The man held out his large, brown hand. "I'll walk with you," he smiled, still hiding behind his dark sunglasses.
I looked at his hand, not wanting to take it. "I can walk by myself, thanks," I said, and stormed through the tiny hut.
He followed behind, watching me closely. His steps came closer, louder. I stopped walking, waiting for him to reach me. "Yes, princess?" he asked, squatting beside me. I cringed; hating the little name he gave me.
"Do you have any more of those drinks," I asked softly, refusing to look at him. I stared at my bare feet. Dust covered them, making them look white. I felt his hand on my shoulder. It wasn't comforting like Jamal's. His was heavy, forced. Like he was pretending to care.
The man forced a laugh. "Of course I do, princess. Come with me." He stood and held out his hand once more. "I'll bring you to them."
I stood there for a minute before taking his hand cautiously. We walked towards the van in silence. I smiled when I saw Jamal waving from the large, semi-tinted windows. He held up a bottle, full of the yummy brown liquid, and the thumbs up sign with his free hand. I laughed, unable to stop it.
The man let me in the van first, and told me to wait at the front. He pulled out a bottle, and opened it for me. "Here you go, princess," He smiled, handing me the bottle.
"Can you not call me that," I questioned, looking at the bottle.
"Of course. What's your name, then, little girl?" He stared at me, and slowly took off his sunglasses. His eyes were a dark, dark brown. I gasped, startled.
"I'm Latika," I told him. I took a small sip from the bottle, trying not to look into his dark eyes.
He smiled at me, and held out his hand. "It's nice to meet you, Latika. I'm Maman." I gave him my free hand, and nodded. "Now, go join your friends. I think they want to talk to you." Maman pointed to Jamal and Salim.
I smiled faintly at him, turned, and then hurriedly walked through the aisle of the van. Jamal patted the seat beside him, and smiled. "Can you believe our luck? Imagine, if he gives us all of this before we even get to the home, what would he give us once we're there!"
I forced a smile on my face. I wasn't going to be a downer on his mood. "Yeah! Can you imagine all the food he must have?" I laughed and took a drink from the bottle. Salim and Jamal blabbered on about food and games and clothes and more food. I canceled them out, trying to get the creepiness from Maman's eyes out of my mind.
Closing my eyes, I tried to remember my mother. I tried to think of her smile, her sari, and her hair, even her smell. I tried to think of anything of hers that would wash this eeriness from my mind.I looked at her, and stared into her big, chocolate brown eyes. Her eyes were just as soft as the last time I saw them. She smiled her lovely smile, the one I saw everyday. Her hair hung down, framing her face, unusual, but it looked lovely on her. Her sari was a bright yellow, making her skin glow. I knew it was my mother, but it didn't seem like it was. The details were too perfect, almost like it was a doll of my mother, that acted like my mother. She opened her mouth, and began talking to me. Her soft voice flowed through my head, telling me not to worry, that everything would work out in the end. I told her about how Maman's eyes scared me, and how much I missed her and how I felt that things wouldn't work out without her with was on my side, she told me. I sighed, and crawled onto her lap once more. I leaned into her, and felt same with her arms around me, telling me stories of princesses and love and fate. A smile found it's way to my lips again, as I remembered a time when everything was all right. A time when my mother was there with me.
"Is everybody ready," Punnoose yelled, snapping me back to reality. The bus was full of kids, all laughing and talking. The sun was beginning to set, giving the bus a campfire glow. Kids screamed back telling him to hurry up. Salim was bouncing around, talking to anyone who would listen. Jamal had fallen asleep, and was snoring softly.
I rubbed my eyes, finding most of the kids from the dumpsite were here. "Latika!" I turned, trying to find who had called for me.
Arvind stood in the aisle, swaying with the motion of the van. I smiled and gave him a hug. "How are you?"
He shrugged his shoulders, and sat behind me. I turned to face my friend. "Are you excited?" He asked, bouncing on his seat. "I am. I mean, when he was talking to me, he said that he had mounds of rice, mangos, and apples waiting for us! He said that he has enough food to feed all of us until we're 60! Can you believe that?" Arvind slowed his bouncing, trying to catch his breath. "I mean, we will never go hungry," He continued, smiling at me.
I smiled brightly. "That much food? Seriously? Goodness, we will eat so much that our tummies will hurt for days!" I giggled and ruffled his hair. "What kind of food do you hope he has waiting for us?"
The little boy stood and leaned over the seat, trying to be heard over all the screams and fits of laughter. "I hope he has everything! I want Kima Mutter, or Dalchini Palau." I licked my lips, thinking of my mother's Dalchini Palau. She had the best Dalchini Palau in the slum.
"Mmmm," I said into his ear, trying to be heard over all the noise. "That sounds so good. I hope he gives us naan and Baigan bhurta. Anything they have though should be good. I mean, if what you said he said was true, then they must have everything! Anything they cook must be good!"
Arvind giggled, and patted my hair. "He says he has warm water, and soap and beds for all of us! We won't have to sleep on the ground anymore! I wonder how good it will be to not sleep on the ground." He sighed, and sat back down, weariness setting in. Arvind rested his head against the back of my seat, and closed his eyes.
"So what were you dreaming about?" His voice floated from behind the seat. I peeked over the back of the chair. "What do you mean?"
Arvind looked at me, and shook his head. "When you were asleep, you looked so peaceful and happy. It was like the world was going for you. From the smile you had on your face, it looked like fate was finally going to go good for one of us," he said, waving his hand around at the kids. I smiled and looked down.
"I was just thinking of my mother," I confided in him. "She was telling me that everything was going to be all right and that destiny was on my side. I really don't know what to think. It sounded like her, it looked like her, but I'm not sure if it was her."
Arvind smiled. "Do you think one of the gods came and told you a piece of your future? That would be amazing. I wish that would happen to me. Sometimes I think that all of the gods are against me, and trying to make my life terrible." He sighed and rubbed my head once more. "But if the gods are smiling on you, I will be happy."
I smiled back at the small boy. "I think that the gods will smile on you. I want to be happy with somebody that's happy, too. Maybe once we get there, the gods will see how wonderful you really are, and tell you of your future." I rubbed his thick, black hair. "Besides, I don't really think the gods are smiling down at me. I think they are laughing, enjoying this misfortune."
Arvind smiled and rubbed my hand. "When you realize how much the gods are smiling down at you, you will tilt your head back and say, 'Arvind was right this whole time!' "
I laughed and playfully hit his shoulder. "Shut up."