No one noticed her pass, with her big broom and cleaning stick. At first. Hair tied into a top knot, she set to work, cleaning the rails, picking up the many cups and plastic covers people on the train drop all the time. It was the break time between two trains, she barely had 15 minutes with her. And then all that she cleaned will be freshly wrecked. She must know it but that didn’t alter her speed or thoroughness. Just that no one clapped when she finished. A guy on the platform took the trouble to walk to where she was cleaning and drop his white paper cup drained of the last coffee drop. She picked it up too and he walked away, like a scout who did his deed for the day.
But then something happened.
Not an accident, not a crowd-pulling moment. Just an everyday every moment gesture of today. She opened a sling bag and took out a mobile phone. ‘Sssss’ went the kids nearest to her. ‘An iPhone’ one hissed. She moved some screens, pressed a couple of icons, touchphoned a few seconds with changing expressions. The broom and the stick had rested on her legs all that while. She picked up the tools in one hand, climbed up the platform and with the other hand made a call. “Yea, I will be there, can you give me 10 minutes please?” she spoke in English.
Now suddenly all the attention came to her. Not people up far, they could still see only a cleaner cleaning. But the nearby ones looked at her, watched her steps. Was she an overly educated sweeper or a someone else doing the sweeper’s job. One of the kids finally had the courage to ask. “Oh neither, I just saw all that junk out there and didn’t like it. I do the same thing when my son leaves his room messy. Always makes him guilty,” she winked. The kid who had dropped his candy wrapper two minutes earlier went to pick it up. His father smiled.
“That’s like the stories you tell dad, morals and stuff.” Yea, said the father. “But you know what I learnt?” The kid looked around him, “To not litter?” No, said the dad. “That you shouldn’t just ignore people or write anyone off as insignificant. The sweepers in these rails are cleaning after us, like our mothers at home. See how we looked at her when we saw her rich phone, like we are attracted only by wealth.”
“Oh but you can’t just pay attention to every single person you see, dad. There’s no need for a guilt trip there.”
“Maybe, but you need to show respect. Like you would a TT when you saw him. Not stand up from your seat and salute, I mean just the basic head bow if you catch their eyes. Not treat them like another rail on the track.”
“No more morals, just do it like the lady and I follow thee.”
And the dad and son watched every passerby the next ten minutes and tried to smile till a middle aged woman stopped walking, came back and asked them what the hell did they think they were doing. “No overdoing, son, let’s just acknowledge everyone in the mind,” the dad said. “That one’s only for you dad, everyone loves a smiling kid,” said the kid, smiling at a girl five years older, and getting a ‘cute kid’ in return.