mom and son

You know the less fortunate people you see working as cleaners or housemaids or who are sometimes still looking for a job?  Those people who you act like you don’t see and feel a bit awkward when you have eye contact with them? People who are always in front of you but you choose not to see them and you walk past them like they don’t exist? Well, I hate to break it to you but if you close your eyes they will still be there.  They will continue to be part of the reality you choose to ignore.  They are not part of a TV show so you can change the channel, neither are they aliens you can send back to their planet.  They are real.

By now, some readers may have closed the window and others will be skimming through really quickly and remembering something important they suddenly have to do.  Some will just feel bad and look for a charity that basically has nothing to do with poor people and contribute by buying tickets to their expensive dinner where they will “feed the homeless” by serving canapes and a few drinks.

Well, from someone who can speak for the less unfortunate, I would like to say please keep your charity money and your feelings of being superior to yourself.  These people who you consider substandard are a part of a reality you don’t understand.  You are forgetting that they come with hopes, dreams, and families.  Their dreams are similar to yours; I’m pretty sure their dreams are very far from where they stand now.

I am one of those less fortunate people.

My name is George and I grew up in one of the little poor suburbs in India.  My parents got married and when my father found out that my mom was pregnant, he was ecstatic.  Fathers around the world have a funny way of being relentless and anxious when waiting for a baby to be born.  So my mom, who was so tired with the pregnancy for nine months, was relieved when she felt her water break.

I wasn’t born easily. Like some children in the world, I took two days to finally be born.  I was immediately loved and cherished by my mother who quickly said a prayer to ensure that no harm will ever come in my way.  She held me close to her and kissed my forehead, and felt like she was complete.

By the time I was six years old, I had three sisters.  Being the eldest and a boy was the best thing that ever happened to me back home.  I was constantly fretted over, spoiled, and looked up to.  My mother would give me a glass of milk every morning before my sisters and she would pat my back saying I’m a “good boy who can do wonders.”

And that’s what I believed.

I went to school that year and would sit with my friend, Alex, and dream of our future.  I wanted to be a pilot and see the world.  I wanted to wear the uniform and fly the plane.  Alex wanted to be a surgeon.  At that age, we only knew what we were taught so our dreams were very vague.

No-one questions dreams.  They are a private part of your soul.  They consist of what you perceive yourself to currently be and what you want to be.  Sometimes dreams don’t make sense but, who are you to question them? Why were two little boys from the little suburb in India dreaming of becoming pilots and surgeons?

No-one questions.

We grew and our dreams grew.  Our family had some problems when little Gina got infected with a virus.  My father had to sell one goat to be able to afford her medication.  My mother was heartbroken so I would try to comfort her.  She would pat my back and say that I’m a “good boy who can do wonders.”

Gina didn’t survive the infection and I was mad.  If only we had enough money we could have gotten her to the city earlier.  She could have been saved by a great surgeon.  I went to Alex and made him promise that he will be a great surgeon someday and help poor people.  I cried and he promised that he will try his best.

So the next year in school, Alex and I worked harder and got better grades.  We wanted to get scholarships and continue to get our diplomas then maybe we can achieve what we dreamed of.  Alex’s father passed away and he had to leave school to work in the farm.  He was also the eldest child and all responsibilities lay on him.  I didn’t care for my grades anymore, he was the surgeon and I was the pilot who will take him around the world to help patients.  The night Alex’s father died, Alex’s dreams also died.

I graduated from high school.  The “good boy who can do wonders” was finally ready to face the world.  My grades weren’t high enough to continue studying just yet but I was ready to work.  I booked a ticket to go to Mumbai where my uncle will help me look for a job and I was so proud!  My sisters looked at me like their savior; Lana asked me to get her some Gulab Jamun as soon as I get paid and Tatinka asked for some money to get her new shoes.  You see, she always got Lana’s hand-me-down shoes and they were worn out by the time she got them.

I promised them both then went to my mom for her blessings.  She hugged me and gave me a pat on the back, saying how proud she was of her “good boy who can do wonders” and prayed for my safety.  She gave me my packed lunch and waved good bye as my father and I started walking to the bus station.

On the way, my father told me that I should listen to my uncle, that I should trust him fully and he will show me the best way to get to my dreams.  His eyes were teary as he told me how hard life is and how we sometimes need to sacrifice things to live.  He told me how hard it was all these years to afford all the expenses of keeping a family and how hard he worked.  We reached the bus stop and the bus was driving up to us.  I thanked him for his advise, asked for his blessings, and went on my way.

On the bus, I dreamed.  I dreamed of being the best pilot.  Of wearing the uniform, of flying from country to country and meeting different people.  It was the closest I have ever been to my dreams and I could almost taste the happiness of achieving it.

I reached Mumbai and saw my uncle.  It wasn’t what I expected.  Everything was so fast paced and everyone seemed to be in a hurry.  We stayed in a flat with seven other men and would barely have enough space to cook and eat.  I lived in that flat for six months, missing my mother and father, missing Tatinka and  Lana.  But mostly, I missed Alex.  I knew that Alex would find a way to get to our dreams.

But where was Alex?

So by the seventh month, my uncle took me to a recruitment agency.  He told me that there was hope for my employment.  It was a small office with a man sitting behind his table, smoking.  He looked down at me and tapped his fingers on the table while my uncle answered all his questions humbly.

“Is this him?” he asked.

“Yes,” My uncle replied,

“200 rupees”

“Oh, Thank you very much, sir, thank you”

The next thing I knew, I was signing employment papers.  I didn’t quite understand why my uncle had to pay him for my employment.  I can be employed based on my skills and knowledge.  I am, after all, the “good boy who can do wonders.”  I knew I will be employed in a foreign country and my heart skipped a beat: I will finally be in a plane!  I will finally see how a plane flies, and I will meet the pilot.  I was truly getting closer to my dream.

A week later, my uncle took me to my family for a quick visit because I won’t be able to see them for the upcoming two years.  I cried, my mother said she can’t wait to see me again and wanted to get me married as soon as I got back.  Tatinka and Lana made me promise to call them everyday and were envious.  My father looked content.  He told me that I finally understood my duties and he is proud of the man I’ve become.

And before I left, my mom gave me a pat on the back and called me her “good boy who can do wonders.”

I left home with my dreams packed away with my lunch.  I looked forward to this trip all my life.  I thought of Alex who was covered in soil as he wished me farewell.  He said he will try to come along but his mother found him a good wife and he will be wed next month.  I knew he gave up on his dreams when I looked into his sad eyes.

When I reached my destination, I was shocked.  I didn’t meet the pilot.  I was shoved around like a piece of nothingness when I stood in the middle of the airport in awe.  I was screamed at, scolded, and looked down at when I sat down to eat my lunch.  I didn’t know why people were so mean.

And when I got to the country I was employed in, my dreams shattered.

I was apparently employed as a construction worker.  That night I couldn’t sleep in the shared accommodation.  I missed my old life.  I missed when Alex and I dreamed.  Then it hit me.  Everything my father said was true.  He never said I was going to be a pilot.  He never said life was easy.  He never lied.  I just never listened.

It’s ironic how the “good boy who can do wonders” ends up being a construction worker in a faraway country.  It’s ironic how climbing on top of buildings is the closest I will ever get to flying.  I was tired, homesick, and heartbroken.

I cried…

Then I heard a little voice next to me “pssst… are you okay?  What’s your name?”

“George,” I answered

“I’m Jon.  What’s wrong?”

“I never thought I’d work in construction.  I had big dreams for myself.  Didn’t you?”

Jon snickered,” I wanted to be an engineer.  You?”