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As I entered barefoot in that room of tiled floor, I felt the world fall at my feet when I confronted that look. His great brown eyes could melt the coldest of hearts. His olive-toned skin spread the same Indian heat that was impregnated in our clothes and in the air. From time to time, he smiled faintly, unaware of what surrounded him.
And he shook his head, repetitively, from side to side, as if saying “no”. As if life had taught him there was nothing good. As if he knew that he could never leave that place. As if he knew that the unfortunate fate had abandoned him, with no future and no luck. As if he knew he was alone. As if he knew that my visits would end one day. As if he preferred to deny his existence.
But I believe, and I’d like to believe, that his seven years of age didn’t allow him to understand the impact that poverty and misery had in his life.
Also, because he didn’t know, and probably would never get to know, another reality.
What frightened and marked me the most in that penetrant look was the fact that it still overflowed with hope.
So much hope that it hurt to know I couldn’t save that kid from that place, where despair and fear are predominant, where there is no love. It hurt to look at him, and all the other holy boys who were locked in there, like prisoners of a fate that had abandoned them, too soon, to their sad luck.
All of them had been rejected by the world – some abandoned in the streets to starve to death, others victims of failed abortions, others suffering from diseases considered cursed in the Indian culture. And others, like my brown-eyed friend, were orphans.
Out of weakness, I, too, decided to abandon that dark place, where the dreams of all the children that go inside it were shut down, and replaced by big nightmares.
Because, as I was confronted with their fragility, I faced my own.
That’s what bothers us when we see others suffering – seeing our own pain looking back at us.
But I couldn’t anticipate my departure and prevent the brown-eyed kid from some happy moments. Like when I held him so he could look out the window and see the turmoil in the streets of Calcutta. In those moments, I saw a special sparkle in his childish eyes. He would let his fingers linger on the glass, as if he wanted to carefully save in his memory everything he saw. There we stood, me holding him in my arms, and him observing the details of the outside world.
In those moments, time stopped for both of us. But they were so rare, fugacious, that they became precious.
Moments like those are something that not even misery, nor poverty, nor the lack of luck can steal.
After dedicating to him all the time I could, I would put him back in his fenced crib, and dive into the house work, moved by body and soul. I would scrub that tiled floor like that kid’s life depended on it. It was an intense and exhausting physical work, too heavy for a single person. And day after day, the exhaustion started to invade my mistreated bones, and so did the smell of industrial bleach.
I wanted to change the world and save all those children. Wash solitude away from their souls, cure their diseases, give a meaning to their lives.
It hurt me so much to leave the brown-eyed kid in Calcutta, not being able to bring him with me.
I wanted to grow up faster, to suddenly have the power to transform that city, and solve all the problems that are so deeply rooted in it. I felt I only solved superficial issues, and that because I didn’t get to their root, the problems would still be there after I left.
I understood that I had lost hope by witnessing that reality, by entering that room of abandoned children. And that kid, whose name I’ll never know, lit me up. He gave me strength when exhaustion tried to take over.
He reminded me that Humanity is not lost, that there is good in the world, even when you live in the dark.
Silence drowned my anguish on my way to Calcutta’s airport. My soul was washed away by tears, and by the tattooed thought of that kid’s look. How could he have hope, in a world that let him down?
I realized I wanted to grab that generous gift of hope and use it to contribute with my life to the construction of a better world. But how can I change the world?
Maybe with the look. With what the eyes say.
My world changed with that look, so maybe my look can change a bit of others’ worlds too.