Ammu skipped down the steps of her home and ran towards the wall across the garden. She climbed it with ease and sat on top facing the next house. Sun shone down her close-cropped hair and the breeze had little trouble fluttering her frock about her thin frame. She pulled out a small weed from the wall and threw it in the direction of a man who was walking about watering plants in his garden. “Kutti uncle, where is Kannan and Appu?” She shouted on top of her voice even though he was not far away. No, he was not old or deaf. But to kids of Ammu’s age, shouting is more fun than talking and running is more fun than walking.
Kutti uncle looked up, stretched his back and said “Having breakfast, what did you have for yours?”
“Chapathi, egg curry and tea. Amma wanted me to drink milk, but I spilled it. When can they come out and play?”
“As soon as they stop struggling and eat as they are told. Listen, why don’t you go join them? Then they’ll eat fast and come to play with you.”
Ammu thought that was a good idea as it usually worked with her. So she slid down the wall, scraping the back of her thigh a little and ran into her friends’ house. She made her way straight into the dining room and skillfully dodged a flying ball as she entered and shouted at the twins wriggling in their seats “Eat fast!! Rest of them must be waiting for us!!” Every minute was precious as it was Sunday and they had to come back on time before the cartoon show started in the afternoon. Kannan rolled his eyes, gulped down a mouthful and told her to check out the batch of new comic books which he kept in his parent’s bedroom. The twin’s mother popped her head out of the kitchen door and asked if she wanted some breakfast. Ammu shouted a “No auntyyyyy…” as she ran into the bedroom.
She climbed on the bed and reached for the first comic book on top. Sitting cross-legged, she thumbed down the pages till she reached Kapish and started reading. Just as she got to the anti-climax of the story, Kutti uncle came into the room, took a long glance at her reading and went to hang his soiled shirt on the hook on the wall. And as she came to the last of the square boxes of the cartoon, she became aware of Kutti uncle standing close, looking down at her. She smiled at him and went back to the story.
Kutti uncle scooped her up and set her down in his lap. She liked him because he bought her chocolates from the market whenever he went. This time too he had some for her and he got the bright-colored chocolates out of the draw near the bed. She greedily bit into one when Kutti uncle remarked “Aren’t you getting too big for my lap! Look at you growing up!” and stared at her chest. Ammu stopped chewing and turned a bright pink under her tanned skin. She said she has to go and tried wriggling out of his tight grip. “Wait, don’t go. Let me see you properly”, Kutti uncle was gripping her chest tightly and forcing her back into his lap. Ammu was too shocked to scream and silently fought against his body and finally got down from the bed. She walked out of the bedroom in a daze and went to see the boys finishing their breakfast and sat next to them. Their mother told her she looked weary and told her not to roam around so much in the sun.
That evening the boys ran inside the house on time for the cartoon show and among other things told their mom Ammu was not a good sport. She hadn’t played the whole day and just sat staring at grass. Their mom thought she might be coming down with flu with all this running about and said she will check on her the next day.
Ammu had nightmares that and the following night. Her mother treated her for fever and after a week she was back to running around in the playground. She refused to go to the twin’s house after that. She also came to hate chocolates, but soon forgot why.