Amid the dusty air, the gravelled road and the burgeoning horns, a small being hid his face in the neck’s curve. His arms were folded. He seemingly wanted to embrace everything within his reach. He looked up. A forlorn face with dried eyes, eyes that dared to beam, eyes that wanted to dream. He again dug his face in the neck. Next moment, he again looked up. He was uncertain. His short spiky hair and dusty complexion complemented the surroundings and make it unnecessary to resort to his shield; the shield which is contradictory. Shields create an illusion of being huge, this one created one of being small. The shield here was just a small palm. He raises his palm over his forehead, to shield himself from the harsh sun rays, as he looks up. But is unable to. So, he drops it, and hides his face again in the neck’s curve. One piece of gravel breaks off and rolls, zoning out, phasing out and blurring everything around, and stops, and there's a thud. A young man in a perfectly tailored suit, with the perfectly polished shoes, stops the motion of the rolling gravel and kicks it again...
He woke up. “Are you better now?”, I asked Soham, while rummaging through the drawer for his tongs. “Hmmmm... Yeah...Yeah...Yeah, I am..” I looked up at him. His face was turned towards the window. His eyes seemed closed. His palm hung out loosely through the edge of the bed, as if boneless. I looked down, now rummaging through the lower drawer. “Mumm, mumm” I again looked up. With perched lips, he stared at the jug of water beside him. His eyes had grown tired of the window. I stopped my search. I took the jug, and poured from it. His eyes too moved, from the jug, to the glass, in perfect sync with my hands. I put in the straw, and his lips parted. I again put in the straw. His lips secured the straw, and I saw his throat move up and down, up and down, as he drank each sip like his last. His lips parted again. I put out the straw, and put it in the steriliser. His lips were now relaxed, and his eyes again glued to the window. A few drops had spilt on his clothes. His sterile, ironed clothes were his only dignity, and seeing them spoilt, I felt....nothing, I felt nothing. There was nothing to feel about it. My job was to... was to... wipe them. I did. I did, and I withdrew. I was already running late.
He lay far, far away from sand, in a polished room, whose starkness was diminished only by the small window on his right. He just lay. Occasionally, he sat to eat his medicines. The only change in his routine was the small walk every alternate evening. The walk did not tire him, as his body was stationary. At three feet ten, he never hid into an alcove. He knowingly denied himself a luxury, which should become a dream in a few years. But he never seemed to mind.
I finally found my tongs, his tongs. I turned to leave. Just then, he called out, “Dhhiii...”. I looked back, and saw his fingers pointed towards the photo of the smiling kid kept on the table. He wanted the photo? I walked back, took the frame and handed it over to him. The handing over did not take a second, it took a minute, a complete minute, sixty seconds to be precise. The frame started to fit, as he slowly parted his fingers. I wanted to leave right away. I was tired. Finally, the frame fitted, between his stomach and his arm. He peered at it, as if preening himself in the slight reflection of the glass. As I turned back, standing at the threshold, I saw his fingers tracing the lips of the smiling kid. “Hugghhh..”, I let out a small cry unconsciously and walked away immediately. I hope he had not heard me. He too wanted to smile.
That was bound to happen. I always told him that a smile would take away all his pain, pointing towards the happy kid in the photograph. It was a natural gesture, a natural thing to say when I saw him flinching at the sight of pointed needles, at the sight of bitter tablets. Moreover, I had been instructed by my head nurse to deal with him with extra care. He was the youngest, he was the loneliest. He was just a kid, a kid in a different time; a kid who hardly ever spoke, a kid who hardly ever played, a kid who hardly ever joked. It was baffling. It should be. It must be. But not to me. Even I am a youth in a different time. I too am lonely.
I finally left. Leaving the hospital premises at nine, silence greeted me. Everything was shut. Everyone was inside. The only light that lit my path were the narrow beams that escaped through the curtained windows. I at times wished, there were no beams even. They created shadows that scared me.
But I kept walking, followed closely by the shadows, shadows which to me were the subtle manifestations of the criminals Holmes and Watson caught. “Oh! I miss them.” With my fingers dug deep in my pockets, and the tightness of my woollens nearly strangling me, my mind wandered, wandered to the earlier May- the May with the blazing sun, the May with splashing chlorinated water, the May with shut schools, the May with jammed bookings, the May with overflowing suitcases, the May with dripping sweat, the May in the comfort of the air conditioner, the May in the ice cream parlours, the May in ancestral homes, the May in exotic destinations, the May about which I can go on and on, possibly for my remaining life. But for now, the May which just exists in mind. My dark self blended perfectly with the dark sky. Shadows no more followed me. Walking further, tears welled up in my eyes. In a fit, I fell on my knees and...“Why did they do this? For power, for control, for money? The thirst for power, the thirst to become rich, the thirst to conquer nature has brought us here. I too, will be soon buried under the sand with my parents, the parents of many others, with Soham’s legs, with the legs of many others, and insects, and parasites... How I wish nature had conquered me before it did my parents, or at least with them. How I wish I too was buried along with them...” I got up. I started digging with my bare hands. I did not have long nails, I did not have a spear. But still, I dug, I dug, and I dug, until I found something bony. My fingers bled. My nails shed. But I didn’t care. I continued. I continued digging. I found it. It was not a bone, it was a stone. “Ahhh”, so much for a stone. “Why not, such a stone is a rarity too.” I took it, and placed it in my jacket’s inner pocket. Alas, those secret inner pockets were still there. This one had my name threaded too. But, by me. The flashes of that day, the charred bodies of my parents and many others, their dried blood, made me dizzy, made me fizzy. I collapsed right there, like there was nowhere else to go. I woke up after a few hours only to find my face, my body swollen, and lots of dust. The blood on my fingers, on my nails had, dried, rather evaporated. This dust blurred my vision, but it also carried the last remains of my parents. It was through this dust that I made the final walk, absolutely free. The only burden on my body were my clothes, which too were torn, to my utter shame. But it didn’t matter. No one could look at anyone. No one wanted to. The only burden I wished I had was a pot, two pots, carrying my parents’ ashes. But alas and aluck, I didn’t.
Time seemed to have stopped, but that was how it seemed now, and was not actually. My watch- my only source of time had abruptly stopped too. I don’t know for how long I had passed out. I hurried home, in fear of getting late. I couldn’t be late; I would lose my job. I couldn’t lose my job. What else would I do? Home was a place that was lost, like everything else, like many things else. Everyone lived in shelters. Civilization had finally completed its circle- like the primordial man, we too lived like nomads, in shelters; only our coverage area was much smaller.
Reaching home, I had an adrenaline rush. It was empty. There was no one. I saw the unkempt beds of my roommates. I knew I was late. But by how much? There were no clocks. I opened my cupboard, and looked at my watch, an hour already. I sprinted. Reaching the hospital I was relieved. The always occupied chair of my supervisor was empty today. Their slight grimaces and indications told me that it was to remain empty today. I too grimaced, and got to work. The absence of my supervisor and the strain of last night slowed me down. I could have taken an off, I could have rested, I could have...I could have... I could have cleaned my cupboard. But I was here. I was working. Standing at the threshold of Soham’s ward, my nerves tightened, my gut flinched. I wanted to go, I wanted to escape. This seemed a burden. I had even tried to exchange my duty with the fellow nurses, but alas and aluck, I couldn’t. I crossed the threshold.
I stepped in. Today was a routine day, like all others. Was it? Was it not? I couldn’t understand my feeling. Had yesterday made a difference? Should it have? Did it? I pondered. I sighed. Brushing these thoughts aside, I walked. I walked. I found his eyes glued to the grilled, vista-less window, as always. His fists were closed, as always. His lips were perched, as always. His clothes were wet, as always. There was nothing new. It was a routine day. I got to my grind. Something struck. Something was missing. The photo frame was not there, where it should be. It was not where I assumed it to be. I looked around, frantically, searching for it. It was nowhere. The glass slipped from my hand. It broke. “Not again...”, the peon cried. He took his mop, and a plate, and swept.
I finished my duty and left. Soham didn’t say a word, nor did I. While walking back, I stumbled on something. It repressed under my feet. It was soft. But it seemed to have a strong skin. I lifted my feet and stepped aside. I looked down. The sole of my slipper had left its imprint on it.
It was a bright yellow ball, with a smiley inked in black. I knew what I had to do next. I ran back to Soham’s ward, only to find him sleeping. Stupid me, wasn’t it obvious; I had only given him the sleeping injection. His sleep was his escape, it was his solace. I had no right to take that way. Doing that could even cost me my job. I didn’t want that. His eerie gaze which I had disregarded earlier came back. He was not sorry for breaking the frame. He was wondering when sleep would come to him, why it still hadn’t. I came home. I slept in early, clutching the ball. There was nothing much to do. My place had a TV, which either reminded me of the long gone golden days or exaggerated the black days of today. So, it remained shut. I had two roommates, who were moody. Sometimes when the day was good, we would talk, but otherwise a silence lurked. The silence was now a habit, a need.
My ears responded more quickly to it. It was a part of my life, so deeply ingrained, that it swallowed all the words I had ever known. There was never even a need to clean my wardrobe. But, the thought of cleaning it came back. I got up, and opened it. What I saw was emptiness and bare necessities - two pairs of uniform, three shirts, three pants, three pairs of undergarments, my spare watch, and my sanitary napkins – nature was still at work. My home was akin to a bunker. There were no windows. Just one ventilator, which was never opened, except on the first day of January and June. Hardly any dust came in. So, sleeping was the only thing left to do. It was my escape, it was my solace too.
Next day, I was earlier than usual and quicker in finishing my chores. I had a much more important task on hand. Crossing the threshold today was a cakewalk. I entered to find Soham staring at the window, as usual.
Keeping the ball at the edge of the bed, such that it touched his wrist, I started with my chores, I started with the tongs. The ball dropped. It touched the tips of his fingers. It made a light thud. His fingers showed slight movement, they made waves. His eyebrows tweaked, his lips perched, then formed an ‘o’. He laid his palm flat on the bed, clutched the bed sheet with his fingers, and pushed it down. “Arghh.” He let out small squeaks.
Slowly his head lifted, and turned, to look down. The fingers of his right hand loosened. His hand dropped out of the bed and hung. His right shoulder touched the bed. He didn’t say a word. He closed his eyes tightly. A lone tear escaped. Then he opened them. The ball walked towards him in a steady gait. The tips of his fingers touched it. And it smiled at him. He saw that. His lips widened too.
A gust of wind blew in, as if inaugurating the ceremony. He pressed it gently, randomly, as if playing a happy tune on a keyboard. He breathed out.
He shook his head. He looked at me. “Hmmm... Ye...ah..”
As he turned towards me, his gaze fell on his reflection, his smiling face. There I stood with a mirror in my hand, to record this transient moment and make it a permanent memory for him. I didn’t have a camera, but this was better. His smile widened, and so did mine.
“This is how you smile.”
He regained his position of rest, his arms and head no longer hung. He sat up, with his fingers intertwined, all eager to listen to me. For a moment, I felt like a grandmother, whose role was to pass on the folk tales to the youngest. What I would narrate is an autobiography, garnished with fiction, with the point of view of a fickle-minded youth. Could that be a folk tale, let alone a tale? Yeah, why not. In this generation, roles were reversed, things were different. It was a new time. My tale was important, it was the new folk tale. Thinking this, I just fell down. I took the support of the floor. He smiled again. How could this be comical? Nonetheless, I got up. The burden of responsibility subsided. I was ignited.
And this is how began our conversation. He hardly ever spoke, what could he speak. But my words made him chuckle. The chuckle was loud. It spoke a thousand words at once. The chatterbox in me was on fire again. I spoke about tons of things, and was reminded of a ton others. While I spoke, he just listened, smiled, and of course chuckled! His continuous light-hearted chuckles were an encouragement to speak more. Amid all the talks I also taught him how to play with the ball, which arose the child within me too. Playing the traditional catch-catch was difficult. But we managed.
At 21, I felt blessed, rather punished with memories... Nonetheless, these memories had become a yarn to spin stories for this boy. Words still escaped him, but his face glowed. His eyeballs danced. Tears escaped him, of laughter. I tickled him. He reacted strongly, often falling down. He tickled me too. I didn’t feel anything. But I pretended. The talk about the pre-disaster period made me nostalgic. I told him how life was earlier- about family, parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts and the irritating gossip aunties, about how people were divided on so many levels- religion, caste, geography, about continents, countries, states and cities etc. I feel the only positive outcome of the disaster was the eradication of this divide. Education, films, books, TV, celebrities, cricket, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone; Paris, Simla, New Delhi among so many other things.
“I miss Facebook.”
I’ll come tomorrow. Sleep well.
Six days passed like this. It was a blissful time. ‘Bliss’, a word which I was now elusive to had found its way back in my life, in my heart, and on my face. This bliss was however contradicted by a dread. Soham’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse on the sixth night. He had detested strongly against the soup that afternoon. I wish I had listened.
“Did I do the right thing? Was he better off without knowing the beautiful days?” “No. He was not. I hope he was not.”
“I did the right thing. I showed him a different world, which was not fake. I was right.”
The clock indicated dawn. She stared at him through the small window. Her eyes were puffy. The stress and the squeaky noise of the wooden false ceiling had not let her sleep. She took a step further. The log loosened and hit her head. She rested. She had managed to re-create the whole world for little Soham in just six days, much like God did at the beginning of civilization. It is said he rested on the seventh day. She rested too. But she created only in Soham’s imagination.
CAN WE PLAY?
The sun had long set. Everyone here too, was properly set. The loud music gave me a high, a high that alcohol always failed to give. My hands moved feverishly, my head pounded, my body bathed in sweat, but my legs, well, they just remained where they were two hours ago; so much for the sweat. The lights were dimmed, and not dancing; the air was filled with the aroma of smoke, cigarette and barbecues. There were screams, yells, pukes, and yikes! The artificiality of the light momentarily illuminated the nose, the lips of different people, people I didn’t know, nor cared about, but who cared enough to let out an occasional ‘Hi, how are you?’ and shake a leg with me, and then forget. Over time, I had developed an appropriate social response system; had learnt to smile, had learnt to scream, had learnt to spontaneously banter, even with strangers (only with strangers!), basically learnt to live. Famished, I took a corner, and drank water. I had had enough. I took my bag, bid no adieus and left. Uber-ing out of the party at midnight was unusual.
Nonetheless, I was compelled to, so I did. Reaching my apartment, which I shared with three other people did not relieve me. All the doors were shut, and I didn’t care to knock. The ultimate sense of relief took over when I occupied my chair in my room. These bouts for a lone time were common, I am glad I gave in this time. After frisking through a few pages of my Wodehouse, I slept.
“Do you want a sandwich? I am making one.”
“Hey... Food is not allowed inside the Louvre. And don’t disturb me while I am seeing the Mona Lisa”
Hearing this I got up. Rubbing my face vigorously with my hands, I looked around. I was still inside my single-height bunker, not inside the quadruple-height glass dome.
“What’s up? Dreaming again?”
“Yeah... I’ll have the sandwich”, I sighed. “And let's make coffee too.”
As I stood sipping my late morning coffee and looking down, I saw something... The sight was familiar: a girl, about eight-years-old, was standing outside the fence of the garden. Standing on the seventh floor, I couldn’t see her face. Her fringes too clouded over it. She stood with a bent head, with her hands seemingly folded against her chest. The white clouds were suddenly overpowered by dark grey. Within five minutes, I heard ladies screaming, and in another five, the chirpy landscape was rendered barren. All the kids went inside. All the while I stood there as if supervising the chain of events. The rain drops beat loudly against the window, and I pictured tiny feet making their way into my room. The occasional thunder, the strong winds, the jarring noise, enveloped the entire street, and pulled me into the frills of the garment which hovered above those tiny feet. It was a bright evening. The thuds of shoes, shuttlecocks, ping pong balls, basketballs, cricket balls, rocked the air. Chatters, patters, clatters clogged the air.
Unfathomable energy reigned in. Amid all this, blared the sound of the television. It was flickering. The viewer seemed confused. What should she watch at 6 pm? The remote control was now tightly wrapped in her frills, to avoid the fluctuating shrills. One channel continued. The flat had only one TV. Getting the Tamilians to watch a Hindi channel, and the Delhiites to watch a Tamil channel was not an option. What we saw was the mime of Charlie Chaplin. Revisiting the golden, olden times on a Sunday afternoon was the best we could do. Coupled with our urge to clean, and become transient Feng-Shui-ists, the mime was an indulgence. It allowed us to be lazy, and let go, but the mess still remained. We could not move. We just could not miss the visual. The no-dialogue allowed us to have our own dialogue. “Who was that girl? Why she stood like that?”
“Rice is over....”, said Ruhani, my flatmate, as we stood in the kitchen thinking about dinner. I wanted to have another sandwich, but I changed into my tracks and we were out on the road. By virtue of being in the I-block, the farthest one, we had to pass through all three parks to get to the main gate. While Ruhani kept chatting incessantly, my eyes scanned the premises; she was not there. I had expected so. We were now at Reliance Fresh, trying hard to find good vegetables. “I guess the mood of the vegetables is also off today”, said Ruhani. She was a talkative dreamer, but my subtle mood changes hardly escaped her.
“Nothing yaar, just, I saw this girl today....”
“Haah!!! Now I know why you’ve been single all this long”, she retorted, with a winning smile.
“Dude, she’s probably a seven, or eight-year-old kid, who is supposedly new,” I blurted out, without catching my breath. “She seemed to want to play, but she wasn’t.... don’t know why she just stood outside the garden. Was she waiting for someone? Was she scared to go inside? I just don’t know what she was doing outside. I don’t know... It's lame know?... To think so much about...” I sighed, and walked to the beverages section, looking at her disinterest. She did not follow me. Her palm rested flat on her forehead. My words had confused her. I looked for my beverages. “Oh nooo!!!...”, she suddenly screamed from behind. My shoulders quivered. The can of Litchi juice fell from my hand. The cap loosened, and the juice spilt. Heads turned around, while mine turned down. The sweeper came in, and hastily wiped it. I could feel his glare on me. We quickly billed our things, and got out. The security guard did not smile today, while stamping our bill. “She’s new, give her some time, every kid adjusts. Not like us adults...”, she said, when we were far away from the eyes of the guard.
“All kids are not able to....”
Well, it’s not as tragic as it sounds. My restrain was perhaps self-imposed. I had the possibility to open in school, but I had just let it go. From Gurgaon to Ahmedabad, the extrovert had travelled to the introvert. In direct words, I looked upon my new home as an abattoir of my extroversion! Now in Bangalore, the introvert still ruled. It defined me. But I was proud of it, my deep introversion allowed my deep contemplation.
After dinner, me and Ruhani were again out on the streets, this time to escape the acrid odour of prawns that had immersed itself into every air molecule in our apartment; the only contrast being, the constantly moving molecules were now precariously still. The still molecules had ignited our limbs into a frenzy of motion. We rushed out.
The breeze outside was serene, and the street lights dim; it felt like the stage of a grand play. Within a short distance, I saw a middle-aged couple talking to the right-hand man of our society. The wife was smartly dressed in a palazzo and long shirt, and the husband in a regular Polo T-shirt and tracks. The facial features of the wife had a stark Bengali touch, while for the husband, I couldn’t figure out any regional peculiarity. With them stood a little girl holding the woman’s shirt. Her manner was contrasting- her countenance had a confidence, but the frills of her frock appeared lifeless. They seemed hungry for action.
I came out of my reverie, only to find Ruhani ten steps ahead. She was already in conversation.
“Yeah, everything is available here. Its a good society”, I heard her saying.
“But, there is no one here who would play with me”, said an angelic voice in a tone so low, that I made out half of the words by just her lip movement. I remembered sharing similar sentiments to my elderly neighbours, back when I was a new kid in the garden, in a linguistically different state.
“Aree, you’ll get set in no time”, Ruhani said in her broken Punjabi-English, which made me smile. “My friend saw...” “I hope you make a new friend very soon”, I cut in, immediately, and gave Ruhani a look. But she didn’t notice. After a brief conversation, we made our way back ‘home’.
“Chalo, there’s someone to teach me the mishti doi now”, rejoiced Ruhani.
Our usual walk and an impromptu conversation had allowed the prawn odour to be pushed out in full splendour; no trace of a prawn remained, not in the air, nor in the kitchen.
I plugged in my headphones and tried to sleep. While sleep came in a lot later, what set in first were the memories I had tried to compress since the time I set eyes on that girl, the girl whose name I still didn’t know.
A girl, sitting in the living room, as if shackled to a chair, with her mom screaming- “Go out, Ananya, you have your life to read, not your whole life to play.” All those screams had no affect on her. Her eyes stayed glued to the black ink. On certain days when she really felt the need for fresh air, she would play badminton with her parents. But otherwise, she remained shackled.
“Ananya, do you know the meaning of Kal Ho na Ho?”, my flatmate barged in and asked. I heard her through the headphones but pretended to sleep. I had no intentions of entertaining anyone. As the door closed, I was again lost in my mind.
By the time we moved to a friendlier place with more regionally similar people, I had lost my zest to interact and just wanted to drown in my novels. The shackle had become a joy. At times even my grandmother brought me down to the park forcefully, with the only interaction being a facial one, where she acted like a narrator. Today I felt I saw the mirror, for the first time. I wanted to help her, but wondered, what if she was destined to be one of the great thinking introverts of the next generation; helping her then seemed a folly.
The next morning when I woke up, my head felt heavy. My over-thinking had jammed my head, which was usual. The thinking time was over. I sprinted, and was in the office in no time. It was the month’s end, the time of complete hustle-bustle. These were the days I dreaded; boardroom meetings, executives; what I enjoyed was lone time to conceptualize, write and edit.
On the way back home, I skipped my regular coffee and took a cab directly. When you see the mirror after long, you are longed to see it again. I hurried back home and scanned the entire surroundings only to find my mirror missing. Well, I should have expected so. While I stood akimbo under the first floor’s overhang, something fell on top of my head, evenly placed rubber buttons it seemed; it was a television remote. I caught hold of it and felt my right eyebrow raising.
“Oh, no...”, a familiar voice called out, and I looked up to find a similar set of fringes peering down at me. Before I could react, the fringes vanished and in no time, I heard a thumping sound, tiny feet running towards me.
“Thank you, you saved me, and please don’t tell my parents”, she said. When I had dropped the remote, it had landed on the ground with a thud, with the back cover diving into the wet mud. And there was no way I could have hidden it from my parents.
I smiled and gave her the remote with a ‘Not Again’ look.
She turned around to leave. “By the way... it's... 6 pm, you know... You should be out here”, I blurted out.
“Where?”, she retorted. Wow, was she witty or dumb!!! “Here, out here, running and playing”, I replied. “No one plays with me. I don’t know what they talk, they don’t know what I talk.” “I know what you talk, and you seem to know what I talk.” “Yeah, but you look like my aunt’s age..... my young aunt’s age, perhaps.” She saw my lips becoming an ‘O’, and my eyeballs popping out.
“But, I am not your aunt, and I don’t think I look like one too.” Looking at her silence, I realized my victory. Alas! I was almost a generation older, and wiser. “So, what would you like to play?” It was just a six-word question, a question which should have been asked long back, a question on which there were no bets placed, no money to be lost, no one was to win; but then, at that moment, it seemed a million-dollar question, the question of a lifetime, the question of a child, from a childhood, which was now gone, though maybe not forever; the question gave Goosebumps.
“I’ll get my badminton rackets.”
I gave her a thumbs up, and then cast a quick look at my footwear; they were flat, navy-blue rubber crocs; my clothes, well it was the last time I was wearing this pair. I sighed thankfully, and waited for my partner. I could have gone home and changed, but I was scared it might change her mind. I stayed there. The cosmos had planned it all. I looked up at the sky, and smiled.
As the shuttling and hitting started, I felt the mud seeping in to wash my feet, through the small gaps between my skin, and the rubber; I imagined my navy-blue crocs wearing a greyish-brown tint, and I also imagined myself diluting ablutions to sweep it off. I remembered to ask my mother whether to buy Tide or Surf Excel to wash them. My five feet of height seemed to work in our favour, the odds were quite even. A game between a four-feet-eight-inch Madhuri and a five-feet-eight-inch Ananya would have been, difficult!
I could feel the other kids dropping their bats, their rackets, coming out of their hides, just to plot about how to get our rackets, but I didn’t care. I could hear gossiping aunties whisper about their children’s need for a mature friend, but I didn’t care.
I could feel the sun’s sweat shine above this new den, but I didn’t care. I could feel the moon’s zest to shine up earlier than then, but I didn’t care. I could feel, well, a lot other things, but this was the time to focus on the game. And that’s what I did, wishing to welcome this poetic streak again in my reflective solitude later tonight
After about forty minutes we broke off, when she saw a deep violet Honda Civic coming in through the driveway.
“Papa...” She screamed and sprinted towards me, almost snatching the racket away.
“Okay, I’ll go now. Bye”, she said and headed off to meet her father, I hoped, to tell about the new friend she had just made.
(Deepika Srivastava is an Ahmedabad-based writer and arts manager, currently working at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.)