The village seemed busier than usual. The dirt road stretched forward, with people walking to and fro. Buying groceries and having jobs to do. Kids walking off to school chatting and gossiping with friends. She sighed. Maya seemed to always sigh. Her father would make fun of her for that but she couldn’t help it. She always thought of what fun she could have with other kids, enjoying their time and learning about the world in school. They always seemed to avoid her though. Something about being an urchin, whatever that meant.
A bicycle raced past her as she walked across the road. Where was she headed? She didn’t know, all she did know was that she was headed somewhere. The road would take her where she wanted to go. Soon enough, there it was, the shop filled with various bits and bobs including school books, toys and best of all her bicycle. Sure the shopkeepers say the bicycle is theirs but Maya knew that bicycle was hers. She had wanted that bike since the first time she laid her eyes on it. Gleaming green metal with clean black grips. It was beautiful with its colorful finish and yellow stripes. She could imagine herself racing across the streets with her brand new bike. She would definitely get lots of friends after that. She’d be able to get to school, the teachers would let her in without a thought after seeing her bike.
But every time she asked her dear old dad, it’d always be the same answer, “I am sorry dear, but we can barely afford food every day. That bike is more expensive than books, and if I can’t buy you books then how can I…” She would be saddened of course, but she wanted that bike more than she wanted some crusty old book she can’t even read.
So what could she do? She understood why her dad couldn’t buy it. Having to take care of her alone didn’t allow him to work a lot. And that meant he was always short of money. Maya sees him holding pieces of paper like they are gifts from God. So one day Maya decided to be a good daughter and take some pieces of paper and cut into the rectangles that money looked like. If she made enough then they could buy food, the bike and take her to school too! She even colored them the greenish yellow that those “money” was. When she gave her hard work to dad though, he just laughed. Maya still didn’t understand why. Was her papers not good enough to get the bike?
So she decided to work. Her dad always said he couldn’t work. That is why he didn’t have money, so she decided that she would work. Maybe then she could get money to buy her bike! So she did work. She asked the shopkeeper what work was and he said helping others. Maya was confused, why she helped her dad everyday, but she didn’t get any money for it. Did she have to help people that were not her dad? This was a very confusing concept indeed. So Maya relented and walked out the shop. There on the road she saw an old woman carry some very heavy bags across the road. She looked like someone who needed help. So Maya ran up and decided to give her some help. She picked up the bags and nearly fell over. The old woman chuckled slightly and helped her up. “Thank you dear, those bags were so heavy.”
“Where do you need them?” Maya asked.
“Oh just over to that shop, my son needs it for his work.”
Maya dragged over the bags and handed it over to the woman’s son. The woman thanked Maya but strangely did not give her any money. Why is that? Didn’t she help her? “Could I have some money since I helped you?” Maya asked the woman, the woman sighed and took out a money. It looked very clean and straight, almost beautiful. This had to be enough to get the bike, surely.
She ran excitedly to her dad, who was cooking some gruel. “Dad! Dad! Look, I got some money!” Her dad looked up surprised to see her. “Oh! What are you doing here? Aren’t you usually out and about right now? And what is this about money?”
“Dad I helped an old woman, and helping people is the way to get money, right? So I got some. Can we buy the bike now?”
“Oh dear, this is only 1 rupee, you need much more to buy the bike. But this is good, you made some money by yourselves. This is good…” He rubbed her hair but all Maya heard was “you need much more to buy the bike.” More money? After carrying those heavy bags? How could she possibly help more?
She went out again, her dad talked about “jobs” and from what she understood it was just ways to help people more. So she needed a job. She remembered that a nearby man had asked for people to help him in selling shoes. Maybe then she could get the bicycle? She ran over to where she remembered seeing the bearded man. Hassan, he said his name was. He had a matted ugly beard, with ragged clothes and had various shoes in front of him. Maya ran over excitedly jumping as she sprinted. “Shoeseller! Shoeseller! Don’t you want someone to do a job for you?”
“What?” Hassan was surprised to see the springy girl run up to him, but nodded. “Yes I need someone to clean shoes for me.” Maya nodded hurriedly, she almost broke her neck in the process. “Calm down, calm down, “ Hassan said, “Just take this cloth and clean these shoes.”
“How much money will I get?” Maya asked. That’s all she wanted. She thought she heard one of the more proper women say something. Everyone called them proper women and proper men. She never understood why. Why call them proper and her an urchin. They seemed to look very clean and had lots of money. Was that why? Well Maya could clean herself and have lots of green paper too. The proper woman seemed to say something about “greedy young brats” Maya ignored her, all she wanted was money to buy the bike. She grabbed the cloth from Hassan’s hand and rubbed furiously on each of the clothes until they were shining clean. She shrieked with excitement at the bigger and cleaner and shinier money Hassan was giving her, and two this time! She ran even faster this time to dad. “Hundred rupees! Where did you get so much Maya!”
“I did a job!” Maya said gleefully, her grin barely allowing her to talk. “Maya with this money we could buy books, you could finally study!”
Maya shrunk a little, “But Dad, I wanted the bike. I can’t even read, what can I do with those books other than cut them to make more money. Is this enough to buy the bike? Maybe with the bike I could finally make friends and then they will let me go to school!” Her dad gave her a warm smile, “Will you agree to let me buy books if we buy the bike first?” “YES!” Maya shouted, almost kicking over the pot of gruel Dad had made. “But, we still need a bit more money, since you are so good at this do you think you could get some more?” Maya barely heard him, she had already ran off ready to help more people for more paper.
Hassan was surprised to see her again. “What do you want, girl? You already helped me enough, and I gave you 100. What more do you need?”
Maya said, “Can I help you more? For more money?” Hassan smiled, seeing the excited girl made him feel...warmer. He didn’t have any more work for her but she could help someone else. Hassan pointed to a nearby grocery store.
“See that? Go there for more work.” Maya ran off to the store. It was a big building, very clean and tidy and seemed to have lots of people going there. As people would say, it looked “proper”. Maya ran in screaming, “Can I have some work?!” She almost gave the woman who ran it a heart attack.
A few hours later she ran out the shop waving three more pieces of paper. She sprinted to her father and handed it over, panting all the way. Her Dad smiled and gave her all the money she had brought. “Go. Go buy it.” Maya let out a whoop of joy as she ran off to the familiar store. Soon she walked out with her bike. It looked more beautiful than ever, sleek, fresh and perfect. Maya almost cried with happiness as she raced it around. A hand stopped her as she was riding. It was a boy, a “proper” boy. Clean clothes and looked like he had lots of money. He screamed at his mother, saying something in a language Maya didn’t understand. The mother raced over and said, “That bike was probably stolen by you wasn’t it? Here, give it to me.” She said grabbing the bike from her hands, she almost fell, the mother was strong. She gave it to the boy who immediately rode it off. “Stupid brats, stealing from proper people. Go beg for a bike, instead of stealing. No hope for these dogs.”