FAIZAA FARIYA HRIDI
The streets were deserted save a few stragglers yawning and rubbing their eyes. They ignored him and he them. He felt a chill as he walked but it dissipated slowly as he got closer to his destination.
Squawks greeted him. The chickens cried out angrily as they were lifted. He wrinkled his nose, the stench was nauseating. The hawkers however seemed to be immune. Without any sign of distress in their faces, they worked. He couldn't help but feel a flash of admiration for them.
One of the hawkers had noticed him. With a grin stretching from ear to ear, the hawker walked towards him.
“You are here again,” said the man.
“Yes,” he answered simply.
The hawker's grin remained and he beckoned him to the stall. It wasn't really a stall, just a space on which different baskets filled with vegetables were perched. Water glistened on them and by the look of them, they had just arrived.
“You have some good luck,” said the hawker. “You always arrive when the product arrives.”
He smiled again. They both knew luck had nothing to do with it. It was just clever timing.
“What will it be?” asked the hawker, already knowing the answer.
The hawker bent his head and began to put things into the bag. His eyes wandered as the hawker worked and fell on the cage filled with chickens. Most of them were squawking at the top of their lungs and walking around but one stood out. A black-headed cock that sat quietly in the middle and stared at him with a dangerous glint in its eye. The chicken looked like it would like nothing better than to peck him to death. He couldn't help but stare.
“Do you want the chicken?” asked the hawker.
“No thank you,” he answered and taking the bag, turned around and walked until the noises behind him had faded.
The bag was heavy but not too much. He was used to it. Besides he had no one else to do it for him and he had to do it for the person he loved most in the world.
Kids passed him, dressed in their school uniforms. He smiled remembering when he too was like them. His mother waking him up and handing him the tiffin as he straggled out of the house wishing he had more sleep.
His father came to mind but he brushed aside the thought. No sense thinking of the man who had left them for someone else.
He was near his house now. The sun had not yet risen. He made his way up the dark path and opened the door slightly.
“Is that you, dear?” came the soft wavering voice.
“Yes, ma,” He replied. No matter how early he woke, she was there greeting him back when he arrived.
When he entered the house, he saw her lying on the sofa, still in her night clothes, her thin face pale and haggard but the pain visible in her eyes.
He set the bag down and knelt beside her. “How do you feel?” he asked softly.
“The pain is less today,” she answered, smiling wanly.
“Look.” She pointed at the window.
The hues of pink, orange and red had mixed and light filtered in. It was a soft light - not very bright but warm all the same.
“It's dawn,” she murmured.
He nodded. It was the start of a new day.
The writer, 16, is a grade XI student at Playpen School.
She entered the party hall on tiptoes, carefully protecting the box in her hand. Nervously, she looked around, checking the decorations. Things were in place. Pretty and perfect but not like in fairy tales because life demanded reality checks just too often.
With some delicate care, she took out the blueberry cake from the box. It was her first attempt at his favourite flavour. She felt nervous about it but it looked pretty on the outside. Placing it on the table, she looked at a mirror placed in one of the corners of the hallway. She glanced at the reflection to make sure that the puffiness in her eyes was not too prominent. She took out two long strands of hair and let them flow sideways. A little something to distract people from her eyes tonight.
The crowd began to arrive. The hall room started to buzz with young men, all pumped up for the party. Boisterous laughs and exuberance filled the air. There he was, her younger brother. Kiddo was looking good in a tailored suit. He stood in front of her with a big smile. 'I love you, sister. You put this together so wonderfully. I'm sure my friends will appreciate it.' She nodded shyly.
She stood in a corner, feeling out of place as the party livened up and boys got nostalgic over their friendships, batch trips and high school crushes. Her eyes turned towards someone who had slowly walked in and mingled with the crowd. Nobody could tell that it was his farewell party, one last night, before he took off on a plane to some university in a distant country. She quickly moved her eyes. She would not put on a show tonight but he seemed just as unsettled as she did. He got up. And that was the moment. He walked towards her, looking unsure.
'Umm, I think you smell of berries...' he offered, standing dangerously close to her.
'What?' she smiled coyly. 'Maybe, it's my body mist.'
'Have you checked your cuffs?' He chuckled.
She looked down. Her white shirt was tainted with blueberry puree. 'Must have happened in the kitchen. I was just... nervous.'
'About the cake? Oh, that's amazing as always.'
'Nah, nervous about something else.'
She finally dared to let the words free out of the cage. Just then, a party popper exploded somewhere. She stopped short.
'I will miss playing monopoly with you,' she said with a broken smile and left hurriedly.
As she stepped outside the doors, she put her hands on her face and cried her heart out. Did her tears suddenly taste sweet? No, that must be the blueberry puree on her sleeves.
She was scared of irreversible changes. She was scared of falling in love with a boy over several rounds of board games and coffee and every time they were left alone when her brother fell asleep halfway through the long conversations. She was scared of falling in love with a boy she was supposed to look at differently. He was eighteen and she was twenty one, after all. Besides, he was best friends with her younger brother. Some said it was funny and others found it shameful but it wasn't right. That's what everybody agreed upon.
A couple grams of unreturned love in the form of tears blended in with his favourite flavour on her sleeves.