The afternoon sun beat down as Didi squinted up at the mango tree.
“I got it,” Rinku said as she managed to pluck the fat green one. Shall I get that other one?”
“No! Come on down now…they’ll wake up.”
“Did you get the salt and chilly powder?”
“Yes – in my pocket.”
“Where is my book?”
They lay down on the floor in the dark room. The wooden windows shut out the afternoon sun and the ventilators had been closed tight by pulling on the long ropes that were tied on the little hooks on the wall. The room had been cooled earlier by sprinkling it with water and now with the two overhead ceiling fans whirring at their best speed. They were all set.
The library books, the sour, tender green mango now sliced into thin long slivers and the salt and chilly powder with a touch of the oil from Mummy’s pickle bottle lay between them. Suddenly Rinku realised Didi had disappeared and it seemed like ages before she came back. Something was wrong. She looked up at her.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What? How? Did you get hurt?”
“No…I don’t know”
“You didn’t even climb the tree.”
“Yeah…and it doesn’t even hurt.”
“So what did you do?”
“I used some cotton.”
“Maybe you’ll die.”
For some reason the thought was hilarious and they rolled on the floor with mirth.
The laughter of the two children sounded loud in the sultry afternoon silence. Achacha and Ammamma frowned at the other end of the veranda as they sat folding their betel leaves. A crow called out and the bus trundled along on the road blowing its cracked horn.
Later that day Dad called out, “Kiran, Rinku, come here!”
The girls looked at each other – now what had we done? “Yes, Daddy,” they chorused.
“What is this? Ammamma says you were laughing and making fun of her and Achachcha today? Go, touch their feet and apologise immediately.”
They bent low and touched the feet of the grandparents.
“Ok, don’t do it again, ok?”
‘Don’t do what?’ she wanted to scream – ‘what were we doing?’
Late that night, as she lay on the charpoy in the courtyard, under the clear starry night-sky, Rinku wondered again what was taking Didi so long.
Finally Didi came and slipped into bed beside her. She seemed strangely excited about something.
“Do you know how babies are born? Phulmina just told me.”
Phulmina was the tribal lady who looked after the house and did the cleaning and cooking.
“Yes, I know.”
“Well, when the baby is ready to come out the mother screams and faints. And when she wakes up the baby is lying next to her.”
“Stupid! That’s in fairy tales. I know how they are born.”
“Who told you?”
“Phulmina. Mummy told her to tell me.”
Didi whispered in her ears and she listened stunned.
“No! You are making it up.”
“I promise. She told me. You can ask her tomorrow.”
“Yew! I will never, never have a baby! Never! Yew! Yew! Yew!”
The two sisters laughed and chatted and slowly fell asleep.
The stars looked down at them, twinkling in the clear night.