The year is 1987. The place is Blantyre, Malawi in Africa.
A ten year old forlorn-looking girl sat by the school's pool side. Tears hover in her dark eyes, her chin trembles just a little and she looks defiant and defeated at the same time.
If you look closely, you know that there is nothing remarkable about her features unless you see plain mousiness in new light. Her skin is the color of almond - slightly brown, neither too dark nor light. Her hair is a short mop of curls that you know cannot be tamed, just like her heart.
Her father had bought her something for a school activity, telling her with utmost seriousness, "This costs a lot in dollars. Keep it carefully. Don't lose it. I don't think I have the money to buy you another one like this."
On the very first day of bringing it to school, she had misplaced it and couldn't remember where she had last taken it. In her memory, she felt that it is by the pool. But she had looked all around the pool several times. It wasn't there.
She felt her heart break. She couldn't possibly go back home and tell her father that she had lost his gift on the first very day. How would he trust her with anything again? No, she wouldn't go home from school till she found it, she decided.
But what if she didn't find it? She felt worried and she thought "Krishna, why don't you help me please?"
She didn't really believe in Krishna the way others did - idolizing him and all that. She liked talking to him and sometimes, he talked to her too like two normal people talking. Krishna was more of a friend, an inner charioteer. You simply don't go around idolizing your friends, do you? You talk with them, you listen to them and you learn to keep their confidences and accept them the way they are. And in times of trouble, you expected them to pitch in and be there for you. At least, to listen, if nothing else.
She thought again "Krishna, I thought we are friends. Why don't you help me?"
Then she saw the flash of orange robe, Afro-colored hair. Nothing had ever prepared her for this moment. She didn't even like this person whose picture was in her parents' prayer room. And now, he had followed her to school? How gross!
She decides to ignore him. But he sits next to her. She notices that the edges around her where he sits is wet but his robe doesn't get wet. How does he do that? It makes her curious.
He has a very gentle voice, it soothes her frayed nerves when he asks her "I am listening. Talk to me."
She looks at him in irritation, "I have nothing to say to you."
He smiles. "I know you don't like me. You don't even smile at me when I am at your home. Why are you angry with me always?"
She is startled by the question and says, "I am not angry with you. But I don't want you in my home or in my life, that's all."
"Why not? I have come especially for you." He replies.
The way He says 'Especially for you' makes her sit up straight. No one has ever said that to her before. Is this funny man making fun of her like others?
"Do I look like I am joking?" He looks seriously into her eyes. "Didn't I come here just now for you? Look, I want to help you."
"Why?" She asks defiantly. "We aren't even friends."
He laughs. There is a musical quality to his laughter.
"So lets start at the beginning then. Can I be your best friend?"
It is her turn to laugh now. "We aren't even friends. How can you decide on your own to be my best friend?"
He thinks about it and says, "I never decide anything for anyone. I ask them, give them several choices and they decide but when their decisions go wrong, they tend to blame me for giving them the opportunity to have chosen in the first place."
The ten year old girl looks baffled. What is he saying? Nothing makes sense to her.
His face is shaped like the moon, his eyes are full of light and laughter. When he smiles, it is as though the world is full of light and sunshine. There is a dimple in his cheek. She likes people with dimples.
The orange robed monk tells her then, "I want to be your best friend because I want to listen to you talk. I promise not to judge your choices or give you any advice. I know you don't like being judged or given any advice."
Now she is startled. How does he know these things about her that even her parents and teachers don't understand about her?
"I came for you. I know everything about you and I always want to know more of what is happening in your life as you grow up. I don't want anything from you. I have come to give, not take. I have come to listen, not talk or preach. I am simply always there for you and I want you to understand that." The orange-robed monk does not sit close to her, there is an arm's length distance between them but when he looks into her eyes, she sees the Sun in its depths.
For the first time in her life, she feels the warmth of safety around her, like a cloak. It feels real, this strange cloak.
"I also know that the way you are feeling right now isn't just about that object you lost. It's about how this school and the students make you feel about yourself. They make fun of you because of your color, your hair, your language and your nationality. They make it difficult for you to breathe this air or walk the grounds here. You are afraid. You are unhappy. You need a friend you can trust." Then he pauses and says something that no one has ever told her before. "The worst bit is that you believe you are plain, unintelligent and unable to impress those who matter."
Tears are flowing down her face now. She is appalled he knows her so well. How does he do that?
Then he tells her, "I am not saying this to bribe you into a friendship with me. But you are my daughter. I will protect you like the eyelids protect the eyes and it is my duty to fight your battles when you are vulnerable. Why fear when I am here with you by your side? So I give you three blessings. Listen carefully.
First: As you pass through each year of your life, you will look more and more radiant and be admired for how you speak and carry yourself in the presence of people who matter - the decision makers - because you will begin to reflect Me in your thoughts, words and deeds. The day you become arrogant or egoistic about it, I will cease to be there for you.
Second: Do not ever fight with anyone unless it is a matter of Dharma. When you fight a battle, I have to step on that battle field for you. That isn't fair to the other side is it because they don't know I fight your battles? Because where I step in, victory is always mine. I don't ever want you to misuse this blessing.
Third: Whenever you want to see me or speak to me, I shall be there for you always and even when you are wrong, I will be by your side because you are My child. That will never cease even if we stop being friends."
He gets up swiftly, touches the top of her head briefly in blessing and then he's gone.
She stares at the vacant space that had been earlier bright with the orange colored robe. She feels a strange sense of peace around and within her.
It's time to go home now. She gets up. She knows now she has dreamed all this - the funny man in the orange robe, the promise of friendship and all that.
As she stands up, ruffles her crinkled uniform and is about turn, she sees that object she had been looking for all along throughout the day.
It is on the very spot where the monk in the orange robe had been sitting and talking with her.
All she feels, in that moment, is an echo of his words, "You are my daughter. I will protect you like the eyelids protect the eyes and it is my duty to fight your battles when you are vulnerable. Why fear when I am here with you by your side?"
She grabs that object, runs back into the school premises from the pool side and as she is on her way home, she feels giddy, happy and a sense of confidence for the first time that her life is about to change forever. It did.
And the three blessings He bestowed on her continue to protect her.