I walked out of the gate, whistling ‘Yesterday’, one of my favourite Beatles’ songs, with the week’s pocket money tucked snugly into my front pocket. I could feel the crisp 50 rupee note rustling as I walked, filling my mind with the endless possibilities it offered. The money usually went into watching the latest movie at Geetanjali theatre, 2 kilometres away (even if it was an infamous tear- jerker,) a practice my strict, God-fearing, vegetarianism – endorsing parents disliked. But my siblings- Nitin, Nita and I used to slip out (sometimes at different timings to avoid suspicion), and meet at the theatre, revelling in the triumph of having outwitted our parents.
But today was different. Nitin had been strangely reluctant. “It’s Sarkar Raj,” I had screamed. “Aishwarya rai, Abhishek Bacchan and all. They are even married now.”
“So?” he had casually remarked. “Big deal. Look, I’m not a kid anymore. You go with Nita.”
But Nita, I discovered, had already spent her money. “So soon?” I had asked her, curiously. “On what?” “Don’t pry. Get lost,” she had snapped and had gone back to combing her hair.
So here I was, walking down the road, with butterscotch ice-cream scoops, a Beatles’ CD and the book I had been wanting to read, ‘To kill a mockingbird’, all dangling tantalizingly in front of me. After a few moments of pleasant day dreaming, I decided to go with the book. I cupped my hand and held it above my eyes and scouted the area for a road-side book seller who would sell it to me for 50 rupees or less.
I saw one in the distance and quickened my pace. The smell of fried chicken wafted towards my nostrils and I wrinkled my nose at the unfamiliar smell.
He crouched behind the table, willing himself to look as inconspicuous as possible. But, of course, I could see him. He tried to finish the tandoori chicken by stuffing large pieces of it into his mouth. Too late. I had seen him.
“No a kid anymore, eh?”
“Err, Listen,” he said urgently. “Don’t tell Mom, ok?”
“Well, it depends,” I replied, observing my nails.
“Oh, alright. I only have 15 rupees with me right now.”
“Will do,” I replied, annoyingly calm.
“Here. Take it and get lost.”
“Funny. Nita said the same thing to me earlier this morning,” I said and waved goodbye.
“Hmm. 65 rupees. Maybe if I haggle… I walked on, lost in my dreams again.
Meanwhile, Nitin had had his fill and was walking home while he spotted Nita at a little distance.
She started walking faster, her hand bag swinging as she walked.
Nitin caught up with her. “Hey.”
“Why’s your hand in a bandage?”
“Oh, I hurt my hand this morning.”
“When? I saw you all morning.”
“Oh, I hurt it when you weren’t spying on me, stupid.”
Nitin looked around. He had noticed Nita becoming snappy whenever she had something to hide. He noticed a tattoo parlour a few feet away. Putting two and two together, he pointed and said, “You got a tattoo!” he laughed. Mom will have a fit when she sees it.
“She is not going to. I am going to wear a wrist band to cover it all the while when I am at home.
“I never talked about her seeing it, you know.”
“Okay, okay. Here’s the money. Now keep your mouth shut.”
“You can’t hide it forever, silly.”
“Oh, get lost.”
Back at home, blissfully unaware of the kids’ doings and consecutive dealings, Mom had gone about her daily work. Finding her husband nowhere, she went in search of him.
“Oh, there you are,” she said spotting him in the garage.
Dad smiled, a little too widely. “Nice weather, right?” he said, waving his hands around him. “It’s such a great day,” he said, practically flapping his arms now. But the tell-tale cigarette smoke cannot be sent away so easily.
“You’ve begun smoking again? Disgusting. I thought you had stopped.”
“I never stopped. It’s only a cigarette a day.”
“Look, I gave up on trying to get rid of your stupid habit a long while ago. But the kids might feel encouraged. Especially after what Nitin…”
“Fine, fine. We’ll talk about this later. I’ve to go right now.”
Nita walked on. Her hand hurt a little but she did not mind. It was a tiny butterfly tattoo and was not visible unless someone held her hand to their eye. She consoled herself thus and decided to peer into the amazing clothes’ shop that she could spend hours in, even if she did not buy as much as a handkerchief. Walking in, she called out, surprised. “Mom! I thought you were at work.”
Mom looked guiltily at Nita. Nita would not have given it a second thought if she had not noticed Mom look ill at ease.
“You finally bought that sari you had been eyeing for so long. Dad gave in, eh?”
“You didn’t tell him! He’ll totally freak out when he gets to know.”
“He won’t know until the wedding this weekend. And once I’ve worn it, he can’t convince me to return it. Hold your tongue till this weekend, ok?”
“Well, I need an incentive!” Nita said, mischievously.
“Oh. No bribery, dear. And even if he gets to know, I doubt if it’ll be a problem. Actually, you can go bribe Dad if you wish. I caught him smoking again yesterday”
“What? I thought he quit.”
“Well, obviously, he hasn’t”
“I have to get back home, then.”
“That was a good deal,” I told myself and placed the book on my table. I went to get a packet of potato chips from the kitchen, a must-have for me whenever I caught hold of a book.
“Hey, why are you removing the bandage? Why is it there in the first place?”
“Oh, that’s just a scratch.”
Again, it was too late. My sharp eyes had noticed the tattoo.
“Ah hah! A tattoo!”
“Go away, you twerp.”
“Not so soon, dear sis, not so soon,” I replied dramatically.
“I have no money, ok? But I know who you can get money from.”
“Dad. He was smoking again today.”
“Hmm, you think that he is bothered about anybody getting to know that? Come on…”
“Yeah. Ever since he caught Nitin with one of his cigarettes, he’s pretended to quit.”
“Nitin doesn’t smoke, does he?”
“Na, hates it. I think he just thought it looked cool or something.”
“Anyway, off I go to find Dad. See you.”
Dad lay back in the easy-chair, switching channels, hoping a watch-able channel would miraculously appear.
“Hey. Spent your pocket money?”
“Yup. Bought a book. You know, Nitin was asking the other day about the brand of cigarettes you usually buy.”
Dad shifted uneasily in his seat. “Did you tell him I quit?”
“I did. But Mom tells me you haven’t. Now, give me one reason I shouldn’t tell him that?”
Dad laughed. “You’re trying to bribe me?”
“Hmm, it’s not going to work on me. But I can tell you someone you can bribe this way.”
“Hm, deal. Who?” I leaned in and Dad whispered it to me. I straightened, a big grin making its way to my lips.