"Find her an empty lap, fellahs . . ."

Hello Dolly
by Ahmed A. Khan ©2012

"Bobby. Bobbeee."

Where had he gone off? Not to play along with those kids on the street? Not today when the streets are muddy from last night's rain.

She looked out of her window. Sure enough, there was Bobby, along with three other kids, squatting by the side of the road, making (ugh) mud-cakes.

How could Bobby do such a thing? Had her husband been alive he would have been furious. His only son, heir to millions, out there playing with those dirty street kids! He had so many beautiful and expensive toys and games at home.

"Bobby," she called out angrily. "Stop playing in the mud and come in this minute."

Bobby turned and looked at his mother. A look of disappointment passed over his face. Reluctantly, he got up and, with a longing look at his three companions still squatting in the mud, very slowly dragged his six year old body home.

"Listen, Bobby," his mother had told him many times. "You are different from those brats out there," pointing towards the street. "You must stop playing all those dirty games with them. Look, you have so many interesting toys and games right here, at home."

Bobby listened to all this silently, and, as soon as his mother's back was turned, he was out in the street once again.

This time Bobby's mother did not go to the window to call him in. She went out into the street to the place where the kids were playing, took Bobby's hand firmly in hers and began pulling him towards the house.

Suddenly, one of the kids, a cute girl of about five years, raised her head from her mud-cakes and looked at Bobby's mother.

"Hello, Dolly," she said.

Bobby's mother froze. Slowly, very slowly, she turned to look at the girl. She found herself gazing into an open countenance and a pair of frankly appraising eyes. Who could that girl be? How did she know her name? And that too, a nickname, the name by which her childhood friends had called her, a name she had not heard in a long time.

She looked carefully at the girl. Her eyes, her face... it was all so untingly familiar. Was she the daughter of one of her childhood friends? How did the girl come to call her 'Dolly'?

Suddenly, she came out of her trance, turned her face away from the disturbing face of the girl, and dragged Bobby home.

She sat in an armchair quietly reading a book. Bobby was playing with his train set. Looking at Bobby, she sighed at the heavy burden of responsibility - the bringing up of a child - laid on her shoulders alone after the death of her husband by cancer last year.

"Who was that girl out there with you, Bobby," she asked.

"What girl, mom? There was no girl," he said.

Next day, they were going to the market. She held him by his hand. All went well until...

A few yards away on the street, a fire hydrant had sprung a leak and children, as is usual with them, were making the most of it. For a while, Bobby fought temptation, but it proved too strong for him. Jerking his hand free from his mother's grip, he ran. Before she could do anything about it, he was right at the center of the activity. By the time she ran after him and shouted at him and pulled him away from the fire hydrant, he was wet to the skin.

"Bobby, you should be ashamed of yourself," she started admonishing him.

"Hello, Dolly," came the voice.

She whirled around. The girl was there at the fire hydrant, enjoying herself thoroughly.

"Who are you, and how do you know my name?" she asked the girl. The girl just looked at her and smiled.

That night, when she lay down on her bed, sleep was far, far away from her senses. The little girl filled her thoughts. Who was she? How did she know her name? Why was her face so disturbingly familiar?

Her thoughts, like feelers, delicately probed her memories, searching... searching...

Suddenly she sat up. No, it couldn't be. How was it possible?

Slowly, quietly so as not to disturb Bobby in his sleep, she left her bed, walked to her bookshelf and searching through the different things scattered there, pulled out a dusty old album. The album held old photographs of her family, photographs of a time when she was a child. She opened the album and started turning its pages. At last, she found what she was looking for.

For a long time, she stared at the photograph of a little girl. Then she closed the album, replaced it on the shelf, came back to her bed and went to sleep.

The next day, she was standing at the window looking out on a bright, sunny day when she saw a group of small children come out to play in the street. She watched them for some time, then turned and looked at Bobby who was busy playing with his electric train set.

"Bobby," she called out softly. He looked up. "Bobby, look. Your friends are out there playing. Would you like to go and join them?"

Startled, Bobby looked at his mother. He saw that she was smiling.

"Can I, mom?" he blurted out eagerly. "Can I, really?"

Still smiling, his mother nodded.

With a laugh and whoop, Bobby rushed out, leaving the electric train set discarded on the floor.

For a while, out of her window, she watched her son affectionately as he ran to join his friends in the street. Then she turned away.

For the first time in many days, she didn't feel guilty when she thought of her dead husband.

Memories can be painful - and as bitter as quinine.

She began to journey through the long and winding corridors of her memories to discover the identity of the mysterious girl, the girl who knew her childhood name, the girl who made mud-cakes, played pirates and wholesomely enjoyed a leak in a fire-hydrant.

That girl was none other than Dolly herself.

x x x

And we close out our year with the third of our old compadres. Ahmed has been a contributor to AR for longer than I've been here and will probably continue to thrill and entertain long after I am gone. Lucky you, AR readers. Say hi to him again on our BBS. -GM

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