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The Secret Children's Final Chapter

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The Secret Children of Mumbai – bonus chapter

 

WARNING: ONLY READ THIS CHAPTER WHEN YOU HAVE FINISHED READING BOTH BOOKS!

 

Last week, Noshi and Shreya stood together at the entrance to the new building. Noshi was wearing his trademark midnight blue tie with orange butterflies, and Shreya wore a dress made of the same material. They both looked so calm and so happy, whereas me, I was all jittery, a bundle of nerves. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened in my whole life.

“I declare The Butterfly House open,” Noshi said loudly and we all cheered. Most of the children hadn’t been allowed to see the new home while it was being constructed and they were almost bursting to finally be allowed in. Noshi stood aside to let them pass through the double doors which swung open electronically. Once they were inside, the new residents couldn’t help themselves, they ran everywhere, wanting to be the first to see each room.

And there were plenty of rooms to discover. I knew, because I’d been in the team helping to design the house. That’s why I was so jumpy, I wanted it to be perfect. Mariam, Wali, Sofi, Aarti, Haran, Yash, Latika, Bibina, Shreya and me. “The Dream Team”, that’s what Noshi called us. We all had different ideas and different needs, and between us we reckoned we’d come up with the perfect home for any child. Noshi drew the line at riding stables, aquarium and observatory, but it’s got almost everything else.

My favourite room is the soft playroom where we can climb, bounce, slide and chase each other. Mariam likes the school rooms with their rows of desks and interactive screens. Sofi and Yash, of course, couldn’t wait to get into the art room. They’re still making models out of recycled rubbish, but having paints, clay and huge boxes of modelling materials will be a complete game changer. The two of them are very proud of themselves, because they funded the whole room with the money they’ve made so far selling their models. Wali and Shreya took some of the credit as they were the sales team.

Haran likes the gym. He’d particularly wanted one of those punch balls and a set of weights. Since we moved in, he’s spent most of his time in there and he comes out all sweaty at the end of the day. That’s when the showers are useful. It’s taken us a long time to get used to being clean. Most of us had only been used to a tap in the street to wash ourselves. We’d been introduced to showers and real beds in the children’s hospital where we stayed until The Butterfly House was ready. It wasn’t just the showers that were new to us, beds on legs were scary. We were used to mats or plastic bags to sleep on and suddenly we were expected to sleep on a platform which we might fall off while we were asleep! Some of the children still refuse to sleep in a bed. They prefer to pull their mattresses onto the floor.

Mrs Farhat, Noshi’s scary housekeeper, decided to take charge when the children from The Rails went to live in the hospital, and she’s moving into The Butterfly House too. She thinks she's the president, the way she orders us about. We have to make our beds (which is difficult for the people who pull their mattresses on the floor), do our own washing, take it in turns to do cleaning, and we have to help in the kitchen too. She told Noshi it was good for us to learn how to do all these things. “Children need to be self-sufficient”, she says. Mariam and I laugh when she says that. It’s as if she’s forgotten we all survived by ourselves for years with nothing.

Latika took a very long time to trust anyone. She’s beginning to relax a bit, and she and Bibina help to look after the babies in the nursery. Little Nayra can run about now, and she’s got lots of friends. Some of the local women bring their babies to play in The Butterfly House Nursery while they go out to work; that’s the room I avoid, it’s crazy in there!

Aarti loves the cinema room. Mrs Farhat says we can have a film night every Saturday with pizza. She said that’s what the American kids like, and I can see why. I’m thinking my shoe shop could give away a free slice with every purchase. I’ll be a billionaire like Noshi.

After the plans for The Butterfly House were drawn up and Noshi had given the go-ahead for the building work to start, I went to look for Barun and Dak’s gang but they must have moved on. I’m going to keep looking for them though. Shreya’s organising a team of ‘ambassadors’: kids like us who’ve spent time on the streets who can look out for other kids in trouble. Every day there are new children arriving at the station and Noshi wants to help as many as he can. Some of the children just need to find their way home to their families.

 

The only person who didn’t benefit from the fire was the man who started it. Lawrence lost his freedom, most of his hair and a lot of skin. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for all sorts of crimes, including kidnap, attempted murder and child trafficking. Good riddance to him. I always told Mariam he was no good.

Today we’re on a special visit to Mumbai zoo. I didn’t know there were so many animals in the world! I’ve seen lions, penguins, zebras and peacocks who strut about just like Peetu used to. But there’s really only one animal I want to spend time with, and this is where I am right now – the elephant enclosure.  

I’ve been standing next to the fence and waiting for an elephant to come out of the big shed where they live. It seems a whole lifetime ago that Mariam and I were back in Chennai, and Shaur and I were scrounging left-over food from the hotels on the beach. I will never forget Shaur. He might not be here with me, but he’s always going to be part of my life, and I hope he’ll come back to see me from time to time in his elephant form. There’s a big elephant lolloping towards me right now with his trunk swaying and his big round feet scuffing up the dust. The way he’s smiling at me with his big brown eyes, I know Shaur is here with me, right now.

***

I hope you’ve enjoyed our story. Most street children aren’t as lucky as us, but there is a way to help. Go to the Railway Children Charity website and see if there’s something you can get involved with.

Thank you.

Rish

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