Saba at 10 is quite a tomboy. She can scale walls, climb trees, ride a bicycle and is a little terror on the road.
Sidra at 11 is all girly. She likes to stay indoors, cook and put on make-up when she has access to her khalas’ lipsticks and mascara.
My husband and I grew quite fond of them when they moved in last January with their khalas (aunts), who worked as our domestic help. We would ask them in during evenings and talk to them about their school, their friends, their relatives, about their favourite channel – Star TV. Their accounts would have us in splits.
We knew that Saba and Sidra’s parents had died in an accident when they were toddlers, but one day when their khalas revealed the real story we were shocked. “Their father killed their mother and then shot himself dead. They also have an elder brother who lives with their father’s family,” one of them said.
We promised never to tell the girls this.
Over the months, we grew close to the girls. They started sharing their “school secrets” with me. I was quite amused. Once they asked me if I could take them to the park. I agreed. It was such a pleasure seeing them run and have fun without having to worry about their ‘dupattas’ slipping off their heads. We snacked at a coffee shop with Sidra scolding Saba for making me waste money on her.
Our trips to the park, zoo and eateries soon became a routine. Often they felt shy eating in public – “How can we eat – the waiter is looking at us.” The biggest high for them was to have their pictures taken and then seeing themselves on a television screen!
On their part, Saba and Sidra would show their love for us by making lovely cards: “I love you Baji”, “I love you Bhaijaan”, “Happy Birthday Baji”, “Happy anniversary” and one for one of our cats too “Happy Birthday Kitten”. The cards have all been preserved by us.
Saba and Sidra would break their fast with us during Ramzan and most evenings Sidra would make a “surprise” for us. She loved sweets and often the surprise would be “gulab jamuns” or “kheer” or “custard”.
One day during Ramzan they told my husband that they wanted to eat pizza for ‘iftar’. By 5 pm both the girls were dressed in their “good clothes” and were all excited about breaking their fast at Pizza Hut. My husband and I were surprised at how confidently they filled their salad bowls and tried to speak to the waiter in English.
They even wanted us to show India to them. It was difficult to explain to them why it was not possible.
Two weeks ago, Saba and Sidra’s khalas decided to move out. We were sad to see Saba and Sidra go. There was talk of their nani sending them both to a madrassa. We tried to talk her out of it and we thought we had succeeded.
Last year on Valentine’s Day, Saba and Sidra decided to give my husband and me a card. Two hearts with a lot of glitter sprinkled on it: “We love you,” it said.
I pulled out the cards today and was showing them to my husband when we saw Saba at our door. We were very happy to see her. She was in her school uniform.
“Where’s Sidra?” we asked. “She has dropped out. She now works in our teacher’s house,” she said. Saba’s reply stunned us.
The same teacher some months ago had told Sidra’s nani to send her home in the evenings and that she would give her free tuitions. Often when we went past that teacher’s home, Sidra would tell me: “This is where my teacher lives.” And now that is where Sidra lives, I thought to myself.
We told Saba to drop in whenever she could and to bring Sidra along and that we would take them to the park. She said she would try and disappeared.