The circular red light in front of me suddenly came to life, signaling to speeding drivers that they must stop. Within seconds the vehicles on the road halted, mine being the third from the front in the middle column. As the bright sun glared through our windows many drivers pulled down their sunshades. As I peered through my windshield at the scene around me I reflected that it had been a good day for me. I had managed to make an impression in my interview earlier today, and had received confirmation that I had qualified for the next round. If I managed to get through, this would be my ideal job. I felt alive with hope.
As my mind continued to wander, I saw a man appear in a dirty blue shalwar kameez, with shabby, unkempt hair and a dark brown complexion. He was sweating profusely, and in his hands he held some cheap toys. He went straight to the car ahead of me, and it soon became apparent why. When he reached the window of the car to show off his toys, a small boy with a healthy complexion, rosy cheeks and curly hair started jumping on his seat with excitement. The child’s hand was printed on the moist windows of the air conditioned car as he smacked the glass with his palm. His eyes twinkled as he continued to giggle. His mother, who was sitting next to him in the backseat and was obviously enjoying his excitement, kept smiling.
Watching the boy’s innocent joy also kept me entertained. I couldn’t help but think how unadulterated his happiness was, having been uncorrupted by the standards of our society. He liked what he saw, it excited him, and he wasn’t afraid to show it. And this is essentially what every human being is from inside; a child resides in every one of us and it comes out when, given the right conditions and timings, the shell of our grown-up selves falls off.
My eyes then settled on the face of the toy seller and a sudden truth hit me with the force of a speeding truck. There stood a person hanging by a very fine thread. A person who was risking his wage on the fragile feelings of a child. It is an accepted fact that children are easily distracted, can lose interest quickly or simply be denied by their parents, whose decisions they have no power to overrule. And yet the toy seller stood there, clinging on to hope. His silent prayer was all too loud: the right conditions meant sustenance for him and all those who depended on him. If the child persisted enough to make his mother buy a toy, then a smile would be shared by many. One would smile for the toy; the other for the bread.
He stood there waving the toys with a fake smile fixed on his face. It was plain to see his expression was not genuine, rather a carefully arranged ‘marketing’ smile to melt the heart of the customer. Keep smiling, even if the customer is sticking a finger in your face. But as time passed hope seemed to be fading. The child was losing interest, and the calmer he became, the more anxious the toy seller got. After a few agonized moments, the child gave up on the toy and focused instead on the candy with a shiny wrapper his mother just handed to him.
And then I knew the moment was gone. The traffic light had switched to yellow, and it was time for the toy seller to retreat and wait for another red. The red revolution I had read so much about – when the wealthy and powerful were overthrown and the poor seized control – may have been just a myth. A legend told to keep young and unprivileged souls hopeful. This red light was his red revolution, shining every once in a while just long enough for him to scrape out a living. I wondered whether there would ever be a red light in our hearts and minds, making us stop to consider the underbelly of our country.
Suddenly the honking around me brought me back to life. The light had turned green. The red had faded, along with the toy seller’s hopes. I pressed on the gas, racing along with the other vehicles, but now my mind was racing too.
Published in The Laaltain – April 2013 Issue