A delirium. Total confusion. It was supposed to be a mellifluous melody gently wafting in, ever so slowly nudging one awake from the slumber. Instead, it was a barrage of high energy noise – albeit in rhythm, like the crescendo of a power ballad. Each beat felt like a pummelling by a pugilist. After a couple of failed attempts to cut out the cacophony by pulling the sheets over his head, Aravind sat up and rubbed his bleary eyes. Instinctively, he took his mobile and checked the time. 7:45 a.m. – still fifteen minutes to his third alarm.
Looking across the room, he was surprised to find that Armaan, his room-mate, had already woke up and was busy getting ready. Quite uncharacteristic of him to be up so early, thought Aravind. He got up and reduced the volume of the blaring heavy metal music. The gesture caught Armaan’s attention, who was trying hard to preen his unruly hair while headbanging at the same time.
“Oh! Hey dude! You’re up?” asked Armaan and went back to the acrobatics with his head.
He was clearly not expecting an answer.
“Going somewhere?” asked Aravind.
“Yeah! A date, buddy. I am taking her out for lunch today.” Armaan’s face was beaming as he said this.
“Oh! That’s great.” said Aravind, as he put on his glasses and picked up the newspaper which was lying on the table. As he was skimming through the contents, Aravind found his mind wandering away. Something seemed amiss. The date on the newspaper seemed oddly familiar, as if he had taken some effort to remember it some time back. Frustrated that his Saturday morning was off to a dull start, he folded the paper and threw it back on the table. Then, he remembered. The charity.
Turning to Armaan, he asked, “You were supposed to go to the Chaithram charities today, weren’t you?”
The change in Armaan’s face and demeanour were quite distinctive. “That..I postponed., ” he replied.
“Postponed? What about the lunch you were about to sponsor there today?” asked Aravind.
“I’ll do that next week, yaar.”
“What? I thought you atleast might have donated the amount for the lunch to them!” exclaimed Aravind.
“It’s the month end, Aravind. You know how tight it can be. Also, it is the first time Sunaina has agreed to go out with me. I didn’t want to miss this chance.” said Armaan, his head directed towards the walls and ceilings, and his eyes taking furtive glances at Aravind.
“Not cool, dude. You shouldn’t have told them about sponsoring lunch if you weren’t planning to.”
“I really was planning to, buddy. But this came up out of the blue. And you know what they say about taking opportunities, don’t you?,” asked Armaan and attempted a laughter at his own joke.
Aravind was not amused. He was visibly disturbed and Armaan could see it in his face. He said, “Oh, come one, now! It is not as if they are waiting for me to show up to feed the children! They are a charity, they should be dealing with things like this.”
“Notifying them was common courtesy.” said Aravind.
“Oh well! Anyway, see you later. Bye.”
*** *** *** ***
It was quite an unusual Saturday. It seemed the whole city was bustling with activity. The clear skies probably prompted people to come out rather than coil up in comfy chairs within four walls. The city was milling with crowd and reverberated with noise of all kinds. One place however was bustling with a different kind of activity. The plain utilitarian building of Chaithram charities stood like a misfit in the city outskirts, in midst of coconut palm grooves, and surrounded by small to medium sized buildings. A bevy of children belonging to various age groups were playing and having fun in the front compound of the building. There was not a single face devoid of joy, except for two people who were sitting on the front corridor.
“Any information yet?” asked Prabha.
“No. His phone seems switched off.” replied Thanvi, her voice reflecting the tension in her mind.
“What about the catering people?”
“They called. Said they will reach half an hour before noon and set everything up.”
“So have you thought of any alternative?,” asked Prabha.
Thanvi’s mind was conjuring up all sorts of eventualities. Few weeks ago, she was overcome with joy when someone agreed to sponsor the lunch for the children at the orphanage. It was a first for their charity, and Thanvi was beyond herself. She had taken it as a confirmation that the little bit which she and her friend Prabha were trying to do for the children of the locality was getting noticed. With proper funding, they would be able to afford better facilities at the organization. And maybe, make it a little more structured and organized. Right now, they lacked the discipline and experience to handle an organization like this. But some lessons are better learned the hard way, as she would find out shortly.
“Huh? What?” exclaimed Thanvi, waking up from her reverie.
“How are we going to pay the catering people if the sponsor doesn’t turn up?” asked Prabha, the concern in her voice apparent.
“I..I have a little in my savings which I can salvage. I was thinking of it as the backup plan.”
“I have some money too. Let us hope that it adds up.”
“Okay, looks like we could make it this time around. So cheer up girl!” said Prabha, forcing a smile herself.
“Yes, but Prabha, that money.. I had saved that to buy clothes for the children from Shantha di.”
“Oh! Is she coming today?”
“Yes, she had told me last month that she can arrange for the clothes today.”
“I guess we’ll have to tell her to wait till next week, till this month is over.”
Thanvi sat there, contemplating. “I think we’ll have to do that,” she said after a couple of minutes.
“Good! Then let’s cheer ourselves up shall we? We’ll let the children have a great time.” said Prabha.
“Right. But next time, we’ll plan it better.” said Thanvi.
*** *** *** ***
Naveen enjoyed spending time by the backwaters. He enjoyed lying down on the small peninsular coconut groove and gazing up at the sky. He could spent whole day like that. But not today. Today he had to be at home, tending to his sick father. It was almost noon. His mother should be back now. He’ll probably get something to eat then. The concept of a full meal had escaped his mind long ago. Whatever his mother earned, was barely enough for his father’s medicines. After taking care that his father had taken the pills, he went and sat on the verandah, waiting for his mother.
Time crawled by and the pangs of hunger urged Naveen to get some shut-eye. He was woken up by a commotion. He was disoriented, and it took a moment for him to identify that the noise came from inside his house. Running inside, he found his mother crying desperately beside his father’s bed. His father was breathing heavily, each breath causing him to strain considerably.
“Amma.. what happened?” asked Naveen.
Shantha was herself in a state of utter despair and helplessness, and in between her spasmodic crying was able to relate to her son that his father required his medicine urgently, and that she had no money left with her to buy it.
Without a question or a glance back, Naveen darted out like a bullet. He had to save his father. He needed money.
*** *** *** ***
The city police station was a newly renovated building, with a grandiose look designed to make it look more inviting to the general public. Inside, on one of the benches sat Armaan. His hair was dishevelled and clothes untidy. He was sitting with his head drooped over. His mind was a stark contrast though, playing and replaying the incidents of the past few hours in his head. Armaan had been waiting here for sometime now. He had come to register a case. Somebody had picked his pocket earlier in the day. Inspite of the bustling crowd, Armaan had clearly seen the short, dark, lithe body of a boy, darting off with his wallet. But by the time Armaan had cut and weaved through the crowd, he was nowhere to be seen. However, what came as a bigger blow to him was that Sunaina had left without a word.
Adding to Armaan’s confusion, the inspector at the police station had told him to wait till the ACP came. He was perplexed at this suggestion, but obeyed it nevertheless. Being lost in all these spaghetti of thoughts, he did not see the ACP arrive and enter his office. A minute later, he was summoned in to the ACP’s office. Armaan felt something awry as soon as he entered the room.
“Are you Armaan?” asked the ACP in a gruff voice.
“Yes..yes sir.” replied Armaan. It surprised him that the ACP knew his name. He was expecting him to ask something about the wallet. But it struck him odd that an ACP would trouble with this when there were others on duty. There was an awkward silence in the room. A couple of minutes went by and the silence became too much for Armaan to bear.
“Sir, ” he said, ” I came here…”
“Enough!”, shouted the ACP, jumping up from his chair and banging on his desk with his fist.
Whatever words Armaan had mouthed came out in all but little squeals. The officer towered over him and said in his gruff voice, “Stay away from my daughter. Do you understand?”
“Y..yes..yes” cried Armaan.
“Good. Now off you go!” said the ACP, straightening out Armaan’s collars.
No sooner had the ACP turned his back than Armaan shot out of the station and ran. He slowed to a walking pace once he was outside the station. It took a few moments to really understand what had transpired. As the realization finally dawned on him, he found it too overbearing. He trudged along and sat down on one of the empty waiting sheds by the side of the road. His eyes welled up with tears and he was trying hard not to cry.
Just then, he felt a slight tap on his arms. He looked down and saw a little kid, staring up at him. The child looked dirty overall, but the expression on his face was one of serene happiness.
“Uncle, why are you sad? Are you hungry?” asked the child.
Armaan just gazed at the kid, unable to give a reply. The child placed on of the many packets of bread he was carrying on Armaan’s lap and said, “Take this uncle. Don’t be sad.” He then ran of to join his mother and other siblings who had walked ahead.
Still unable to comprehend the happenings, Armaan took the packet of bread from his lap. His resolve of not crying gave way and he broke in to tears when he saw a small card attached to the packet which read Chaithram charities.
This is a work of fiction, and all the characters and names used in this story are fictitious. This was written for the Write Tribe Wednesday prompt. The prompt was “It’s a small world” by Shilpa Garg.
[Image courtesy: Original image of the hand courtesy of Stuart Whitmore.]
[Image courtesy: Original image of the newspaper courtesy of caprisco.]
[Image courtesy: Original image of the broken piggy bank courtesy of mconnors.]
[Image courtesy: Original image of the pills courtesy of Dodgerton Skillhause.]