‘Arhhhh!’ his voice shrilled as her fingernails withdrew from his half-dry and freshly scraped skin while ‘you idiot!’ boomed from her parted lips.
‘I hate you!’ he said as his clenched fist raced to her stomach, and as it hit her, she felt devoid and alarmed; her eyes widened and her mouth opened, like it was to utter ‘Ah’ – but somehow the words hung silently in her throat – that’s exactly when she started feeling the pain. And then she felt she was dying.
But before she could feel the real pain building inside her, she clenched her teeth and yelled ‘How dare you!’ to him as her hands rushed to his head and clenched all the hair that could be contained in her tiny fingers, and didn’t withdraw until he started screaming like a madman. And it wasn’t until he started crying when she said, ‘You’re such a girl. Grow up!’ and left him standing there, in the middle of the porch, with half creased shirt, scratches on both his arms, freshly stepped-on black-polished shoes and hair spiked like he just had an electric shock. Tears rolled down his eyes as the pain on his head travelled to his hands and then to his feet. That was it, he decided. He won’t ever talk to her again. ‘Never, never, never!’ He promised to himself as he breathed twice in the middle of a sob.
Two minutes later, she was back with ice cubes and comb. He didn’t even look at her when she combed his hair holding his chin & soothed his wounds with melting ice. It was true that he was upset. But she was angry too. She felt a distant ache in her stomach, his punch still reverberating from her insides. ‘I could’ve died today, you know? You’re not a child now, your punches have started hurting me.’ She said. When he didn’t answer her, pouting, she went inside.
They both slept facing their backs to each other. The next day, at around 6:45 am, he circled around the porch with his untied shoes. He didn’t want to ask her for help but he had no choice. Finally, when he saw that there was no other way out and he was getting late for his school, he went near her side of the bed & tapped her awake. She turned & smiled and without saying anything, bent over & tied his laces. Then she said, ‘You’re old enough to hit me but you can’t tie your own laces?’ & without waiting for an answer, she turned & went back to sleep. At evening they both walked along & carried 10 pennies clenched in their fists – spared from three months savings. A few days ago, they had decided to spend it on ice-creams. So, as she selected her flavor wisely, he hurried past the crowd to get his favorite flavor. When she asked the hawker for a Mango flavor, she saw him already licking the same. She smiled at their similar choices and as they walked back home, she said, ‘Your choice is good but that doesn’t make you less of an idiot.’ Perhaps, last night’s anguish hadn’t escaped them both. So he looked back at her in anger and replied, ‘I hate you!’ ‘Yes, yes, as if everyone loves you. Do you even know we picked you up from a gutter, one night when we were crossing it by! That’s why you’re so dark,’ she said as she slurped through her scoop. ‘I don’t believe it. You’re the one who is dark and now you’re getting fat too! God knows what will come of you when you grow up.’She was busy licking and gulping until the word ‘fat’ hit her ears. She stopped mid-way. That was it. That was the breaking point today. She hit him on his head and asked, ‘What did you call me?’
‘Fat!’ he said. ‘Fat! Fat! Fat!’ and he ran off laughing.
‘Wait!’ she yelled as she ran behind him. ‘Wait, you idiot! I won’t spare you toda-‘ and she stopped with her words half-hung in the air. Her scoop fell on the ground with a thud. Mud encased its yellow-white color. She stood there, staring at the empty cone in her hand as tears started dwelling in her eyes. That’s when she felt a tap on her arm and as she turned, she saw her brother, smiling toothlessly and offering her his mango-flavored ice-cream.