"I think I'm a little broken," Madhubala said to her father.
He gave a warm and loving smile to ask, "Why would you think that?"
"I can't taste what you love about blueberries. And you love blueberries. I must be broken." Madhubala explained.
Kalyan looked to his daughter's meager bowl of porridge and said, "Eat your dinner, blueberries and all, please."
She looked at her bowl, then back to him, picked up her spoon, and slowly scraped what she could into a full watery scoop. When she looked up to him again, he said, "Ta-ta-ta, eat your dinner."
She had lingered for some time looking at the cloudy gray water mix, then forced it down.
The buzz on the counter stopped them. With heavy hearts and a slow glance, the two knew what that sound would mean. Kalyan picked up the communicator and saw the text message was another job.
"Do you have to go now? You just got here." Madhubala asked.
With some regret, he said, "Soon. Now eat your dinner."
"Tell me again about grandpa, tell me about the Dabbawala, about home." She said.
"This is our home, not Mumbai. This is your home. Now finish your dinner." He gently instructed.
"Alright, while you eat."
"Grandpa was a Dabbawala." She started.
"That's right. You're Grandpa was a Dabbawala. He was a big man, a strong man. All the other men looked to him with respect."
"Because he could carry so many dabba." She interrupted.
"Because he could carry so much more dabba than any other man. His great big arms could life a poll with 50 dabba." He lifted his arms in imitation of the mighty man.
"When others might challenge him on bicycle, a giant load balanced on each should, grandpa could ride circles at an amazing speed around the men. His legs would pump and pump. In and out of traffic, he could dart between bumpers, up and off sidewalks, 50 dabbas mounted he would almost fly."
His girls' eyes were large with excitement, and she said, "And he knew."
"And he knew the dabbas had to get to the station so the men who run the world could eat their lunch."
"Grandpa was a smart man…" She leads him.
"Grandpa was a smart man because he saved his money. All the money from dabba, all the decades never failing once on delivery, helping the men run the world, he saved his money. And when the day came, grandpa took all the rupee he had saved and came to me. He said take my life's work, my life savings, and go to Ameri-ca, make something better for our family."
"And that's when you came to San Francisco." She said.
"Have you finished your dinner?" He asked in a feigned seriousness.
Madhubala held up her bowl as evidence she had been good.
Kalyan took only two bowls they owned, both now empty, to the sink where he rinsed them, dropped a dabble of soap on each and scrubbed. He washed the spoons. Then set all the items on the dry rack.
"Tell me about mummy."
"When I arrived in San Francisco, it was a world of light and magic." He explained.
He could see that she mouthed along with the tale.
"But the brightest and most beautify image I have ever seen was your mother." Kalyan went to the door of the studio apartment and put on his jacket. He removed the one tie he owned, turned up the collar, and slid the noose around his neck, then adjusted both until they were in place. Turning to the small mirror, he gave one last look, took a deep sigh, and did the hardest thing in his day. "Give daddy a hug goodbye."
She got down from the chair. Her little legs pattered to him. In one big whoosh, she leaped into his arm, and he lifted her high into his arms for a big squeeze of an embrace. The fear he may linger too long in the moment, he kissed her head and set her down.
"Read your books. Watch the learning screen. Get plenty of rest. Remember that mummy and grandpa are watching you all the time from above, do not be bad." Kalyan explained.
He knew it was a lie. He knew one day Madhubala may hate him for all the lies he said. There was little else he could do. He felt blessed to have a job when so many did not. Sending her to school would cost money. Having a watcher would cost money. She was such a good girl, a smart girl, like her mother in so many good ways.
"Daddy loves you." He said fixing the safety harness to the tether with the locking pin around her leg.
One last kiss, a smile, and Kalyan took his backpack from the hook and closed the door to make his way to work. At this late hour, he was careful to step over the sleepers in the hallway, the less fortunate lining the steps, to the lobby of the apartment complex. In the few free and open spaces between the door and the sidewalk, he took a deep breath, opened the door and stepped into the rapids of humanity walking the steel streets.
On first arrival to San Francisco, these sidewalks seemed terrific. The steel-plated interlocks where pedestrians stepped took the kinetic energy of human movement to a base generator. Each square connected to the next routed to a central source and created a substantial amount of the cities electricity. With a population of 3.8 million and growing, the megacity was thought to never go dark again.