Written by Vasundhara Singh
Thirsty winds floundering about and transporting dust to and fro from one forehead to another. A boy no less sweaty than his friend stands in front of a bookshop naively contemplating the cost of their future. “This is only a hundred and fifty. This is just not enough” complains Shivam. The taller of the two, Amaam explains “I know but we can bargain, stupid. He will listen to us, trust me.” The two jittery teenagers cloddishly stand before the aged shopkeeper and Amaam inquires “Bhaiya? We need to buy the biology book. How much is it for?”
“Are you sure? The bookseller at Rajiv Chowk was selling it for just 200 Rupees.”
“Then, why don’t you buy it from him?”
The wrinkles on the bookseller’s face made way for a smirk.
“Bhaiya? We are students. Please lower the price” pleaded Shivam.
“Fine, the last and final price is 400.”
The smirk returned and the boys retreated backwards.
“Amaam? He isn’t listening to us. What do we do?”
Amaam turned towards the elderly man and asked “Bhaiya, we want to make a deal with you. We can pay for the book in installments. We can start by paying you fifty rupees per week?”
“Do you think this is a bank? Get lost.”
The minutes sprinted in abject casualty while the boys soaking in self-pity stared at the shop. The comrades in youthful boredom fell into a spiral of disappointment and neither of them cared to admit it.
“The man isn’t very kind, don’t be disheartened” said a woman clothed in a purple sari. The two glanced at each other confirming the essence of a miracle.
“Yes, we know. School is starting tomorrow and we need the book” said Shivam.
“Well, how much does the book cost?” the woman asked with a faint smile.
“Four Hundred but we don’t even have half of that” explained Amaam.
“I think I can give you boys some money” said the woman.
“Really? We can pay you back with installments…”
“I know, I already heard that” she retorted with a giggle.
A gaunt figure sitting beside them pervasively interrupted them “You boys listen to me! Don’t take a paisa from this woman. She is impure.” The boys unable to comprehend the vague remark left the man to his judgment but the woman, a stately figure with chestnut hair became unsettled. “What do you know about purity Mister? You hate me because I am not one of you and you know what, I am glad about that” rebutted the woman.
The man, a shrewd figure donning rotten teeth spat at her feet and left before adding another insult to her character “You are a whore. We all know you come from the red light area so, don’t you dare think you are one of us!”
Her hand clutching onto a four hundred rupee note trembled as a tear fought to remain unreleased. “Boys, I only want to help you. If I had gone to school then they won’t spit on me but I didn’t. I am educating my daughter and one day, she will be respected. I want both of you to study hard…”
The stupefied expressions on their faces no longer cared for the money being handed to them. Without a sentiment of hesitation or comment, the woman carefully placed the note in Amaam’s hand and began to walk away.
A moment later, she looked back to say “Will you boys promise me one thing? Don’t become like one of them.”
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