“I’ll tell my father”, she threatened, fighting her tears.
“My father is stronger than your father”, he declared, as a crowd of boys cheered him.
Adi knew he was in trouble but it was too late to turn back. Too many people had seen it and he had a reputation to maintain. Minutes later, he told the boys he was going to the toilet and went to find Ridhi. She sat in the corner of their class, looking down at her lunch. She didn’t notice Adi walk in. He patted her on the shoulder and handed her a half-eaten bar of Dairymilk.
“Sorry. Don’t tell my mother”. He said, as he turned around to leave. “I will definitely tell her”, Ridhi called out behind him. It was Adi’s turn to cry. He turned around and begged. “Please Ridhi, I wont do it again”. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “I’ll buy you Dairymilk tomorrow. Just don’t tell her today”.
Just then, the bell rang. Adi immediately stood up straight and wiped his tears. He walked away without another word. The children swarmed into the class. Adi made his way to the last bench, sat down and perched his legs on the table. Ridhi watched as the other boys fought to sit next to him. She looked at his tear stained cheeks and sighed. If only they knew better.
“Im going to try harder” Riya told herself.
A candle lit dinner greeted him at the door. Their first meal together in months. She’d made his favourite. They sat at the table and opened a bottle of wine. She watched him devour his food with boyish urgency. It made her smile. She realised that it was his carefree, youthful, free-spirited ways that she fell for in the first place. She loved him. She would learn to compromise.
She did the dishes while he showered. He was asleep when she went to their room. The sound of his soft, rhythmic snores sparking sudden, deep affection for him. She climbed into bed and got under the covers.
And then she heard it. She sat up. He had left the tap open. Again. The drops hitting the sink, louder with every second. Drip, drip, drip, echoing in her head, through the closed bathroom door. She tossed and turned in bed. Until, she clenched her fists and took a deep breath.
The next morning, Rahul woke up alone in bed.
“Uncle! Uncle! Strawberry! Kala Ghatta!”
Babu had run his gola stall at the Mela every Sunday for 40 years. Sandwiched between the bangle stall and the balloon stall, his little corner was a beautiful burst of colour. The children would flock towards it in dozens. Standing on their toes, waving 10 rupee notes in the air, watching with widened eyes as Babu dipped the crushed ice in his vibrant colours. To them, Babu was a wizard.
It was evening before he knew it. The stalls started packing up. The crowd was shrinking and the sun was fading into the night.
He grabbed this opportunity to reach in his pocket and read the telegram he’d received this afternoon again. “Maya delivered this morning. Healthy baby girl. Will visit soon”.
He beamed as he started packing up. Just then, a little girl ran up to him. “Uncle red colour!” Her father caught up with her a minute later and handed him a 10 rupee note.
“No charge today, sir”
Today, twinkling eyes, sticky fingers and Popsicle stained lips were enough.
The smell of first rains. Jayanti Aunty stopped her work to look out of the window. In less than a minute, an army of little boys in their vests and underwear ran to the street, squealing with delight as the cold rain hit their bodies.
Jayanti aunty felt a deep, primal desire to go down and feel the rain. She fought it for a long time, until she found herself racing down the stairs of the building. She stood in the corner and hesitantly walked onto the street. The rain hugged her. She closed her eyes, the rain healing her with every drop.
The boys looked at her, confused. Ever since uncle passed away, Jayanti Aunty hardly spoke. She would wear crisp white sarees and step out of the house only to go to the temple or grocery store. One brave little boy went up to her and jumped straight into the puddle beside her. She snapped out of her trance, and looked at him. She found herself laughing. She ran after him, as the boys cheered and laughed. They played till the rain was reduced to a drizzle.
That day, Jayanti aunty looked beautiful. The stains of muddy water adding a vibrant hue to her white saree.
That evening, it rained in Mumbai.
Two 4th graders shared an umbrella as they walked back home from school. A young girl sat in her parent’s house, hearing the drip, drip, drip of raindrops against her window sill and wondered if she should call her husband. A widow threw away her white sarees and dug out the ones she’d locked away more than a decade back. A young grandfather packed up his Gola stall, indifferent to the rain, and wondered if his granddaughter had his eyes.
And the rain, it continued to pour.