The Malhotra household reverberated with the sound of the large glass vase crashing in the main hall.
“Abhimanyu!” a shrill scream echoed exactly three seconds after that.
Fifteen minutes later, the glass shards were all cleaned up and eight year old Abhimanyu Malhotra was getting an earful from his mother.
“Did I or did I not warn you to be careful when you play around the house? You have got such a wonderful playground right around the corner and yet you have to be running around the house! Oh Shiva! What am I going to do with this kid? No chocolate cookies for you today!” Abhimanyu’s mother seemed to have made up her mind.
By her side was Abhimanyu’s elder brother Aryan. He looked on at the scene with a disinterested expression. His long shaggy black locks hung carelessly around his handsome face. His tall figure leaned against the side wall where the vase originally stood. Unbeknownst to their mother, Aryan gave a sly nod towards his brother. Abhimanyu understood.
He put out his lower lip into a pout and wobbled it a bit. He tried as hard as he could to make his eyes look molten with tears.
“No cookies?” he asked in his most imploring voice.
“No! Absolutely not!” said their mother, then she looked at him and hesitated. “I mean, maybe one today… But that’s it!” she nodded her head in a finality.
“Just one?! But you yourself said you didn’t like that vase anyway! I only helped you out of your guilt to not like anything that Auntie Manisha- “ he stopped short. Aryan had just shaken his head in a panicked way. Their mother however had completely missed it.
“Now that you mention it… I guess you can have your cookies but next time I won’t be so lenient!” she said and bent down to ruffle the tiny tot’s hair. Then all of a sudden she hugged him. “I was so scared. What if the vase had fallen on you? What if you had been hurt? Who would take care of me then, huh?”
A cough of protest came from her right. She rolled her eyes and stood up.
“Yeah, right. You, Aryan Malhotra would take care of me! Don’t you think for one second that I don’t know who the brain behind this master plan is.” She grinned and extended her hand to ruffle up Aryan’s hair too.
“Oi!” he jerked back. “Not the hair! It took hours to make them look careless!”
Their mother’s lips drew into a thin line. “Right. You have to impress the girrrls, don’t you?” she said in a dead-panned voice. She shook her head and walked away before Aryan could put in any other word of protest.
“Phew! We made it bro!” Aryan threw a fist up in the air.
“Tell me about it! I almost lost my daily quota of chocolate cookies! All because of that dratted vase! Why couldn’t you be caught by her for a change? Why does it have to be always me?” complained Abhimanyu.
“Seriously, you don’t know why?” Abhimanyu shook his head. Aryan put on his News-reader expression. “It is with much embarrassment that I hereby inform you that you have a better lower-lip wobble than me and hence makes me incapable of being the one to be caught.”
“Yeah, right!” Abhimanyu seemed satisfied with the reply. “But it seems… girly” he said ‘girly’ with a look of absolute abhorrence on his face.
“I know but we don’t have any other choice. It is the only thing that acts wonders on her within seconds!” Aryan’s brows creased as he tried to think up of something not that ‘girly’.
The clock on the wall chimed.
“Stinking Satan!” exclaimed Aryan. “I am going to be late for tuition again! OK, see you later in the evening Abhi!” he rushed out, unlocked his cycle and rode as fast as he could to his tuition.
He had been riding his cycle for seven minutes when he reached his favourite road. It was flanked on both the sides with tall trees. The road ‘smelled’ like nature. He let go of the handles, stopped cycling and let inertia play its magic. He opened his arms wide. His hair flew behind him and he didn’t mind. He laughed at the top of his voice. He was sure that this must be how it felt like flying. He envied the birds for their flight. His deepest desires included the wish to fly, no- soar across the lands. Soar free.
He grabbed the handles back again. His tuition class was merely five minutes away now. When he reached the house he saw many other cycles already parked. He was- he checked his watch- fifteen minutes late. He took a deep breathe, put on his most sincere face and entered the class.
All heads turned towards him at once. Mr. Alok, their chemistry teacher had his back towards him. He was busy scribbling elaborate mechanisms of some organic reaction. Aryan took this as an opportunity and took a seat as slyly as he could.
“Aryan Malhotra, can you please tell the class the catalyst used in the Beckmann Rearrangement reaction?”
“Concentrated Sulfuric Acid, Sir”
Mr. Alok turned around. He stared at Aryan for two seconds then turned back to the board. Aryan breathed out an inaudible sigh of relief. He had read about the reaction only yesterday, he knew his answer was correct.
“And that is exactly what I would not hesitate pouring over you the next time you arrive late in the class.” Mr. Alok said, his back still facing Aryan.
“I would take you on your word, Sir.” Aryan replied in a low tone, intended only for his benchmates.
A few girls in the back giggled. Lalit, the guy on Aryan’s right rolled his eyes and muttered, “Here we go. Mr. Aryan Swag Malhotra’s here.”
“Come on Lalit. He is our friend. And we all know you secretly love him.” Said bespectacled Jitendra, on Lalit’s right and gave a wink to Aryan. Aryan smirked back. Lalit made a silent gagging gesture.
“Absolute silence is the prerequisite for good concentration.” Mr. Alok quoted.
“Lalit, listen to him!” Aryan and Jitendra chorused. Mr. Alok gave them both a look of petrifying annoyance. They pretended innocence. However, as soon as his back was turned they both bumped fists and finally started paying attention to what was being taught.
She was standing in the balcony and watching her mother work on the newly dug ground in the gardens. Her mother was planning to plant orchids there. She had heard they needed a lot of maintenance. Her mother had a knack of choosing the most challenging things to do.
“Miss Alexandria?” a maid knocked on the door to the balcony. “Your violin teacher is here.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” Said Alex and turned back to the grounds one last time and saw her mother wipe sweat from her forehead and bend again to work on the ground.