“Hold the bags”, Rachna told him.
Amit was holding a cigarette in one hand and his car keys in the other.
He took the bag from Rachna while she opened the door to their home.
The house was in an up-market residential area and had a small lawn at the entrance. The couple had moved in here after Amit got his new job.
Rachna laid the bags on the open kitchen’s platform. Amit picked up the day’s mail and called out to Dai ma.
Dai ma was a middle aged lady who lived in the outhouse which was in one corner of the backyard of the house. She had an 8 year old son Raju who lived with her in the outhouse.
Dai ma got tea for Amit as he glanced through the day’s headlines.
“Shiv is coming today for dinner. He is in town”
“What? Why does he keep visiting us so often?”, Amit frowned.
“Come on, he was my best friend in college”
“Yeah, he was indeed your ‘best’ friend”, Amit laid out some sarcasm as he read the Happy Diwali Offer advertisement and sipped on his tea.
Dai Ma asked Rachna for some crackers for Raju on the eve of Diwali.
“I will get them, since Rachna madam is going to be busy with a friend of hers”, Amit said stoically with his eyes fixed on the news.
“Come on, he was your good friend too, wasn’t he?”, Rachna cosied up to Amit and sipped on his tea and gave him a silly smile.
“Sure he was. Used to hang around with you more though. Anyway, I think since he is coming we will have to get some liquor as well. And yes, I will buy the crackers for Raju.”
“Come to think of it, we haven’t bursted crackers since the time grand dad passed away three years ago”.
“Yeah, we haven’t. I think I will make Raju’s day. We’ll burst crackers with him”, Amit said and proceeded towards the main door.
Rachna started preparing dinner while Dai Ma got down to cutting vegetables and cleaning up the kitchen floor.
Raju went to a nearby school and Amit paid for his education. Rachna and Amit took good care of the maid and his son. They treated them as family.
Amit returned home with a bagful of crackers and with Raju following him with a gleeful face. Raju was wearing brown shorts, which were made after altering to a large extent Amit’s old college trousers. His shirt was half-sleeved and he wore a black thread around his neck.
Dai Ma looked at his son and felt proud. Proud that she was able to give him a decent education and a good place to stay.
Amit lit another cigarette as Raju took the bag of crackers to the backyard.
“So, when is your darling friend coming?”
“He must be here any moment. You know him, always late”.
“He isn’t late when he has to meet you”
“Will you cut it out please? He is going to be here and you would do well if you behaved a little more civil than that”, Rachna frowned and wiped the batter from her hands on her apron.
Within minutes, the door bell rang. Amit opened the door and Shiv was standing on the door mat with a bunch of flowers in his hand.
“Your friend is here”, Amit screamed to the kitchen.
Rachna came out of the kitchen as Shiv and Amit hugged each other and Amit led him to the living room.
“Hey baby, you looking as beautiful as ever”, Shiv said as he gave her the flowers.
“And you haven’t changed one bit I must say”, Rachna smiled.
Amit lit a cigarette and switched on the television. Cricket was a solace in times like these.
Time passed by and the conversations between Rachna and Shiv could have put Britannica to shame in terms of volume.
“And remember our date? Dinner at that small little restaurant”, Shiv chuckled.
Amit looked at Rachna with a raised eyebrow. He had heard this before a million times.
Rachna ignored Amit and continued giggling with her friend.
The wine bottle came out and all three raised a toast on the eve of Diwali.
“I think I will go out and burst crackers with Raju”. Amit left the living room.
Rachna and Shiv continued talking about their college years. Amit could no longer stand her best friend.
Raju was sitting alone counting the number of flower pots in the small box.
Amit smiled and got the matchbox and incense sticks ready. Within half an hour they ran out of crackers.
Amit returned back to the living room to find that the conversation was on the same old plane – Their numerous dinners, their drives and so on. Sometimes Amit wondered as to why Rachna hadn’t got married off to Shiv in the first place. Atleast he wouldn’t have had to go through this torture.
Brushing the thought aside, the only way he could quell his anger was by burning a cigarette. He lit his cigarette, tried to make his presence felt and then went back to the backyard.
Raju was sitting alone, this time counting the number of burnt sparklers lying in the corner. Amit called him and asked him to go join the boys on the street. Atleast that way Raju would have a better time.
As Raju started hopping towards the main door, Amit called him back and gave him a 500 rupee note.
“Go buy whatever you want”.
As soon as he gave the money to Raju, Amit didn’t feel good about it. He knew that he hadn’t given Raju the 500 rupees out of genuine care. It was more out of anger towards his wife and her best friend. The little child ofcourse had no such idea and that made the feeling worse.
Raju pocketed the money and ran towards the street. However, the boys had finished bursting their crackers and instead were now collecting paper and making small fires.
“Do you have any paper with you? We are making a fire here. A big fire.”, one of the boys asked Raju.
Raju looked at the fire burning the wooden twigs and bits of paper. He removed his 500 rupee note and threw it into the fire. That was the only contribution he had.
The 500 rupee note immediately started curling itself up as if it was trying to protect the face printed on it. Before the note could curl itself completely, the printed face was burnt to ashes.
“Happy Diwali” screamed the boys and Raju joined the little dance around the fire.
Amit lit another cigarette as Shiv bid his goodbyes.
“Happy Diwali”, said Amit looking straight into the distance.
“Happy Diwali”, said Rachna as she smiled and put her arms around Amit.
As Amit and Rachna stood at the doorway watching Raju dance, they realised that most of the lights in their home were switched off.
The small fire on the street created a faint glow on their faces.
Life continued to make its journey through myriad emotions and moments.
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