As soon as Ankur saw the red water flowing under the door, he stopped shouting. He didn't know where it came from or what it was. He just knew he didn't like it. He sat on his bed and put his index finger on his forehead, thinking deeply, processing the foreign liquid. He sat like that for a long time as it slowly crept toward his bed.
After about half an hour, he stood up and accidentally stepped in the liquid, which was becoming sticky and sluggish. It felt gross and wrong. Ankur immediately retracted his feet. His feet left red marks on his white blankets. He hated the way it looked. He knew it wasn't right.
He stood up, careful to avoid the puddle. He wanted to open the door, but the liquid blocked his path. He didn't dare go near it. Nervously, he started flapping his right hand. He tried to shout loudly, but his voice failed him. Only a quiet whimper came out. He hopped from one leg to the other – his feet staining the entire floor.
Sneha jumped off the school bus, hungry and irritated. She thought about just running home, but didn't want the other kids to see her anxiety. She just needed to stay calm. She was almost home.
She rang the bell twice and waited. No noise came from the other side of the door. No footsteps, no one coming to greet her. Her stomach growled as she grew more annoyed and pressed the bell hard for a long time. Again no one. How could they just ignore her? Usually Mala and Ankur ran to the door to see her after school. She banged on the door.
"Open up! I'm hoooome!"
Still no response. Now she was furious.
Why would Mom have to go somewhere now? She knows when I get home! Where do I go now?
She sat on the staircase and waited.
A few months earlier, Sumit Nayar, a young police officer, and his beautiful wife, Ramona moved into the bungalow across the street from Raj and Mala's apartment. They had a fifteen-year-old son, Rohan, who got most of his mother's features.
Ramona was new in the town and, though she only had a few friends, Mala was one of them. They had met at a mutual friend's house and Ramona was immediately taken by Mala's gracefulness and her cool and calm equanimity. It did not take long for them to become very good friends.
When Ramona walked over to visit Mala that day, she found Sneha crying on the steps.
"What happened, Sneha?" she said, crouching down so the two could look each other in the eyes.
"Mummy went to the market and no one is home. I'm hungry!" Sneha sobbed.
"Aww. That's it? Come over to my place. I just made a great trifle. You can have some before Rohan finishes all of it," she said with a smile.
At that point, Sneha was so hungry she would have eaten anything Ramona offered, but a dessert was especially tempting. She gathered her bag and got up from the stairs, wiping away her tears.
They had only descended a few stairs when they heard a faint noise coming from inside the home. Sneha recognized it immediately. It was Ankur shouting. But why was it so faint? She ran towards the door and started banging on it again.
"Ankur, open the door. Ankur, please open the door!" she cried, fear rushing over her.
Ankur shouted again, slightly louder this time. Ramona walked back up the stairs and said, "Mala, what's going on?"
"I hear Ankur inside. He's upset," Sneha said, still banging on the door.