She put her hand out to wave down the bus as it approached. She knew she had to move fast because the bus never stopped for long, though they always took extra care with her as she was carrying her baby. As it came to a brief stop in front of her, she climbed the steps and found a free space on the rail to hold on to. She was grateful to see a seat and sat down as the bus jolted along. She didn’t quite understand how everyone else seemed to have perfect balance while she was being thrown from side to side and almost always lost her balance as she tried to sit down. She smiled up at the many friendly faces in front her, and turned her attention to the front so she could see where she had to get off.
The sweat beaded on her brow, and quickly joined and trickled down her temples. She wiped it away absentmindedly. She was so used to it these days, it didn’t bother her at all. She spotted her landmark and stood, and made her way to the door, holding on to something the whole way to make sure she didn’t fall over. The man taking fares at the door shouted to the driver that a baby was getting off and the driver, instead of just slowing down enough for people to jump on and off, actually stopped. With her feet safely on the dusty concrete, she started making her way towards the workshop.
Her mind drifted to when she first arrived. How much she had struggled with the heat, the blaring horns on the road and the rubbish everywhere! Being in a crowded train compartment had caused her to stress and worry about how she would get off. But now, she didn’t even notice if she was pressed up against another person and she had learned over time that people always made a way and she was always able to get off at her stop. So many of the things that were difficult at first had now become the norm, being taken in her stride. She smiled to herself as she thought, “It’s just amazing what you can get used to.”
Though of course, you can’t get used to everything. The sight of mothers with their babies and little children, eking out an existence on the streets still broke her heart. She doubted if there would ever be a time it didn’t. She didn’t want to get used to that sight. Didn’t want to get to the point she could walk past and not be affected. She reasoned that many times it is our softness of heart that is our strength. After all, how could she change something she cared nothing about?
Someone called her daughter’s name and she was snapped out of her thoughts. She looked in the direction the voice came from. A familiar face. She smiled and waved. She didn’t know the names of any of the people she walked past, but she was sure they all knew who she was. Or maybe more accurately, she was sure they knew who her little girl strapped to her front was. Everywhere they went her daughter got attention, her little cheeks being gently pinched or her hair stroked. And it was no different on her usual route to the workshop. From time to time she had stopped and in broken Bangla shared her name and where she was from. And so now, every now and then one of the familiar faces will call out and say hello.
She reached the workshop and pushed open the door. She was immediately greeted by happy welcomes and warm smiles, with even more to come when she reached the top of the stairs and entered the working area. Before her were women carefully stitching leather, smiling and laughing together.
It was for these faces that she had left her country and embarked on a journey to the other side of the world, her family in tow. It was to see the smiles, hear the laughter, sense the love, and to try and help more women experience the same.
When she left her country almost a year ago and said “Hello” to Kolkata, there were many challenges… Many days when she thought perhaps she had made the wrong decision, that maybe it was too hard after all. But now it’s time to say “Goodbye” to this city, and all those within it she has grown to love. And it makes her heart hurt.
She knows that something happened inside her between the hello and the looming goodbye. She greeted the city with trepidation and uncertainty, and is now leaving with gratitude and confidence. All the challenges and sweat and tears fade into the background as she looks at the masterpiece before her, the canvas of lives painted together into a new family – each individual, bright, brave stroke of colour blending into a beautiful cohesion. The ‘Hello’ was exciting and daunting, the ‘Goodbye’ will be painful and leave it’s mark, and the time in-between a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Yet, she knows it was all worth it and that there will be many more in the years ahead. Above all, she hopes that others will do the same – that they will embark on their own journey of ‘Hellos and ‘Goodbyes’ as they endeavour to help those who need it most. That they will be willing to step out of their world to help make someone else’s world better. If she can do it, she knows others can. She knows that this world can change, that one life at a time there can be freedom and newness of life. She just hopes others know that too.