“Where are we going Amma?” my six-year-old asked me over the sound of the rickshaw.
“Just someplace,” I said dismissively.
What was I to tell her? That we were going to a place that was my ‘last hope’. It was her last hope too.
The rickshaw driver stopped in front of an old, small building in the midst of noisy Saddar. With a heavy heart, I paid him Rs200, what we had agreed on. How would we go back? Maybe the NGO people could lend us money.
When we walked inside the office, it was loud in there too.
The counselling room was a tiny space with windows for walls. I sat with my daughter, the woman sat across us.
“Go on”, she said politely.
“Uhh Baji, actually my neighbour told me about your NGO. She said you help women in need, and you provide legal service for free to help them fight for their rights. I need your help Baji”
“Yes we do and we’ll do whatever we can to help you but first you need to fill out these forms. Are you literate?”
“That is okay. Tell me your name, address and other details. I’ll write it down for you. And I would prefer if the child would go sit outside please.”
I told Zaina to go sit outside. And I began to tell the woman my story.
“Four months ago, my husband passed away,” my voice quivered as I spoke and the woman caressed my forearm, “He was fine, he just… had a heartache and then he was gone… He was a good man. Good to me, great with our daughter. She is the only child he had with me. But unfortunately… he had another wife and three sons from her.”
“Were they divorced?”
“No no. He kept them in a separate home. He would spend half the week there and half with us. That wife is old but she is evil. So are the sons.”
“What did they do?”
“My husband had some property. Apart from the flat we lived in, he owned another one. He told me he had named both of them in our daughter’s name. But after his death, his wife and sons took over both properties and kicked my daughter and me out on the street.”
“Where do you live now?”
“I’m living with my brother but he said he will only let us live with him till my iddat period is over. He is getting annoyed now, I can tell. So I came to you.”
“Do you have any proof or documentation that your husband named the properties in your daughter’s name?”
“Do you have any proof that he was your daughter’s biological father?”
I looked out to see if Zaina had heard that. She had not. I looked at the woman incredulously and said,
“How can you even ask such a question? He was my husband and the father of my daughter!”
“Hm. Okay. Well, in such a situation you would need a property lawyer. We provide free legal service for those that can’t afford it but unfortunately our NGO does not cover property dispute cases.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean we will recommend you a lawyer but you will have to pay his fees”
“Fees? Are you serious? Baji I’m unemployed, my husband is dead. I saved up whatever I could to pay for the rickshaw ride here. I have to pay my daughter’s school fee too, I have no money!”
I cried as I looked at her. I could not believe it; I had wasted money for nothing.
“I am very sorry. I wish there was something we could do for you. We can try putting you and your daughter in our shelter homes temporarily…” her voice trailed off as she saw the anger in my eyes.
“Shelter home? Is that all you can do? Aren’t NGO’s meant to help people like me? People that have nothing left, that have everything taken away from them. I was told you would help us! How are you any different than our useless government?”
I screamed at her, hurt, with tears rolling down my face. Then I begged,
“Please! You have to help me, what will I do, how will I feed my child?”
I looked into her eyes, trying to make her see my pain.
“I’m sorry,” was all she said.
“Come on Zaina.”
I grabbed my daughter’s hand and led her out into the noisy street. My head spun as I thought about the 78 rupees that would not even cover half the rickshaw fare. And even if it did, where would we go? My brother would kick us out any day now.
I looked at my daughter. Zaina was looking up; her eyes squinted in the blazing afternoon sun as she gazed up at the NGO building- our last but false hope.
“What happened, Amma?” she asked.
What was I to tell my daughter? Should I tell her that her father loved her very much but not enough to think about her future? Was I to tell her that she would have to leave school and spend her days cleaning peoples’ homes with me?
Should I tell her that we live in a world where people are blessed with so much yet there is no help for the helpless and no hope for the hopeless?
I grabbed her hand and walked through the bustling city, deciding to not tell her anything. A child this young must not know what losing hope feels like.
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