It was one of the last images in Mumbai that I don’t want to forget. In my mind it plays more like a silent movie.
I watched her from the other side of the road. Me, from the relative safety of a van chauffeured by hotel staff, and her, a tiny girl navigating the city sidewalk in bare feet. Between us was a concrete barrier dividing the two directions of traffic, along with the hundreds of cars and rickshaws whizzing and beeping past. Atop the barrier was some crude metal fencing with large gaps between slats.
Immediately I was absorbed in her movements. She was small for her age, which I guessed was about five. A simple maroon dress with little white flowers hung loosely from her petite frame. In one hand she held a sandwich balanced on a white paper plate. In the other hand was a furry, brown teddy bear.
The teddy bear was surprisingly clean given its surroundings. The softness of its fur was a soothing contrast to the controlled chaos of the Mumbai city streets, and the little girl held on to it with fervency.
She waited patiently before she stepped cautiously onto the hot pavement lined with trash and debris. In her eyes she held the experience that would get her safely across traffic that any wide-eyed westerner would behold in terror.
“Where is she going?” I wondered.
I held my breath as she made her move. In a moment she had made a light dash into traffic and and at the same moment my ride moved, too. Where did she go? And then as quick as she had gone there she was again. With relief I spied her closer to me but still on the other side of the concrete barrier. It was time to cross. First she dropped her beloved teddy to the other side of the fencing by shoving it easily between one of the gaps. Then she began to maneuver herself between the slats, all while still balancing the sandwich that never shifted the slightest bit on her capable palm.
Again she disappeared but, fortunately, teddy remained within view. I watched as it bounced up and down, above and between cars. All at once innocence and simplicity, quietness and play were moving through a fast-paced world of chaotic rhythms until teddy, too, went out of sight.
For a moment they were completely gone. I wasn’t hearing anyone else with me in the van or the never ending sounds of traffic because I just wanted to find the little girl and her teddy. Seeing her at the end of my teams’ 12-day stay in India had brought so much to my mind. In some ways she and her teddy were the embodiment of what I had seen in Kamathipura, the red light district that claims the innocence of young girls night after endless night. Here was an innocent young girl who loved her teddy. To her teddy was more than just a toy, he was a true companion to stick with her through thick and thin. In a world full of danger, teddy was her escape to a place of safety and quiet, a place where houses have solid walls and hungry bellies are made happy and full.
There was a time when the women in Kamathipura were just little girls with teddy bear dreams. They dreamed, like most girls do, of a prince waiting to make them his bride. Sadly, their dreams became true nightmares. Beyond being trapped in a caged cell, they became trapped in the prison of their minds, unable to escape the horrors wreaked on their bodies.
Bombay Teen Challenge brings hope back to the women of Kamathipura through the love of Jesus Christ. By miracles of a compassionate Father these women no longer have to dream of their prince. They are rescued and taken to safety. In this world they are given a safe haven with clean beds and fresh clothes. In the next they receive a heavenly dwelling. The lanes they walk won’t smell of sickness or rotting trash; they will be paved with gold. They will never again feel the cruelty of being used by depraved men; they will be held in the arms of their Savior.
The van began to move again and there she was. Upon the end of the barrier the little girl sat with her teddy. Beside them was the girl’s mother and younger brother, probably two. The sandwich had been divided between them, each one chewing quickly and gazing in a different direction as if nothing were around at all.
Written by Adrian Buntin