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22 Caliber

The morning sun was at its shiniest best. Nicole was carrying a sense of nervousness on her which she was desperately trying to hide and doing it well. She was not sure what she would do. She had never been unsure about anything in her life. She looked at her bag then at the mug of coffee in her hand and then with a sigh fixed her gaze on to the street outside the window. Last night when Venessa called, Nicole could feel desperation running through her and she knew she will have to go through this. But Nicole was not up for this, not now, when everything was going so well.

Nicole floated into her thoughts looking right through the street into the distance. She did not notice the people on the sidewalk or the morning birds chirping away merrily. Her eyes moistened a bit as she visualized Jimmy rushing right through the doors with his school bag on, smiling away with his bright eyes. A tear rolled down her cheek as Nicole hugged her son and she just watched him as he went on chattering about what happened at school.

‘More coffee ma’am?’, the waitress offered. Nicole came back to reality, the chill of tear rolling down her cheeks. She offered her mug with a much enforced smile.

Nicole’s subconscious was in incessant prayers for Jimmy’s health. If he did not get the surgery in time then… she choked at her own thoughts. Venessa had arranged for help but she was not sure what would happen afterwards. Nicole wanted the money and Venessa had found a way to get that for her. She promised to take care of Jimmy when Nicole was not around. She trusted Venessa. She wished if only Venessa would had been the parent to Jimmy which he so deserved.

Her gaze outside the window saw the description she was looking for. A chill ran down her spine and she reasserted her resolve. Her heart swell and her breath deepened. With all her might she slid her hand into her bag feeling for the cold metal of the 22 caliber pistol, reassuring herself. She placed the cash for coffee and walked out of the café with her shades covering her teary eyes.

It was only Jimmy on her mind right now and she wanted the money desperately – even if she had to kill for it.

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The new beginning

“Laxmiii, you are going to be late for your bus”, her grandmother screamed.

“All done Ba, I was charging my phone”, Laxmi yelled back hugging her mother hurriedly and scurrying out towards her grandmother. She was standing near the courtyard door with a bowl of sweet curd in her hand. You are supposed to leave on a sweet note when you are going to do something good, her grandmother would always tell her.

Tears swelled in mother’s eye as she stood leaning at the door looking at her Laxmi – smiling away teasing her grandmother. Laxmi was going to be away from home for 3 years for her higher studies and next she would be able to see her daughter probably only after 6 months. It was nothing short of a celebration in the neighborhood with half of Parampur village at their doorstep to see her away. Her brothers and father had arranged a grand send off; and why not, she was the first girl from Parampur to go to town for higher studies.

Not very long ago in Parampur village, a busy baby boomer town then, it was not unusual sight to see people crowded around one of the villager’s compound. This time it was Bandhiya’s compound that was crowding with family and neighbors anxious in wait. A pregnant lady in Parampur was like an exam result in the waiting; the neighbors were as anxious as the family of the father-to-be. Fate of Bandhiya and his family was enduring labor pain inside their hut. The midwife was trying her best to keep the mother-to-be calm but this pain was the first for her.

There were twenty new-born in the last 12 months in Bandhiya’s neighborhood and out of the twenty, fifteen had been be girl child. Every family had chosen to respectfully discard the new life and work on a new one. A girl child was a liability for the poor. A lot was going on in Bandhiya’s head and very few were wishing for him to do well. Bandhiya could sense the wish for him to fail looming in the eyes of his neighboring families.

The fate of the girl child was already decided though; if it was to be one that is. Bandhiya’s mother had arranged for the customary pool of milk to drown the new born life. Milk would ensure they do not carry the sin on them into their next life. The pool of milk was carefully placed in the yard with rose petals and vermilion beside to carry out the divine ritual. It was ironically the mother-in-law who would have to do the honors.

There was probably not a single soul around who was wishing for a baby girl. Education, women rights activists and NGOs were yet to penetrate into this small village. The baby girl was on her own for survival. Any outsider would argue the irony of maintaining a Goddess Durga temple in the village with such strong sentiments against a girl child. No wonder most weddings in the village were arranged from other villages and hardly any girls available in Parampur.

Bandhiya was pacing up and down anxiously waiting for his son to see the light of the world. Fate, however, had decided otherwise. The first cries of the baby arriving into the world spread around like the rays of rising sun. Anxiety of the family was palpable as the midwife came out of the hut to announce the arrival of baby girl – a frown placed on her face. One could see a subconscious relief on every face other than that of Bandhiya and his family.

Bandhiya’s mother stepped up to his son with a long face, the grief of the failed attempt evident on her face. She had a determination behind the grief and went on inside to bring the new born to her imminent fate. A series of events happened there after. Bandhiya’s daughter Laxmi turns 18 today and is leaving her village for higher studies, a first for any girl in Parampur.

Leaning at the door today, Laxmi’s mother couldn’t help but recall the many firsts Laxmi had to her credit. Her birth was celebrated with advent of electricity in the village. That decisive day, her grandmother had carried her out of the dim lit hut into a bright glowing future. The postmaster came in with a telegram for Bandhiya; it was the first time anyone from Parampur had ever won a lottery. The sudden damp breeze had brought the news of much awaited rains. It was as if the whole universe was conspiring against the villagers to give the little soul a shot at survival. Her grandmother, with tears in her eyes, named her Laxmi – the goddess of wealth and goodness.

Mother’s eyes glistened at the thought that not a single girl child was sacrificed in Parampur since that day, since 18 years to be precise. Laxmi was the harbinger of hope for them – the new beginning.