At SheThePeople it’s  women’s day everyday. As India’s only media platform for women, we invite women to share their stories. Either in long form here, or tinified right here with #MiniStories. Here’s one that promises to move you.

“Gosh, I need to get a new cupboard for this,” I said.

Cleaning the office mess was one awful task. Not that I kept too much litter around but the stacks of papers accumulated over two months’ time was sure something that needed sorting.

I stood up and studied her face. Her eyes were wide and welled up.

“Do we really need these?” Ananya – my best friend and business partner of 12 years – held up the twin marble owls we had bought on impulse at a local fair in Goa. Heaven knows we had purchased a thousand different things just saying – ‘Oh, this will look great in our office.’ And it did – in the storage area.

“Well –” I tried but she cut me off, “I think we do. We just need a new corner for them.”

“Or a new office I guess. We’re running out of space.” I looked around. After our graduation, we had started off together into event management. We took up everything that came our way – birthdays, weddings, exhibitions, fairs etc. More than the money, we wanted to create our identity. In a world of being a wife or living a corporate life, we wanted to do something more, be something more. Today, 12 years later with a trusted team of 35 people and a steady and soaring client base, I think we managed fairly well.

“What about these?” I pulled out a stack of various invitations from underneath the table.

“They’re all old.” She came over and sifted through a few of them.

At that moment, Seema – one of our support staff walked in.

“Seema, we have sorted through most of the mess. Here, take these all out. We don’t need them so you can throw it away.” She handed over the bundle to her.

“Okay, madam.” She nodded taking it and left.

“Let’s get back to the presentation then. We have to be there for the panel discussion at 05:00 pm.”

“On it.”

At 03:00 pm, we decided to shut the office and go out for lunch and thereafter for the meeting. Since it was a Sunday there was nobody else to look after.

“Give me five minutes. Let me just freshen up.” I said taking my bag.

“Hurry. We are not going to be late this time.” She glared and pointed a finger at me knowingly.

“Fine!” I rolled my eyes at her. “It happened just twice. And swear – five minutes.”

As I walked towards the washroom, I heard a weird screechy sound. It was coming from the storage area and just continued to get louder.

‘Oh no! There’s a raccoon’ I panicked. I couldn’t shout or else it would hide and that way, it could create more ruckus.

I searched and found an old wooden block lying around. Well, it had to work for now.

As I walked towards the washroom, I heard a weird screechy sound. It was coming from the storage area and just continued to get louder.

As I rounded the corner, I paused to peek and see exactly where the raccoon was. As I did, I was stunned. It was not a raccoon but Seema – and she was sitting on the floor with all papers and mess around her. The weird squeaky sound was coming because she was cutting an old wedding invite with a blunt knife.

As I walked in, she looked up and the knife dropped. I didn’t say a word and her expression turned pale as if I had caught her stealing. I bent down and carefully eyed all that was spread across the floor. There were old newspapers, wedding invites, an old card sheet, scissors, glue bottle and a few sketch pens which were definitely out of their colouring capacity. I couldn’t make sense of it.

I stood up and studied her face. Her eyes were wide and welled up.

“What are you doing?” I asked her dryly.

“Madam I – I am not… sorry madam, but I am not stealing anything. I swear on my child I am not stealing anything.” And with that, she burst into tears.

For one – I knew she wasn’t lying because out of all the stuff that was strewn across, nothing was of significance.

Two – Seema had been working with us for over 06 years now and I trusted her.

I touched her arm gently and tried to calm her down.

“It’s okay. Stop crying.” Her body was still shaking “Seema, look at me. I am not angry.”

She hesitantly looked up and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Come with me,” I said and walked back to the cabin. Ananya wasn’t inside.

I made Seema sit on a chair. “Now, tell me, what happened? Why did you start crying suddenly even before I said a word? I didn’t shout at you.”

“Madam I felt – that you thought I was stealing something,” she replied.

“Were you?”

“NO! I wasn’t. I was just – making a…” she stuttered.

“Making what?”

Right that moment, Ananya walked in. “Hey, you said five –” she looked at Seema and back at me. “What’s wrong?”

“Seema was doing something with some old scrap material. When she saw me, she got scared that I was going to accuse her of stealing.” I explained quickly. “But I really want to know what you were doing with all those things?” I looked at Seema curiously.

“As you know, Guddu – my daughter recently turned four years old.” She sniffed and smiled. “She has started understanding a lot of things. She is really active and a very smart child. She likes to play with different objects and loves watching beautiful pictures.”

Her face drooped as she continued, “Unfortunately, I don’t have that much money to give her all new stuff because I am saving as much possible to get her enrolled in one of the government schools next year. So whenever we have some material that we don’t need – like those old invites and all, I use it to make little things for her. A board to color, a rough book of beautiful pictures from the newspapers and magazines, tiny cardboard cutouts to play with. It’s not exactly enough for her, but keeps her busy.”

She glanced up and her voice was again filled with fear, “But I swear I never took anything new. I always used scrap material. I am sorry. I won’t do it again.” She hung her head in shame.

Her words stunned me. Seema’s husband had died two years ago leaving her by herself to raise their daughter. She was working at two different jobs while her mother helped her look after the child. Till today, I never really gave it a deep thought, but now that I did, it made me see so many facts clearly.

I went and held her arms, “Of course you will do it again.” I said trying to fight back tears “But this time, you won’t use the old stuff. We will get you the new one.”

“Oh no no madam… please don’t. It’s absolutely fine. I don’t mind using this.”

“You don’t, but that little bird does. She needs to fly high. Don’t keep her bounded by such trivial boundaries. She is meant for bigger and better things in her life, for which she deserves the same kind of sources. A happy childhood is her right and that will define her coming tomorrow. You might be alone but you are not fighting this battle alone. And from now on, she is not just your daughter, but ours too.” I squeezed her hands and smiled.

Fresh tears spilled out of her eyes. “Thank you, madam. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“We might not be able to bring her the mountains, but we can surely help our little bird build enough strength to fly up there.”

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