Outcast – Dianne Noble

Rose leaves her Cornwall café to search for her daughter Ellie in the steaming slums of Kolkata, India. Finds both horror and heartbreak.

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.