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Dirtscapes

Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Short Story - The Menace

The school bus trundled to a rickety stop at the foot of the building. Wasn’t the best way to travel. But it was convenient. The latchkey kid bid his best friend goodbye, and stepped out. The bus vanished in a cloud of exhaust, noise and loose brown dust.

The kid was home.

Now to negotiate the stretch from the road to the entrance of the building, he thought as he looked around anxiously for her. She was not at her usual spot today. Where could she be? He searched around the slender fruitless tree planted in front of his building. She would usually be sitting there, leaning against the metal cage provided thoughtfully by the Municipality to protect the tree. Sure didn’t look that valuable to him. Number 342 was etched in blood red on its slender trunk and a couple of dirty diapers and a ragged saree were hung on the upper rim of the rusty cage. All her worldly possessions, which she guarded zealously.


The she in question was a nameless, demented lady, who in addition to tending to her own madness, was saddled with a year old kid. She had suddenly appeared in the colony one fine day, and had camped outside their building. The society members had pitied the condition of the kid more than anything else, and had given her shelter underneath a temporary tent put up beside the tree. They also provided food for her and the infant. The only fallout of this generosity was that the kids had been deprived of their playing space. One boy had tried to tease her kid, and was chased away with animal ferocity by the lady. All the kids had ceased to venture anywhere near her from that day on.

But unprovoked, the lady was harmless, save for rare bouts of alternate ranting and laughing.

His attention was distracted by the sound of her kid crying. He looked around for the source of the noise. It was coming just from the steps to the foyer of his building. Her kid was lying unattended. Where the hell could she be? He noticed her squatting in the right most corner, back turned to him, as if to urinate. There was a faint wisp of smoke, accompanied by the stench of burning wood and flesh. He inched closer to see what she was doing, as quietly as he could, and recoiled with horror as soon as he got close enough. She was cooking a dead crow, its feathers lying all around her. She didn’t hear him gasp.

The kid ran up the stairs as hard as he could. Heart pumping, sweat streaming down his sideburns, he fumbled in his pockets for the house keys. He didn’t want to see her coming up the stairs, roast crow leg in hand. The key slid into the trusty old Godrej lock, and the door opened. The kid slammed it shut as quickly as he had opened it.

He then threw off his school bag. Homework could wait. He had to unwind first. Would be a while till his parents came home.

He went to the kitchen and fixed himself a toast tomato jam sandwich. The warm tangy snack made for 10 minutes worth of entertainment. He then picked up the crumbs from his shirt and ate them too. He loved doing that. While his parents were not watching of course.

It was then time for T.V. The channels were full of the same mindless idiocy, news channels included. The kiddie channels didn’t interest him much, because they really insulted his intelligence, populated as they were with condescending adults who over-acted as if there was no tomorrow. If only he could muster a fraction of the enthusiasm that they showed on screen in real life, he thought. Idiots.

It was then time to draw. He picked up his latest set of two-day old sketch pens and fished out his drawing book from underneath his schoolbooks. His desk was far from neat, books were dumped and retrieved on a need basis. Returning library books was a real nightmare for him. A day before the due date meant a frantic search well into the night to find those books, with visions of angry subhuman librarians lusting for his blood.

Materials in hand, he sat down at the table, and thought of stuff to draw.

Sceneries? All done.

Favourite cartoon characters? All done.

Free Hand drawings? All done.

Self composed cartoons? All done.

Pencil sketches? All done.

Irritated, he threw the drawing book away. Drawing was not what he wanted to do today.

He then went back to the kitchen for some more food. He rummaged through the plastic jars and found a bag of potato chips. As he was picking up a fistful, he stumbled against the flour box. The dumb maidservant had placed it right in the doorway. The loose lid rattled as he shoved the box aside with his foot.

He then went to his stash of comic books, and picked one up at random. Dennis The Menace. The dull afternoon air made him lie down on his bed, and start reading. The book had a storyline which went thus - Dennis has nothing better to do than wearing a cowboy suit, Dennis irritates Mr. Wilson, Dennis receives an earful from his father, and Mrs. Wilson and his mother make it all right in the end. “Ohhh Dennis”, everybody said in the end. Even thought it was his zillionth re-read, he still laughed at all the right panels. And slowly drifted into Dennis land.

He got up with an impish grin. He knew exactly what was needed to spice up this drag of a day. He went to his toy box, and rummaged furiously in it. After a great deal of sifting, he found what he was looking for - his water pistol. He rushed to the bathroom, cleaned it, and filled it up.

He walked right up to the flour box in his best cowboy swagger, and retrieved the water pistol from his pocket, which suddenly became his holster.

“Stick yer hands up”, he intoned, at his ominous best.

He kicked open the lid, and fired five times into the flour. He loved it as the water trickled into the flour, the soft squishy sounds of the jets as they hit it. He dug his fingers into the flour, and fired deeper and deeper, until the pistol was empty. He then made his way back to his room, and waited for his parents to arrive. This was going to be fun. Some excitement at last! He couldn’t wait to see them react.

The Overworked Mother alighted from the jam-packed bus. Wasn’t the best way to travel. But it was convenient. She just wanted to get home and get some sleep. The heat, the work and the commuting all made for the perfect excuse to question one’s existence at each step of the way.

Dinner was yet to be prepared. Another round of drudgery before she could finally call it a day. She fervently hoped that the dumb maidservant had got the flour from the mill, since the family was getting increasingly cranky over the absence of chapattis on the table for three days straight.

She let herself in, and saw her kid in the living room. The kid ran up to her and gave her a hug. She kissed him back as she freshened up.

“Did you have something to eat?”, she asked him on the way to the kitchen.

“Yes mummy, I have!” was the answer from the living room.

She started preparing a cup of tea for herself, and tidied up the kitchen platform, as she mentally mapped out the menu for the evening. The chapattis were first. The more the dough was left to stand after kneading, the softer they became.

She opened the lid, and stared at it for a minute. The maid couldn’t have done this. She wouldn’t dare. The mill guy was good at adulteration, but he wouldn’t use water. Which left only one explanation.

She stormed into the living room, and confronted him.

“Why did you have to do this, you miserable brat?! Why?!!!! Don’t I work hard enough the whole day to deserve better? And what I get is this! No respect for what I do…but your expectations never stop do they?!!! How am I to cook now?!” , she screamed, as she slapped him hard, again and again.

“But mummy…I…”, was all the kid could manage. This was not the reaction he had in mind at all. Dennis never got slapped in the book.

Down below, the demented lady shrieked with laughter as she was confronted by the watchman, who had doused out her little barbeque. A little more louder than usual, the kid thought, as the tears streamed down his stinging cheeks.
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