The Missing Two
The playground was full, even as the sun set. Malini could see the boys playing cricket, the grandparents sitting on the benches, the older girls playing badminton. The children called the ground as the golgappa ground, and she saw the chaat carts rolling in. She wished she could play, or go have the chaat, but her mother held her hand tightly and walked her past the ground.
Malini saw Raju and some others playing on the small lawn across the road. Seeing them, he dropped what he was holding, signaled to the others and they walked farther away. She looked at her mother, wondering what would distract her. She was in luck, as her neighbor Rita auntie called, and they began to gossip. She took the chance, and crossed the road quickly and took it from the lawn. She smiled at Raju, and walked back before her mother noticed.
That night, after her mother went to bed, she took the tin box she had hidden away in her desk. Her mother had thrown it away once, but she had snuck it back, careful not to get caught. She opened it, removed the photo from the top and put it into that.
“Looks genuine and I’m sure bhaiyya would have loved it. It’s a collection I’d boast of, but oh no, he had to be modest,” she thought, smiling. It hadn’t been easy to ask Raju in the first place. She was pleased with herself for managing to do it.
Parth had been amazing at it. He’d take aim, and never miss the target. It was his favorite game. and he’d sneak out once in a while to play it. Malini was his lookout then. She adored him, and would do anything for him. It was while he sneaked out one evening that he’d slipped and fell down the stairs. Malini had been at the foot of the stairs, and saw him land at her feet, blood trickling down from his head. She had screamed, but no one was home then, and no one heard her. No one would hear a word from her after that.
Her eyes were wet as she held his photo close to her. Though the night was warm, she was shivering, but she didn’t care.
“For you, bhaiyya, two more green marbles to the nine ninety eight you collected winning goti with Raju every single time,” she thought, as she kept his photo back in the tin box and hid it away.
(15th January 2015)