BLURB for OUTCAST
Rose leaves her Cornwall café to search for her daughter, Ellie, in the steaming slums of Kolkata, India. In the daily struggle for survival she is brought to her knees, yet finds the strength to confront the poverty and disease and grows to love and respect the Dalit Community she is helping. But then there are deaths and she fears for her own safety. Her café at home is at risk of being torched then finally she has to make the terrible choice between the Dalits and her own daughter.
She breathed in slowly, one, two, three and then out. Watched the conductor squeeze through collecting fares. The bus stopped again. How could they possibly get any more on? Babies were passed over heads until their mothers could battle their way through to reclaim them. The smells of spice and sweat increased, the rattling of the bus, loud conversations.
‘Start pushing,’ Ellie yelled.
By the time the bus stopped Rose had made it to the door. With one last effort she burst through the passengers trying to force their way up the steps and almost fell on to the road. Her shirt was stuck to her back and the air outside felt cool.
She coughed as she followed Ellie through the honking traffic, held her hands over her ears.
‘You’ll get used to it.’ Ellie said.
A family was living on the blackened pavement, only enough room for one person at a time to lie down. Naked toddlers. Rice boiling in a pan teetering on a charcoal fire. Filth, flies. And beyond this family, another and another, packed tight, inches away from the lorries roaring along the road. She hurried past a body enveloped in a brown blanket, studded with flies. Stepped across a pool of vomit, rushing to catch up with Ellie. Shouted out in pain as she turned her ankle on broken stones.
She was waiting by a footbridge. Rose tried to re-arrange her features into a semblance of calm but tears ran down her cheeks.
‘I know it’s tough, Mum. Do you want to go back to your hotel?’
Rose wanted very much to do just that, but she knew her street cred would be zero. She swallowed. Hard. ‘No.’
‘OK.’ Ellie’s voice softened a little. Was there a glimmer of sympathy there, a touch of respect?
‘Forgot to ask. Did you have any injections before you came? Hepatitis, tetanus…?’
Ellie sighed. Rose followed her down a dark passageway between two crumbling shops, the lumpy feel of broken pavement beneath her feet. Only room for single file. Kept her arms pressed to her body, unsure of what was either side. The alley led into an open space. The stench hit her first – faeces, rotting food. Crows cawed overhead. She looked up to see a tangled geometry of power lines and wires. At her feet naked children up to their ankles in rubbish, empty water bottles, used tampon applicators, yellowed cotton buds, mildewed newspaper. A mountain of stinking, festering filth.
‘This way,’ said Ellie, edging past a bent old woman heaving a handcart. A cow chewed an aged vest. A parabola of pee as a man urinated against a wall. ‘Right, we’re here.’
Rose saw a settlement of huts made by driving bamboo poles into the ground and draping empty sacks and cardboard over the top. Maybe a dozen of them on the edge of a green pool of sewage. Tiny children ran around playing, shrieking with laughter.
‘Where are their mothers?’ Rose asked.
‘Working. Trying to get money for food.’
‘Aunty! Aunty!’ They’d spotted Ellie, tore across the broken ground, flinging themselves at her. She squatted, gathered them all into her arms. Rose saw running sores on their limbs, stiffened.
‘Ellie, don’t,’ she pleaded. ‘You’ll catch something.’
My God, I didn’t bring her up to do this. All the opportunities she’s had, the best schools. She had everything I didn’t and she’s squandering it.
‘Good Morning,’ Ellie said to the children. ‘Now, what do you say?’
‘Good Morning Aunty.’
‘Brilliant!’ She wiped green candles from a boy’s nose.
‘They’re dirty, Ellie,’ Rose whispered.
‘No water for washing,’ she snapped. ‘One tap for the whole place and it’s only on for two hours in the morning. They can’t afford to stand in line with a bucket. They need to earn money for food.’
A tiny girl held up her arms to Rose, who recoiled as she saw movement in her hair.
‘Pick her up, Mum.’
A woman in a thin sari dragged a sheet of cardboard towards Ellie then put her hands together as if in prayer, bowed her head.
‘Namaste,’ said Ellie. ‘Mum, this is Shenaz.’
The woman gave her a shy smile. Ellie squatted on the cardboard and brought out paper and pencils from her bag.
‘Shenaz has family here,’ she continued. ‘They share their earnings with her and in return she passes on what I teach her.’
The woman’s head was bent, her tongue between her teeth, as she started copying the words. The children clustered round to watch, pushing and shoving to get nearer. Ellie put her fingers to her lips and they quietened.
‘Mum, if you really want to help, talk to the children, teach them words.’
Rose gave her a blank look.
‘Words, Mum. Anything.’ Her voice rose. ‘One, two, three. My name is Rose. This is my arm, my leg.’ She was shouting now and the children shrank back.
‘I’m sorry Ellie, really. I can’t.’
Shenaz had risen to her feet. Looked from Rose to Ellie and back again, her expression fearful. Ellie put an arm around her shoulder.
‘It’s OK, Shenaz. Don’t be scared. One of the boys can show my mother the way back. She’s leaving.’
I think I became a reader before I could walk. While other people had childhood memories, I amassed a vocabulary. I was born into a service family and at the tender age of seven found myself on the Dunera, a troopship, sailing for a three year posting to Singapore. So began a lifetime of wandering – and fifteen different schools. Teen years living in Cyprus, before partition, when the country was swarming with handsome UN soldiers, and then marriage to a Civil Engineer who whisked me away to the Arabian Gulf.
Most of the following years were spent as a single parent with an employment history which ranged from the British Embassy in Bahrain to a goods picker, complete with steel toe-capped boots, in an Argos warehouse. In between I earned my keep as a cashier in Barclays, a radio presenter and a café proprietor on the sea front in Penzance.
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outcast-Dianne-Noble-ebook/dp/B01BLL9CVO
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