Loud music played at the open-air cafe. Walking out of the 13-floored building, we took a look around us to take in the essence of the cold Bangalore night. A 40-something man in a T-Shirt that had a caricature of Lennon with "Imagine" scrolled under it, reading a book, sipping coffee. A couple holding hands, sharing a single large cup of cappuccino and a sandwich between them. Bigger groups sitting around tables talking, laughing loudly, some throwing straws around the table.
And then a little girl, four feet tall, hair plaited, nail colour cracked, with a thin and inadequate-looking brown sweater wrapped around her, standing at the gates. In her hands she held a bunch of roses and a faded white plastic cover with something-TEXTILES printed on it. Under the bright streetlight, the weight of the building in front of her made her seem smaller than the little thing she was, the darkness of the evening making it way past the bedtime of any other child her age.
"Bhaiyya, buy a rose please." We looked at each other and then at her. "How much for one?" I asked. She streched out the bunch to me. "Buy them all no bhaiyya, then I can go home also." There was something in her voice that melted our hearts. "OK, how much for all of them?" We smiled at her. Her eyes suddenly lit up, the prospect of an early trip back home and the warmth and joy of sleep suddenly in front of her.
"One, two, three..." we watched her count every rose to the end "... eighteen. One rose is ten rupees... so eighteen... umm... (frantic calculation with her fingers lest us prospective customers lose interest and walk away)... 180 rupees bhaiyya." She thrust them out to us as we handed her the money. "Thank you bhaiyya!" There was no scream of joy in her voice, no childish reaction of having finished the day early, but we sensed the gratitude. In that one impulsive moment I wanted to lift her up and swirl her above the top of my head, and hear her laugh out loud with nothing holding back her five or six years.
I didn't do that, but in the next half an hour of a rickshaw ride back home, with the eighteen pink roses clutched in one of our hands, we both knew it was the perfect end to the best day we'd had in almost two years.