The incoming tide delivered Arundati to the beach. Bruised, cold, and barely conscious, the child lay by smooth gray rocks, clumps of seaweed, shells and driftwood. In the half-light of late afternoon, she could make out only dim shapes. When she tried to cry for help, a guttural sound came from deep within. She was too exhausted to form words.
Arundati struggled to rise to her feet, collapsed, moaned. By now she was breathing with effort. From a distance she was indistinguishable from other sodden heaps of the ocean’s detritus. Closer inspection revealed an dark-skinned child. Tiny and delicate, she was clad in the shreds of a coarse muslin gown. She might have been five years old. It was hard to tell, as Indian children were much smaller than their counterparts in America or Europe. Waves lapped gently around the girl’s splayed arms and legs, revealing dark ugly bruises and dried blood from knife slashes. Apparently, her light brown skin had served as the canvas for a madman’s rage.
Floating, as if still in water, the child dreamed. It was the beginning of Holi, the festival of colors. She was her Mama and her Babu. They, along with aunties and uncles, were singing. Someone played a tambourine and shook bells. She and her brother Shubi ran from tree to tree playing tag . Once you touched a tree’s bark, you were safe. If you got tagged before reaching the tree, you had to be the monkey with no home.
As the tide receded, the girl grew even colder. Shivering, she burrowed into the rocky sand, hoping for a bit of warmth. She had traveled a long way and would need many hours to regain her strength. Though she had been thrown into the ocean and presumed, dead by the shipmasters, Arundati somehow lived. Night was falling. She breathed in hungrily, filling her lungs with the damp, humid atmosphere of southern India, exhaling in raspy bursts. It would be a long night. Arundati prayed to Ganesha that it would not be her last…