that sweet girl with roses had filled me with.
The second rose I gave to the ‘Sweet Girl with roses’ herself. She smiled that time but not her usual one. Not the fake one she used to entice the unrelenting prisoners of life trudging along the path of their sad existence. No, it was the one hiding beneath all those creases and years of longing. She was truly happy, and I was too.
She was happy that someone had thought of her and I was happy because she was. I was lucky enough to bring a moment of joy into that girl’s life.
I don’t know whether I deserved the luck, but I did accept it with all my heart. I know the gesture doesn’t do anything or achieve anything. I hope, however, it gives her a moment that she might enjoy for a few days or weeks even. A companion in her solitude and a reminder that her dreams will come true one day. That, one day, a man will approach her not to buy a piece of her soul, but to embrace her in his arms and take her away. Take her by hand and lead her to the train that she was waiting for her whole life.