Just A Baby
By Serena Alibhai
Purab was seven years old when he realized two things - he could recognize the pain of others, and he was too small to change things. One evening, when a rumbling in his tummy took precedence over bedtime rules, he drifted to his mother's room. Through the mosquito net, he remembered a dismal vision of his mother, sitting naked on her bed, wearing her night shoes, with his uncle towering over her. It was the last time he saw her weep, because soon after she was gone.
At her funeral, his uncle held his hand like a steel clamp as they made their way to her grave in the rain. Purab's right side became drenched with tears from above since his uncle lopsidedly held the umbrella and his cigarette.
Everyone looked at Purab; especially his father, who stood alone, in the distance, leaning on a tree. Smoke spiralled up like snakes from the incense sticks despite the rain. Men stood as strong as their wives held on to them. His father left halfway through without kissing Purab goodbye. "He's selfish and deserves to die," his uncle explained, watching his brother leave, "your mother didn't love him. She loved me."
After the ceremony, women with plastic bonnets and muddy shoes shook their heads and stared at Purab as if looking into the dying eyes of a run-over dog. Purab tried asking them for things like new runners, or notebooks in the years that followed, but his requests proved fruitless.
By the time Purab turned seventeen he could talk back to his elders and learned how to swear so efficiently, that the words formed daggers mid-air and could incise a gut. According to his new friends, what was illegal paid the most money. The leader of his gang was Parikshit.
"Why don't you rob your uncle?" Parikshit suggested. He took a swig from his bottle of beer.
"Well, he did raise me, after all," Purab said, grabbing a swig for him self.
"He didn't raise you," Parikshit said. He cleaned beneath his fingernails with a jackknife. "You raised yourself – like all of us," he said. He raised his chin to the boys sitting in the outdoor bar. "He only made you worse. I say rob him."
Purab thought about his uncle. Then he thought about how beautiful his mother was.
He was convinced.
They wore black facemasks.
When they crept into the window, Purab's uncle was sleeping peacefully. There was a woman sleeping beside him. Her belly, the size of a watermelon, rose and fell in jerks. On the table was his wallet, a pack of cigarettes, some large condoms, a pocketknife and some slivered betel nuts.
"You were right, he does look like a devil," Parikshit laughed, opening the wallet. "Take a look around if you want," he said. Purab nodded.
Purab wandered into the kitchen. There was a straw basket on the ground, next to a case of beer and a bag of diapers. He poked the white blankets inside the basket and was surprised when he heard a squeak. He moved a blanket to one side. His face softened. He walked back to the bedroom.
"He's still sleeping, can you imagine?" Parikshit said, rummaging for jewellery. The woman awoke. Parikshit pressed his palm over her face.
"You'll kill her," Purab said, "Don't cover her nose. Just the mouth."
Tears ran down the woman's face. Purab's uncle slept. His mouth was open and some saliva dripped down his cheek into his ear. "Your uncle's probably having good dreams," Parikshit said, nodding to the smile on the sleeping man's lips before he headed outside.
Purab said, "Wait for me, brother. I've got to take something that's mine."
"Sure, I'm just going to tape her mouth," said Parikshit.
Purab ran to the kitchen. He lifted the basket, put two bottles of beer inside and met Parikshit outside. The basket made a clinking sound.
"Are you crazy?" Parikshit asked, looking inside the basket with wide eyes.
"Oh, I forgot something that I'll need," Purab said, running into the house. "Stay right here!"
He returned with the bag of diapers, and away they dashed into the night.QLRS Vol. 4 No. 1 Oct 2004