The rhythmic dripping of water echoed in our ears as we laid on the ground, exhausted. Our parents slumbered on a parallel mat, allowing Aru and me to only talk in whispers.
“I can’t wait for tomorrow, bhaiya! Where do you think Papa is taking me?” She murmured, grinning from ear to ear.
My gaze fixed at a flickering star. An unsettling feeling ran through me, as though something inside me could foresee a greater calamity awaiting us. I managed to give her a feeble shrug. We hadn’t eaten since four days, and with each passing day we grew weaker than before.
But Aru wasn’t bothered by that. Her boisterous smile was unaffected by our plight.
I tuned out her incessant chatter, slipping into a dreamless sleep. If I had known this was the last time I would hear her chirpy voice, the last time I would see her tooth peeping out when she laughed, or the last time her warm eyes shone, I wouldn’t have slept.
When I realized Aru and Papa had set off, it was 11. The sun baked my skin while I sprinted to ask a green-grocer their whereabouts. He guided me towards a shack that he claimed they went into. I forced the door open and scanned the room, only to find no signs of Aru or Papa.
Exploring shack after shack, I found myself disappointed. What was troubling me? After all, they would be back in sometime. Interrupting my chain of thought, the silhouette of a young girl caught my eye. Pigtails sprouted from her temples, while her boney wrist was clutched by an old man. They craned behind, in response to my cry for Aru. A fat tear escaped her eye, while she let out a muffled “Help”. It struck me then. The man with my little sister wasn’t Papa. His upturned eyes shot me a fierce glance. He tugged her arm and shoved her into an auto rickshaw. I bolted, tracking every movement of the vehicle, until I lost sight of them. The incident haunts me everyday. If only I was fast enough, careful enough, I could have saved her.
We were never the same again. When Papa returned with bundles of money that day, we didn’t question him. We knew the price we had to pay for it. The following years, we didn’t witness a single cheerful day. Talking about Aru was forbidden, perhaps in order to ease the pain of losing her, or rather selling her.
Until today, when I spotted her and her amber eyes fixed upon me. The blanket of dust that she was wrapped in would have made her unrecognizable, it weren’t for the soft round eyes that gave her away.
My mind drifted back to the gruesome day which tore us apart, and tears began to well up in my eyes. 10 years later her chipped tooth still sneaked a look when she giggled, and her eyes twinkled.
It was as if no time was lost. But wasn’t it?