Frenny Dinshaw smiled as she braided little Tina Rane’s thick black hair. The little girl could barely sit still. Today was a special day, after all. Her Maami-to-be was coming to meet her.

Tina lost her parents in an accident when she was four. Her only living relative was her Maama, her mother’s younger brother. Since he was still studying at that time, he felt that Tina was better off in an orphanage, till he could provide her with a secure home. That was four years ago. He visited her once a month. Last month, he came to see her with a box of sweets. “Our luck is changing,” he said. He had recently got a job, and found a girl to marry. “Your Maami has a government job. I’ve rented a small house. You can come and live with us after the wedding.” Tina was beaming even in her sleep that night. Finally, she was to have a family again. Frenny Aunty was very nice, but, she was responsible for so many children. Tina wanted a mother again. Today, her dream was finally coming true. She could just imagine her Maami, all motherly and cozy. She would sing her to sleep, feed her, comb her hair, buy her some new clothes for Diwali. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Frenny Aunty found herself dreaming along with Tina.

They were supposed to come around ten am. Tina had been up from six. They still hadn’t turned up by noon. By now, Frenny Aunty’s hopes began to wilt. Tina held on to her smile and hopes for an hour longer. Frenny Aunty went back in to supervise lunch, but, Tina stayed at her post, on the verandah. Finally, around two pm, just as Tina was beginning to think that they might have met with an accident, like her parents, an autorickshaw drove up to the gate.

Her Maama got out, followed by a thin lady in a garish Sari. Tina ran to them and hugged her Maama. She peered up shyly at her Maami, and her Maama introduced them. Tina took one look at the cold eyes and glacial smile, and her heart sank. She knew, right then, that there was to be no home for her. This was no mother-figure. This was just a duty visit, and probably, the last. Still, she pinned her hopes on her Maama, hoping that he would stand up for her, and take her home. Even if her Maami didn’t love her, she would still have a family. In time, there would be cousins to play with. It was not to be.

Her Maama took her by the hand, and gave her a hundred rupees, a box of sweets and a bag of clothes. He explained that he and his wife didn’t want to take her away from the environment that she was now used to. She was better off here, in the orphanage, with her friends and Frenny Aunty. Both he and Maami would be at work the whole day, so, there was nobody to take care of her. She would be lonely, and miserable.

Tina just looked at him with her big eyes, and nodded once. Frenny Aunty, who came to meet them, took one look at Tina’s stiff shoulders, and white face, and knew what was happening. She offered them lunch, but, they declined. They left soon after, but, Tina didn’t bother to wave them off. She turned her back on her past, and went to the dormitory that she shared with five other girls, and started making plans. She didn’t sleep that night, but, she didn’t she cry, either.

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