In the mood we were in, fire could be liquid, could be sand, or molten lava, licking the last of us. Inching closer, Annabelle, red as henna, as cinnamon, as coals in the oven, color of syrup, asked if ‘until evening’ was too long. The two boys at the end of the room were huddled like uprooted weeds. “Do you know the song, Aye dil hai muskil…?” said the girl I no longer remember the name of. We could hear the boys mumbling something in answer, felt the strange power of something beautiful, the way flames are — vivid, delectable, ochre — but also limitless, something that could singe, burn. One of them began coughing. The man from Alimuddin’s Kitchen, raw as vengeance, rough as Alaskan Malamute’s bark, who had come to our aid, smiled silly. He pulled the curtain like he perhaps did when he dressed. The restaurant was closed for something or the other. Annabelle read the notice on the side wall like she would regard the violets by her bedside, with the same teaser flourish she displayed to the boys earlier as we walked down from school. The same vaunt of beauty that would be dead by the time the marriage-for-citizenship the man would trick her into many weeks later, would end. At this moment though, the helplessness of the boys, their combustible masses, same as haystack waiting for a flicker, enthralled us. We laughed how, cold in their undies, they had to hold their pee because they’d been caught spying on us. Only much later, in Physics class, we’d learn it takes nearly the same temperature to make glass from sand as the heat of atomic explosion. And still later, how that day had enough ammunition to break one of the boys, shatter him like glass.
First published in LimeonCello Magazine, Dec 21, 2021.