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Aarju Pandey



Kinks of light filtered through the high window. I stirred in my sleep, bothered by the sunlight. It was early. Sunrise. But people were already spilling out into the street. Fog blanketed the city, making it almost unfamiliar. The tintinnabulation of temple bells. The fragrance of roses. The barking of street dogs. The warm smell of curried potatoes. Morning sounds and smells blended with one another, an orchestra.

I sat in my place. The table was laden with potatoes, bread, and rice. Everyone was in frenzy, rushed to reach their own destinations. I took my place. My father had bread and potatoes in one hand and a coat in the other, as he sprinted out the door. My sister walked round and round the table, reciting formulas and passages. My mother made frantic trips to the kitchen and back, asking me again and again if I needed something. I was ironing my crème school uniform and reading a textbook, while gulping down sips of water and helpings of rice.

My sister grabbed her bag and I snatched mine. My mother ran out to the door to say goodbye. My sister and I walked the miles to school. We took each step carefully, avoiding puddles and mud that would stain our pristine uniforms. I didn’t think it was sensible for our school to have all crème uniforms that dirtied so easily.

Around me, women in red saris mingled on the thresholds of temples. The sun had risen, but fog still covered everything. The cool winter air whipped around my bare arms. Shivering, I donned my sweater. I squinted up at the mountains. Tall and brave. They protected me, like the brothers I never had. I felt a leathery hand on my ankle. I screamed and looked down. An old beggar woman had caught hold of my ankle and was asking for money. I reached in my pocket and found a rupee. Usually, we are taught not to give beggars any money, because, once you do so, they will not stop following you. But, this woman was different. She wasn’t a cheat like most beggars. I saw truth in her eyes. I leaned over and very discreetly pressed the money into her open hand, so none of the others would run over and start begging as well. That woman smiled, a bunch of her teeth were missing. I rushed to catch up with my sister, and turned back to have one last look at that old beggar woman.

My sister pointed out other crème figures walking ahead of us. We ran to catch up with our friends. A corner of the gate was visible in the fog. I could see part of the grand sign that read “MAHENDRA BHAWAN SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.” My friends and I entered through the gate, and waited to be called inside. The courtyard was peaceful and quiet. The dull sound of chatter and the chirping of birds were overshadowed by the drunken fog. The bell rang out, piercing the silence. I smiled and stepped inside the warm building.