Another birthday

A story in two parts

© 2014 Sam Lelliott

The Englishman stopped by the side of Hasad as he sewed the buttons on the designer shirt. The Englishman smiled and said something to Hasad that he didn't understand.

That was the first time the Englishman came to the backstreet workshop where Hasad worked from six AM to six PM six days a week. It was hard work but his servitude saved his mother from the debt man. The Englishman came once a month to check on the quality of the work being done for his company in England.

Hasad was ten years old, or so he had been told last year when he had been given an hour off by the factory boss to mark the event. Every boy got an hour off on his birthday. Not that you could do anything because you had to stay at your post for the hour.

Today, Hasad hadn't felt well when he started work at six. The feeling had persisted all morning and now he felt even more unwell, until suddenly he fell sideways as everything went black. He came to in a soft bed, like no other he had ever been in. A voice spoke in the language he knew.

"Ah little one, you a coming awake. How do you feel?"

"Very hot and dry. Where am I?" he asked, thinking he was with Allah in Heaven.

"Hush, little one, save your strength and get well. You had a fever and the master brought you home with him."

Hasad drifted back to sleep. He was in and out of sleep for a further three days. Each time he awoke the kindly voice would talk calmly to him.

Finally the fever broke and a quite emaciated Hasad was able to sit up in bed and take on some nourishment in the form of chicken soup. He managed three big bowls before tiredness overtook him again and he went back to sleep.

The fever had so exhausted him that he next awoke the following morning. Sunlight was shining through the large window of the bedroom. He looked around the room. To Hasad's eyes it looked like a palace. Beautiful furniture and a carpet on the floor, wallpaper on the walls and, as for the bed, Hasad would have happily lived in it, it was so big.

Jeremy White had lived in India on and off for many years. Firstly, at aged 16 when he accompanied his father when he was setting up the shirt business. Last year he had been promoted to the post of quality checker and was also given 50% of the company by his father when he reached 30 years old. All of which took him back and forth to England every month. Strangely in all those years he had never learned any of the vast number of Indian languages and had to always rely on interpreters. He knew a few words, of course, enough to get him a meal or drinks, taxi or train ticket. Most of the Indians he dealt with spoke English in that almost Welsh lilt, so he found little need to learn the local language.

Indira, his old loyal servant who had first worked for his father, came into the lounge and told him the boy was awake.

"How is he, Indira?"

"He looks a lot better, Sahib. I think he could get up and eat a proper meal now. He is so skinny for a boy. He needs some of my good food to build him up. How long will he stay here, Sahib?"

"At the moment, Indira, I haven't a clue. That sweat shop is killing all the boys slowly. I have never seen one over 14 there."

"I hear that where they all live is infested with rats and disease. The food they get is the bare minimum."

"I am going back there tomorrow morning, Indira. I have spoken with my father on this matter and he has authorised me to make an offer that the sweatshop owner can't refuse. If he does refuse we shall move our contract to a more humane factory. You see my father has not seen the factory for seven years and did not know about how bad the boys' situation had become. I have his personal letter for the owner.

"Now, have you managed to find out the boy's name?"

When he was delirious I thought he said a name. I shall ask him when I go back."

"Fine, Indira, do that now and he can join with us for breakfast."

"Yes, Sahib, but I can't join you for breakfast. I am but a lowly servant."

"You are not that to me, Indira. To me you are a godsend and in any case I will need you to interpret for me as the boy doesn't speak a word of English. After he is with me, serve that wonderful English breakfast you serve with beef bacon, then join us."

Indira went off to get the boy.

Hasad sat up in the bed and pushed the covers back. He quickly pulled them back up as he found he was bottomless. He pulled them back and had just made it when a lady came into the bedroom and asked how he was. He answered he was feeling well again and asked how long had he been there.

Indira introduced herself and told the boy to get out of bed. Hasad blushed and told her he was bottomless. Indira knew what he meant as she was the one who had washed his poor quality clothes. She still had to giggle at the boys words. Bottomless, was a scene she planted in her mind.

She said to the boy, "Last time I looked you had a bottom."

Then, going to a closet brought a pair of pantaloons for him.

Hammed got the funny joke and laughed, putting the pants on.

"What is your name, little one?"

"Hasad," the boy answered. "I don't know where I come from but I was told last year I was ten, I am due to be eleven in two months."

"Now little one you are going to meet the Sahib. His name is Mr. White and you are going to break fast with him."

Hasad panicked. "I cannot sit with the Sahib. He is high class. I am an untouchable, nor can I speak English."

"The Sahib has no concern about you class, Hasad. He has personally invited you to his table. Would you insult him?"

"Oh no, Indira, I could not do that, he has been so kind to me."

"Good then, little one, come with me."

He followed Indira closely behind downstairs to the ground floor. Hasad had never seen such luxury. Wonderful statues and vases adorned the mahogany furniture. Just as they were about to enter the breakfast room, a huge dog came alongside Hasad and nudged him. Hasad screamed in fear. The scream brought Jeremy at a run only to see his Doberman dog nuzzling up to Hasad. Hasad was rigid with fear but when Jeremy crouched down to the dog and spoke to it, Hasad seemed to relax a bit.

"You are a naughty dog, Rufus, scaring our little guest like that. Now give him your paw to say sorry."

Rufus, like a lamb, lifted his paw and offered it to Hasad. Hasad carefully took the paw in his hand and with that Rufus gave Hasad's nose a lick, making him giggle. The ice between them was quickly broken as boy and dog walked side by side as they entered the breakfast room.

Hasad's nose picked up the smells of the food and he almost salivated.

Indira approached Jeremy and told him the boy's name, to which he nodded.

"Welcome to my home, Master Hasad. We shall have breakfast together and you will tell me all about yourself."

Indira translated for Jeremy. Hasad looked a bit worried and asked Indira what would happen if he didn't know anything about himself. Indira asked him what he meant and he told her that when he was very young some men came to his village and took him away. Since then he had worked every day. He couldn't remember his family or much else.

Indira passed the information to Jeremy who visually gasped.

"The poor little soul. His mother must have sold him as a young boy to the landlord who sold him on to the factory boss."

To Hasad he said, "Do not worry, little one, it is not important. Maybe we can find out about your past another way. Come sit next to me at the table."

Indira translated again and Hasad did as asked, Rufus laying down by the side of his chair.

Hasad looked at the utensils by the side of the plate, looking forlorn. He asked Indira what they were for. She tried to explain but the boy looked more and more scared as she spoke. Jeremy, seeing that, asked what was wrong and Indira explained that the boy had never ever seen a knife and fork in his short life, yet alone how to use them.

Jeremy looking serious said, "Tell him to just copy me and see how he gets on."

Indira passed on the information again and the boy watched Jeremy as he picked up the knife and fork. He did the same and, with a little practice, was soon using them as if he had been using them all of his life.

Hasad demolished the breakfast and still held onto the knife and fork, simply because Jeremy was still eating. Jeremy noticed and showed the lad how to put them on his plate after he had eaten.

Via Indira he asked the lad if he wanted some more. Hasad's eyes lit up and he nodded his head.

After the meal, Jeremy asked Indira to praise the boy on how well he had done, mastering the eating utensils. He then asked her to take Hasad out to the market and get him some new clothes, and to take Rufus with them and let Hasad hold the dogs lead.

Jeremy had things to do. His first task was to phone his father in England. They chatted for an hour and, at the end of the conversation, Jeremy left his home and made his way to the factory they used to make their shirts. On his arrival, the factory owner greeted him in his usual smarmy way and took Jeremy to his office. Jeremy without any niceties handed his father's letter to the man.

"I have the boy, Hasad, with me at my home. He will not be coming back to work here. Do you understand?"

"But Sahib, He will have to be paid for. He is a sold boy and will work for me until he is 16."

Jeremy had expected that reply and countered with, "Not only will I not pay you for him, but if you do not improve your care of the boys that work for you, I have authorisation, as you can see from the letter from my father, to remove all of our business from you. However, if you agree to make some changes we are prepared to increase what we pay you per shirt.

My father authorised me to buy a house in which to house the boys with proper beds and a mother to look after them. That has already been done. What you have to do is to cut their hours from 12 hours a day to 9 hours, give each boy a five minute break every hour and time to eat lunch. You will provide better food, and each boy must see a doctor once a month. When a boy finishes his servitude you will make sure he is reunited with his family and he is given a sum of money to help him set up in business.

Finally, each boy is to attend school for one morning a week. Unfortunately, I cannot change the servitude system of your country but I can make sure that the boys who make my shirts are well looked after."

The man looked shocked at what had been suggested and then asked how much extra was to be paid per shirt. Jeremy gave him a good figure to which the man rubbed his hands and smiled, bowing slightly.

"Sahib, it shall be done. When will the house be ready?"

"In two days. The beds and everything else are there already. The house mother will come round at the end of work the first day to take the boys to their new home and will bring them back in the mornings. If at any time I find you have broken the arrangement then you will lose all our business and I have friends in town who will make sure you will never work again. Are you clear?"

"Yes Sahib, completely clear. In my own way I thank you. I wished to help the boys more but the old customs make it difficult. They go back hundreds of years and are very difficult to change."

"Well, maybe as our reforms are adopted, some other companies that use India for their manufacturing base may be made to see the sense in looking after the children better. A happy, healthy child will work better. I must go now. I have to speak with Hasad."

Hasad had never had so much fun in his life. Indira took him from stall to stall buying him western style clothes including underwear, something he had never had before. He loved the smells and colours from the food and fruit stalls and the smell of the sweets had him drooling. Indira saw his gaze at the delicious sweets and bought some for him. She had to stop him from shoving all the sweets in his mouth at once.

One stop he didn't enjoy too much was to have his hair washed and cut short. Afterwards though, he looked in the mirror and liked what he saw. He looked less girlie and more like a boy.

Hasad had been barefoot since he could remember so he found the slippers that Indira got him rather strange to wear.

After the shopping, Indira took him back to the big house and ran a bath for him. He wasn't sure what to do with this big tub full of sweet smelling water so Indira had to teach him, then left him to clean himself.

Indira went about her business of preparing lunch, forgetting for a while that Hammed was still in the bath. It wasn't until Jeremy came home that she remembered, when he asked about the boy. She put a hand to her mouth and dashed to the bathroom to find Hasad still enjoying his first proper bath.

When she called to him he squealed; being caught naked by Indira was quite a fright. Indira smiled and looked away as she handed him a towel and told him to get out and dry himself as the Sahib wanted to see him. She told him to dress in the western clothes, explaining how they were to be put on.

She then left him to his own devices.

Hasad dressed in the strange clothes but later, looking in the mirror, he felt kind of proud that he had managed to dress in the unfamiliar garb on his own, or at least he thought he had.

He went to find Indira, but found Jeremy first. Putting his hands together he bowed to him. Jeremy looked at the lad and was pleased in the difference, however he had to smile. Hasad had the shorts on the wrong way round and also the slippers on the wrong feet. Jeremy called for Indira and in a very short time the lad was dressed correctly. Using Indira as interpreter he slowly told Hasad all that was to happen to him if he wanted it to be.

Until he was twelve years old he would go to school locally and then he would go to a school with other boys in England. He would come back to India for his holidays. But the first thing that would happen would be that they would find his birth mother to make sure that she would be happy for that to happen. If she was then Jeremy would become his father and he, Jeremy's son.

Indira translated with a smile on her face and slowly, as all was revealed, Hasad also started to smile. When she had fully finished translating, Hasad was very happy.

"I can't remember my mother, Sahib," he said.

Indira translated and Jeremy replied, "Let us start to look for her today, Hasad. We will go to the factory and find out."

Hasad went white. "Are you sending me back, Sahib?"

By the look on the lad's face Jeremy could tell something was wrong and, when Indira translated, he picked Hasad up and holding him gently said, "No, Hasad. You will never go back there; you are free now. All we are going back to the factory for is to find out where you came from. And, young man, I am Jeremy, not Sahib, okay?"

Indira again quickly translated and the smile came back to Hasad.

"Yes, Jeremy." That came out a bit different to the correct sound. More like 'zeremy.'

They left immediately with Indira assisting. Arriving at the factory fifteen minutes later, Jeremy sought out the owner. While they were waiting two boys came out and spoke with Hasad. They were all smiles when they left, so was Hasad.

"Sahib...Jeremy, theboystoldmethatyouhavegotahomeforthemandadoctorandamotherandtimeto themselves."

Indira was laughing as the boy said everything in one long joined sentence as she translated so it made sense.

Jeremy nodded his head yes and received a big hug in return.

Just then the owner came out and Jeremy put the question to him about Hasad's mother. It turned out she lived not too far away and they could get a taxi there.

Hasad was very nervous as Indira explained to the boy what was happening.

They soon got a taxi and thirty minutes later were pulling into a village. Jeremy and Indira went to see the head man and were taken to a hut. Inside was a youngish woman who looked sick. Indira explained what they were doing there and that Hasad was in the taxi, a free boy, and wanting to see her. Suddenly her body was racked by a hacking cough and Jeremy saw some blood on the handkerchief she used. The woman started to cry. Indira told Jeremy that she likely had tuberculosis.

Taking Indira, Jeremy went to the taxi and asked Hasad to follow them while Indira explained that his mother was ill.

As soon as they set eyes on each other they were together, mother and son. Tears flowed like a stream.

Leaving them together, Jeremy and Indira spoke together and then went to see the headman. Ten minutes later it had been agreed that Hasad's mother would be leaving with them. Jeremy had paid off the landlord's loan. She would go to hospital to be cured of the dreaded disease.

Giving the couple half an hour together, they went back and gave them the news. Hasad helped his mother pack her very few belongings and, after taking them back to the taxi, returned to help his mother to walk to the taxi also.

They took Hasad's mother direct to the TB hospital where his mother was admitted and Hasad had the vaccination against the disease. After his mother was settled, Hasad went back to see her on the ward.

As a private patient she was not used to such luxury and asked who would pay for it.
Jeremy asked Indira to explain all that he wanted and that she was not under any obligation because Jeremy was helping her.

She called Hasad to her and asked him some questions and he told her all he knew. He explained that the Sahib wanted him to be his son and send him to school. His mother looked a bit worried so Hasad went and got Jeremy and Indira to explain what he had meant.

Jeremy and Indira spoke to Hasad's mother for some time with Hasad butting in now and again. At the end of that time, Hasad's mother agreed to let Jeremy be his father, after all, what could she do for her son? She had already sold him into some form of slavery.

Jeremy, through Indira, told her that she would have as much access to her son as she liked as he would give her employment as Indira's assistant. Indira did not object, she was getting older.

End of part one of a two part story