She was invited to a party, for the first time in her life. She was what everyone thought to be 'the dirty girl'. It was never her fault that she was born to a poor family, to a mother who was an ayah in the big school, to a drunk father who beat her and her mother mercilessly every night after dousing his insides with spurious alcohol.
The Principal was kind enough to let her study in class 4. The teachers loved her too. But the other children? Not so much. Her torn uniforms, oily pigtails and rough hands were always a subject of laughter for the others, much to her chagrin. 'Beggar girl-Beggar girl', they chanted each time they saw her. Each day of going to class was like running the gauntlet of a field full of landmines, waiting to explode at the footfall of an unassuming soul.
She was surprised, one morning, when the prettiest of all the girls in class called her to her birthday party, that evening. Perhaps the invitation was out of a need to be nice, the girl thought. She was excited, to the point of breaking into rambunctious giggles, which was quite unseemly for the otherwise calm child.
Her mother was pleasantly overjoyed with the child's infectious enthusiasm, but not with a sense of foreboding. Her daughter's understanding nature precluded the child from asking her to buy a present. She willingly decided to part with a pretty pair of earrings the headmistress gifted her on children's day, along with a few Gulmohars, she picked from the tree outside her house. 'Let the child have the joy of going to a party' her mother thought, while shunning fearsome thoughts of what her husband might do to the child.
The child flew through the rest of the day, paying no attention to the choruses of 'beggar girl'. She would wear her 'nice dress', the one that her mother bought with the hundred rupees she saved, the one that her father knew nothing about. That evening, after what seemed like a prolonged prink, the poor soul emerged, beaming at her mother like a magician would, after a razmatazz of prestidigitations. It was her first shindig, of course. The child had every right to be happy. She was dressed in a bleak pink dress, her best. The dress did little to augment her appearance, but the sheer happiness at being able to dress up and attend a party beautified the child, giving her an angelic aura.
She was just about to step outside the door, when two hands held her by the shoulders and pushed her to the floor. She fell back on her mother's feet, and looked up at her drunk father. He was swaying madly, muttering incoherently.
'Where do you think you're going dressed like that? Who are you selling yourselves to, you whores?' he spat.
'Appa.. My friend.. Birthday.. I want to go', the child pleaded, her voice thick with fear.
Not pausing to listen, her father kicked her on the stomach and pushed his wife against the wall. The child screamed in pain, but he only saw that as a cry for more beatings. He pounded her back, ripping her dress up as he dragged the child.
The helpless mother cowed down on the ground, dizzy and blinded with pain. She could do nothing to help the child. In a fit of rage, he shut the door behind him and left the house. Perhaps to drink some more.
It was long before the girl got up from her concussions. The Gulmohars lay strewn, trod underfoot, already beginning to wilt. The earrings were nowhere- her father must have taken it along to sell it for a drink. She dragged herself to a mirror. A tear-stained face, reflecting a broken heart stared back at her. She looked at her reflection pathetically.
'Beggar-girl, beggar-girl', she cried softly, letting huge teardrops soil the once 'nice-dress'.