I knew enough Hindi to tell her

Under the flyover, at the crossroads, the cars were waiting for the green light.

A few steps away, on a street paved with red and white tiles, some uprooted and broken, a woman in a synthetic sari was beating a skinny girl with a stick. The girl was covering her head with her arms, trying to dodge the blows, but the woman held her with one hand by the elbow.

The cars waited and waited. The light was red.

I saw a car door opening, a woman in Western clothes stepping out. A Western woman, with dark hair. In a few steps she covered the distance between herself and the woman beating the child. She grabbed the stick just as the other woman had raised it for the next blow. The expression of utter surprise was coming over the savage expression on the other woman’s face. The expression of disbelief was coming over the expression of pain and misery on the girl’s face.

Mat maro, said the Western woman quietly, and threw away the stick. Then she turned around and made the few steps back into the car. The door shut. The light turned green. The cars moved, glistening, flowing like a river.

That woman was me.

I watched myself stepping out of the car, grabbing the stick, and saying, Mat maro.

I watched myself stepping out and grabbing the stick.

I watched the surprise on the woman’s face, the disbelief on the child’s.

I watched myself opening the door and stepping out, again, and again, and again.

Only a few steps separated me from the woman beating a girl with a stick on a tiled pavement, partly uprooted and broken.

It would take only a second to open the door and make the first step.

The light was red. There were countless seconds in which I could have opened the door and taken the first step.

I could have told her, Mat maro. I felt the words forming on my tongue, again and again, burning my tongue.

I never stepped out.

The cars moved on as the light turned green.

Why didn’t I open the door? Why didn’t step out?

What did I fear?

What was there to lose?

The woman wouldn’t have changed. Perhaps she would beat the girl again. Perhaps many times. It would have made no difference for the woman.

It would have made a difference for the girl. It would have shown her: what she was experiencing was wrong. It was wrong that the woman was beating her.

Would it make a difference?

In any case, I didn’t do anything. I stayed in the car, watching them through the window. I moved on when the light turned.

It made all the difference for me.


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