Below is a short story (250 words) I submitted to "Writer Unboxed" last week. Out of sixty-one entries, I managed to garner an "honorable mention" based on votes and the editors' choice. This version is slightly altered, but remains within the word limits. It imagines a rickshaw driver, in Chennai, contemplating what probably will be a hair-brained attempt to rescue a homeless girl from the streets during a monsoon downpour. I should note that rickshaw drivers in South India are among the most proactive segments of the working class population, especially when it comes to things like family planning. I imagined this scene occurring on Triplicane High Road, near where I usually stay when I'm in Chennai.
The monsoon arrives, and it floods. Rain descends in whipping sheets so dense you hold your breath, as if you might drown.
The gutters are deep and open – three quarters of a meter deep, to carry away the torrent. Yet, it’s never enough. The drains jam with the dust and litter of the dry season. That is why everyone scrambles when dark clouds gather to the west, and the first rumble tells us that this one, surely, will change the seasons.
On a narrow slab of cement, she sits, shivering. Buses, trucks, Maruti cars, lorries, Ambassador taxis, and bicycles splash through muddy brown water, horns raising a cacophony between sooty, mildew-stained buildings festooned with signs she can’t read. She is dressed in her usual grimy frock. Who knows how old she is? With these street kids, you can never tell.
Dr. Ambani, a regular, told me three hundred thousand people sleep on the streets of Chennai, but how can a number that big be real?
Inside my auto-rickshaw, with the torrent thundering on the plastic awning, I watch Mallika squirm, edging her grimy toes higher as the flood rises. I’ve never seen her cry, or look this scared. Something is wrong.
Within me, I feel an unfolding. It’s thrilling, and I wonder if today little Mallika is coming home with me. My wife has always wanted a child, but fertility clinics cost a fortune. More than what a rickshaw wallah earns. Petrol is expensive.
I wonder if Mallika will agree?
© William Lailey, 2012.