Nitin gazed at the young girl seated at the table to the right. Her mother was feeding her affectionately and the father was reading something from a book to her. The girl's face reflected joy, innocence and above all, a feeling of confidence - confidence that comes from being loved. Nitin sighed. He badly felt the need of a bond of love and care around him - the one like the girl enjoyed. Nitin had always felt an emptiness in himself.
"You thick-skinned oaf! How many times have I told you not to dream during your work! Another time and you will find yourself on the streets.!"
It was Lal, the owner of the restaurant. He was a short, fat man with a round face and a balding head. Nitin went back to picking up dirty plates with a bowed head. I should have been more careful, he thought. Serves me right to have day dreamed.
Nitin carried on with his work quietly for the next few hours. Suddenly, his eyes moved to the clock on the wall. It was three in the afternoon. Nitin's heart leapt with excitement. The lunch hour rush was over and he had half an hour to himself. He quietly sneaked out of the restaurant when Lal was taking a nap in his room at the back of the restaurant. Nitin hurried down towards the school at the end of the lane. School had just gotten over and he saw many children walking by on their way home. The younger ones were accompanied by their loving mothers. The older ones walked in small clusters, talking and laughing.
Nitin stood in a corner of the school's big playground and watched them. This was part of Nitin's everyday routine. It helped him forget for a while, his own sordid life. As Nitin watched the long parade of innocence, he felt mixed emotions sweeping him. Though he was fond of watching the students, envy took over him occasionally. How happy and carefree are they!, he would think. How lucky to be able to study in a school like this!
Nitin sighed. Suddenly he heard the sound of mocking laughter. He turned and saw two boys.
"Hey, look at him", said one of them. "He looks like he has just come from a coal mine."
"Wonder when he had his last bath", said the other. They screwed up their noses and walked past him.
Nitin was deeply embarassed. He bent down his head in shame.
"Aren't you ashamed of humiliating those less fortunate than us?" came a voice from behind.
Nitin turned to see who the owner of it was. It was a girl from the same school. She was fair and as tall as Nitin. He short silky hair blew in the breeze.
"Oh, here comes Miss Good Manners," said one of the boys. "Oh Ma'am, please do forgive us for our rude and barbaric act." The boys giggled and walked away.
The girl turned to Nitin. "Please do not take them seriously." she said.
"Well, er..it..its okay," stammered Nitin shyly.
"My name is Sheetal," the girl said. "I study in class 6. I have been watching you for a few days loitering around here around this time. Do you work in Cafe Ellora?"
Nitin nodded with a smile filled with nervousness and excitement. All he could do was to stop himself from fleeing the spot in panic.