This is something I penned for a short story writing competition some years back. The topic/prompt was Tears. It seems rather amateurish to me now, but I figured I’ll post it anyway.
He saw her almost every day.
Not all of her of course. Now an outstretched hand with the blood red bangles, now a glimpse of the blue dupatta that waved at him in the wind. Sometimes the mere tinkling of her anklets as she ran down the street would suffice.
Every day as he walked home in the evening, he would linger there, right between the paanwala’s den and the cheap dhaba that sold much sought-after fly-ridden chaat , waiting till she appeared. And on some days she would not, even after he sacrificed three rupees on the dirty snacks as an excuse.
It was on a day such as this that he finally decided to venture into the dark alley that he knew only as her home. But a few wary steps later, his courage gave out. He was just about to turn around when –
It was with a start that he located the voice. There she was, peering from a doorway. She of the blood red bangles and the blue dupatta. He noticed she had pretty eyes as she smiled.
“Hey you”, she repeated. “What are you doing here?”
He hesitated. Took a deep breath.
“Hi, I am Rahul. Can I be friends with you?”
She laughed, a tinkling sweeter than that of her anklets. The friendliness in her eyes gave way to curiosity.
“Why do you want to be friends with me?” she asked
“Well”, he began in a matter-of-fact tone,”I don’t have anyone my age where I live, and I see you every day on my way back from school, so I thought maybe you can be my friend”
“Hmm..”, she said, considering the offer.”How old are you?”
“Turning 10 this summer”, he replied proudly.
“Then I’m afraid I’m a bit older than you”, she reasoned.
“Oh that’s okay”, he said. “I really like you, so I can make an exception.”
“I guess we are friends then”, she smiled again.
Rahul beamed. He was finally talking to.. wait –
“What’s your name?”
It was her turn to hesitate.
“Ch.. Charu”, she said, looking away.
He seemed pleased with the name.
“So what class are you in?”, he asked
“Oh, I don’t go to school”, she replied with a twinkle in her eye. “You see, I’m a princess”
His eyes grew wide. “A princess??”
“Yes, a princess. I live here because I don’t want my enemies to find me”
The skeptic in Rahul spoke next. “Princesses don’t wear glass bangles, they wear golden ones!”
“I don’t wear them because that will give away my identity, idiot!”
Rahul had to admit she had a point.
“Okay then, tell me more!”
And she did. She told him of the armed guards who protected her and the old maids who waited on her. Of the snowy white bed she slept on. Of the delicious sweets she had. Of the golden plates and silver forks. Of the chandelier that sparkled at night. On and on, as the twilight set in, and the twinkle in her eyes grew brighter.
As enraptured as he was, Rahul had to admit he was getting late. He left with a solemn good bye and a happy promise to be back the next day. As she watched him walk away, she saw the snowy bed in her head. So much as a wrinkle and the Lady would hit her hard. The amazing sweets. Pinching off a crumb had the cook try to wrench her skin off. The cutlery. If they weren’t done just right, she could go without food for a day.
Of course, all this was way back. They would not keep her once she came of age. Now she was no longer a maid, but –
Startled, she came out of the reverie. The twilight had darkened and she was needed. Those big men with betel-stained teeth and sweaty odour always wanted her. Her innocence, they believed, would wash away their sins. Her body had long grown numb to their hungry touch, but somewhere inside her, a child still dwelled.
Which is why, as she crossed the threshold into where shadows alone lurked, the twinkle in her eyes fell away and dropped down her cheeks.