Story Corner

The Two Feet Stranger

Tasfia Tasneem Rafa

I breathe in the smell of freshly baked rice cakes. The sweet flavour of crisp brown coconut peeking from fluffy ivory pithas make my mouth wet from anticipation. I tightly wrap my fingers around the newspaper packet which holds these delicious goodness. My stomach is somersaulting out of excitement and my heart is at peace. My semester just ended. It’s the beginning of vacation. The winter night is chilly and buzzless. I’m having rice cakes with my friends. It’s all a recipe for happiness. I am about to bit my eager teeth onto the rice cakes; dip into its creaminess; when suddenly, there’s a tug at my kameez from beneath. I look down, quite annoyed at this uninvited interruption between me and my meal. My eyes befall a tiny creature with a yellow balloon in his hand.

“Go away,” I tell him. “I don’t have any money to give you.”

I go back to my rice cakes.

He tugs again. “Apu,” he addresses me softly, “Can you please lend me your phone? I lost my mother. Can I please make a call to her, Apu?”

I narrow my eyes in suspicion at this curious creature. On closer inspection, he does not look like he’s a beggar. He’s wearing a checkered blue shirt and a black trouser, both of which are quite ill fitting on him. His tiny feet is supported by neon green sneakers which are glimmering with small bright lights in alternate shades of red, blue and pink.

He’s looking at me with dilated black pupils and my inner subconscious is making it quite difficult to ignore this poor boy on this winter night.

I try to sweep off my thoughts of how this boy is secretly managed by a gang of five well trained women who pretend to be beggars but in actuality belong to a circle of cunning and fraudulent dacoits who trap innocent rice cake lovers on star sprinkled nights. I begin reaching for my phone from my purse.

The corners of his mouth curl into a relieved smile. I hand my beloved rice cakes to my friend while I ask him for his mother’s number because who is foolish enough to hand over her phone to a 2 feet 1 inch toad when she could dial the number herself?

I kneel down to his height so that it’s easier for him to narrate and check if the number is correct. He recalls the number from his memory quite easily and I type it up.

The call rings for 30 seconds. No answer. I dial it again. No answer.

Now I am confused. My friends advise that we wait for a while; perhaps his mom will come and find him in this area.

“Where did you last her?” I ask him.

“Ummm...I saw this balloon lying on this corner of the street and I went after it to pick it up. When I did, I couldn’t recognise anything. Ammu was nowhere.”

His lips are quivering and he sadly looks at the balloon he is holding onto in silent grief as if this wouldn’t have happened had he not gone after this goddamn balloon.

“Rimi, it’s getting late,” my friend whispers and I give her a helpless nod.

Suddenly the shrill ringtone of my phone gives us all a fright. I look at my phone’s screen abruptly and out of all of our disappointment it’s not the boy’s mom. It’s worse. It’s mine.

I press the green dial quite frighteningly. The screams from the other end of the line make me think I might be temporarily turned deaf. But I’m not because I can clearly hear the crime I am being accused of. I have yet again mistakenly brought the house key with me and my parents are not pleased about it. I can practically hear my mother’s hot breath through the phone fuming like lava making my palms sweaty.

“Wait, wait,” I tell her through the phone, I have it with me; I’ll be home in a couple of minutes. Don’t worry. I am getting a rickshaw now. Chill.”

I hang up and tell my friends I have to go. But wait a minute. Where’s the boy? What? Where did he go?

“He left while you were on the phone. He said he remembered where his mom might be,” replied my friends.

“Ohhh,” I said. “Good for him I guess then. Anyhow let me just check for my key once more then I’m headed home.”

I reach for my purse and my heart suddenly skips a beat.

“Shruti, where’s my purse?”

“Wait, it’s not with you?”

Horror sips into my bones and my face loses colour when realization hits me.

Writer is student of AIUB