October 19, 2010

The Detectives' Club

It wasn’t Rahul’s idea to start the detectives' club but if anyone had asked him, he would definitely have taken the credit. This was as much a part of him as his smile or the way he walked, so none of the other boys would have really argued.

Rahul was that child in the neighborhood who needed to be at the forefront of everything. It was like last summer, Maddy’s parents had brought him a model car set. A week later, Rahul convinced his parents to buy him three, including one working model of a rocket.

The summer before that Egg and Rahul had discovered a litter of abandoned kittens in the local park and Rahul told the NGO worker that he had found them trapped in a tree. The NGO worker had been so impressed by his supposed bravery, she had written about him to the local paper. The story had been published in the Sunday edition, with no reference to Egg.

Not that anyone was asking. Childhood is filled with imaginary adventures and tragedies that are hardly ever the concern of the grown up world where only reality and compromise reign supreme. The truth was, as is with almost everything, boredom and serendipity were the culprits most likelybehind the advent of 'The Detectives' Club'.

The day that they decided to form The Club started like any other day. The three of them were lounging in Rahul’s room. Rahul and Maddy were playing Halo on the X-box and Egg was sitting on the side, waiting for his turn.

Egg was an oddly pale. Due to a skin disease, whose name the boys could never remember or pronounce, his skin had stopped producing melanin. As if to compensate for his colorless body, Egg had pale brown hair that looked shone metallic yellow in the summer sun. Hence the nickname Egg.

He was a skinny, clumsy kid who did not help matters by tucking in his tee-shirts and carrying a knapsack everywhere he went. Maddy sometimes felt sorry of him. The entire picture in totality left him to be the pasty white butt of any joke that Rahul could come up with. Today he was not different though it was, Maddy thought, decidedly more intense.

They had just reached one of the last stages in the game when Egg started whining “Come on you guys, let me have a turn!” Neither of the other two boys looked away from the television screen. “Shut up Booger face” said Rahul “It’s my X-box and I’m winning!” Egg was crestfallen for a second and then Maddy smiled at him, “You know the rules Egg, loser forfeits the controller.”

Rules were rules and Egg was not the sort of kid to go break any, so once again, he fell into silence. Still it didn’t take long for impatience to set in, “You’ll never lose Maddy,” he said “and Rahul will never give up the remote, I’ve been sitting here for hours!”

Before he could say anything else, not that he was going to, Rahul had already gotten up and had pinned Egg down to the floor. “What are you complaining about, you slug” he was saying while using Egg’s own hands to slap his face. “If you want to play, get your own X-box,” ; “that’s right, your father can’t afford it.”

Rahul was laughing but Egg wasn’t. Egg’s father worked for an airline company which had let him go last year. The rumour was that Egg’s father had been embezzling. Since then, unable to find another employer who would trust him, Egg’s father had slowly slipped into alcoholism, drowning his humiliation and with it, Egg’s self esteem. The blow was below the belt and caused Egg to thrash harder at Rahul, albeit unsuccessfully.

The sight of Egg’s arms flailing about and missing Rahul every time was comical so Maddy couldn't help but laugh. He let the beating go on for a minute or so before he pulled Rahul off the weaker boy. “Ok OK break it up, Egg you can use my player alright?” he said, handing Egg the remote like one hands an urchin their left overs. Not that Egg cared, once the controller was in his hands, he was immediately happy.

Rahul and he played for a while and he quickly lost, as he always did. “See you little butt munch!” said Rahul “This is why we don’t let you play, you suck!” If Egg had been a girl, he probably would have cried at this point and Maddy could tell that he wanted to. He was however, not a girl and boys don’t cry, so Egg tried to hold his tears back.

“Screw you Rahul” he said instead Often a bruised ego makes us brave and more often than not, it also makes us stupid. This was one of those moments for Egg. It took Rahul such little effort to pin him down again, that it seemed almost like none. “You want to screw me huh?” Rahul was saying, “Are you gay now Egg? Are you a pasty little faggot?” Egg was weezing under the bigger boy’s weight and none of the light punches he could manage were landing near target.

“Come on you guys, just stop this shit” Maddy was saying but this time around, no one was listening. Maddy could tell from the way Egg’s eyes were popping out from their sockets and the huge grin of pleasure on Rahul’s face that things were going to get ugly. He knew he should try and break the pair up but when Rahul maneuvered a kicking and twitching Egg into a head slammer position, Maddy laughed along.

Luckily for everyone, the door to Rahul’s room flew open and his sister, Resham stormed in. She was older than all of them and consequently much taller than even her brother. “What’re you guys doing! Stop making so much noise, Krish and I are trying to study” Rahul had already gotten up off Egg, and none of them were laughing anymore. “Hey Resham,” Maddy said, smiling at her, even though Resham made no effort to conceal her chagrin at her younger brother and his rag tag crew.

Typically this could have resulted in a raging war between the two but today wasn't typical. “Sorry” was all Rahul managed and that too, in the softest of voices. After that everyone tried to keep it down, so when Resham came back into the room an hour later, “We’re not making any noise, we’re even playing the X-box on mute!” cried Rahul.

Her face when she walked in was as red as an poisoned apple. “Give me my diary back you weasel!” She grabbed Rahul by the collar with such force that it yanked him right off the beanbag. Maddy and Egg took a step back so as not to get caught up in the sibling battle.

“I don’t have it” Rahul cried “Stop hitting me”. Maddy and Egg could see small tears forming in Rahul’s eyes. They had seen these fights between the brother and sister before and knew that Rahul was to Resham what Egg was to Rahul.

“Stop lying you jerk and just give it back to me!” Rahul pushed his sister off himself “I’m telling you the truth, who wants to read your stupid diary anyway!” It was obvious that Resham didn’t believe him.

“Give it back by the end of the day Rahul or I’m going to make you sorry,” she said in a voice that was more threatening because it was so even toned. Like one of the villains from a psycho movie, all composed and calm till they aren’t.

She then turned her attention to the other two boys who were standing on the other side of the room, staring at their shoes. “and you guys, if you’re helping him, I won’t leave any of you either.” With that Resham departed leaving nothing but the shudder that went down all the boys’ spines.

“She’s such a witch” Maddy said finally. Rahul’s face was red, only Egg was smiling a little bit. Not a lot though, for he knew any open amusement would lead to a re-direction of Rahul’s anger towards his sister, at him. “Yea, she is, why would I want her stupid journal anyway!”

Everyone was silent for a while. They were thinking about Resham’s parting threat. “Ya ’know we should try and find it” Egg said finally, “otherwise she won’t believe that we didn’t take it.” He was correct and the other two knew it.

“No way I’m spending my day looking for some stupid dear diary,” said Maddy, “I know I didn’t take it so what can she do to me. I’m not scared of your stupid sister.”

“Good for you dude! She’s gonna blame me whether I took it or not” said Rahul. “Well have you?” asked Egg. He knew Maddy was silently contemplating the same thing. Still he regretted it almost as soon as he voiced himself. “Are you calling me a liar, you colorless creep!”

“Shut up both of you.” This time, Maddy intervened quickly , “We don’t need to fight amongst ourselves, it doesn’t do anybody any good.” He was correct, Maddy always was. “So what should we do?” asked Rahul, obviously impatient to channel his energy at something.

They were quiet for a long time. No one, not even Egg wanted to admit that he had the correct answer. It would be the sort of thing that tipped the universe on its ass. “Screw it” Rahul said finally, “Lets just try and find it.”

And that’s how it all started. Although initially only Egg seemed to have a clue, no pun intended. He watched a lot of C.S.I shows and this gave him an advantage over the other two. “We’ll need to speak to Resham, ask her where she kept the journal and who all came and went from there.” So on they went, like the three blind mice to Resham’s room.

“What do you jerks want?” was her biting question as soon as they entered. If looks could kill, Maddy thought to himself. “Look Resh, I haven’t taken your journal, but I’ve decided to help you find it.” said Rahul. His sister snorted her disdain at them. “Yeah right, just give it back yaar, why are you being such a pain?”

Sibling clashes are often counter productive, so Maddy decided to step in. “Resham, we really didn’t take your journal and we do want to help you find it. Trust me alright!”

Resham sighed, “You’re just as bad as him Maddy, seriously it’s not funny anymore, give it back!” It was obvious she did not believe them, so finally Egg played the only card he had. “I swear on Ashni, Resham didi, we don’t know where it is but we’ve come to help you find it” he said solemnly. Ashni was Egg’s sister and Resham’s best friend.

For reasons that the boys never understood, Egg had a way with the women. Not the girls his own age at their school, to those girls he blended into the white walls of the building. No, his influence was with older women, like Resham, like Rahul’s mother, like Maddy’s mother.

These women would fawn over his pale face and cluck at his skinny arms. They would try to feed him their cakes and chastise their own flesh and blood when they teased Egg. Similarly Resham’s face softened when Egg spoke. She was ready to believe him, though not her own brother.

“Fine” she finally sighed as if in surrender, “I believe you. So tell me, what’re you gonna do to find my journal?”

It was Egg who had built the bridge, but as usual, Rahul was the first person across. “When did you see your journal last?” he asked, to which, while shooting daggers through her eyes, she replied, “Before you took it jerk.”

“Where’d you last use it Resham didi?” asked Egg. Reshma looked at him and grudgingly replied, “I was writing in it last night okay, just before I went to bed.”

Egg was starting to ask, “What did you do with --” but Rahul interjected, “What were you writing about?”

“That’s none of your business you weasel.” replied his sister. This time, Rahul had a retort though “It could be. If you were writing some nonsense in it, maybe the guy you were writing about took it?”

They were all impressed by his discovery of a potential motive and Maddy could see that he was just as pleased with himself. Resham however, looked entirely unimpressed. Almost upset, even. “No, I don’t think so.” she said softly, "I wasn't writing about anyone." Almost too softly, noted Maddy.

Why would she lie, he wondered and suddenly this game became about more than just pleasing Resham. He felt the same sense of excitement that he reasoned every good detective probably does when a client lies to him.  It was a chance to get at a mystery within the mystery. Like a Russian Doll, and perhaps just as entertaining.

“Who were you writing about Resham didi?” Egg asked. “It’s not important, Rahul has it I know he does, and I definitely wouldn’t waste my time writing about him.” was the reply he got. 

“I don’t have your bloody journal you cow!” Rahul cried, his face scrunched up by frustration. “Ok, so what did you do with the journal after you were done writing in it?” Maddy asked before the situation looped back into a vicious cycle.

Resham shrugged, “I put it under my mattress and went to sleep.” she said. “No you didn’t” said Rahul, “I heard you sneak out last night.” To this, Resham replied “So that’s when you took it didn’t you?”

“Alright alright this isn’t helping anyone” Maddy interjected, “So you left it under your mattress and you went out?” Resham nodded, slightly sheepishly. “Alright, so...” Maddy looked towards Egg, since he was the one who seemed to have the ideas. Egg came through. “So whose been in your room since?” he asked.

“I don’t know...” said Resham. “The maid, maybe mom and Krish was here right now.” “That’s it?” Rahul asked. “Yeah, that’s it I think.” He did not miss a beat, “Maybe Krish took it?” he asked. There was little love lost between Resham’s boyfriend and her brother.

“Krish isn’t a jerk like you, he wouldn’t take my journal.” she replied. It was their turn to look unconvinced now so she continued, “Anyway, he was never alone in the room.” 

“Except when you came to scream at us about the noise..” said Rahul, to which she had no retort.

After that and according to Egg’s notion of what all good investigators do, they conducted a search of ‘scene of the crime’. This had to be done under Resham’s supervision, since she would not leave her brother alone in any space that was private to her. 

Finding nothing, they went back to Rahul’s room to re-group and come up with an plan of investigation, as Egg put it. It was obvious that he was thoroughly enjoying this game.

It was then that they decided to come up with a name for themselves. Maddy didn't care, he said there was no point attaching a name to a one time venture. Egg insisted it was of greater importance if this was their only case. For the sake of memories, he said. People said Egg's body wouldn't last very long so he placed great value on reminders he could leave behind.

“What if we call ourselves ‘The Detective Club’ Isn’t it a cool name?” he asked. “That’s the lamest name I’ve ever heard,” Rahul said in reply. “Don’t like to tax your brain do you bleached whale. Like father, like son.”

“Its beached whale ya' moron,” said Egg. Maddy and he laughed. Not for long though because Rahul jumped Egg. It was a futile fight, Egg must have known, but this time, he fought back like it wasn’t. The boys scuffled around for a bit with Maddy trying to pull them apart. They were all on the floor when they heard, “What’re you boys doing in here!”

Rahul’s mother was standing at the doorway. It was afternoon, but she was in her housecoat and looked tired. “It sounds like the bloody Parliament in here, stop making so much noise.” As she surveyed the room, she looked mortified. “Rahul, get up off Vishal right now!”

Everyone stood up sheepishly. “We’re sorry aunty,” said Egg before she could say anymore. “It was nothing, we’ll be quiet.” It always worked, his sweet smile, thin face and soft voice. Rahul’s mother smiled back, “Alright if you say so. Rahul really you should be careful or I’ll tell your dad!” The purse of Rahul’s mouth at that piece of advice, could have cut glass, Maddy found himself laughing.

“How is everything at home Vishal?” Rahul’s mother asked, to which Egg just shrugged. He never had anything much to say when he was asked about his home. “Mother, Father, all OK?” she persisted and finally extracted a reluctant “Yes...everyone is OK.” Possibly realizing that there was no more forthcoming, she sighed and said, “Well then, now that I’m up, I’m going to the store, you boys want anything?” They did not and for the rest of the time she was home, Rahul sat across the room from Egg, scowling at him.

When she left, Maddy decided to take charge. “Alright look, Resham said the maid cleaned the room in the morning, lets go question her.” They agreed, although Rahul remained moody and sullen. “She’s not here right now, we’ll have to wait till tomorrow.” he said. “No,” said Egg, his face slightly red from the beating, “Maybe she’s around, they work near by houses only, we could just find out where she’ll be.”

The maid in question did in fact work every house on the street. On Egg's insistence, Rahul asked his guard and they found out that it was her time to visit one down the road. As they headed there, excitement flittered around in their bellies like a million butterflies.

Although she was a little bit annoyed about the three of them barging into her work place, the boys knew the owner and if the owner wanted to indulge their little game, who was she to say anything. At least, this is what she said to them. There was nothing much else that she said. “I made baby’s bed in morning, no book anywhere there. I didn’t take it.” she repeated time and again.

They assured her that she was not a suspect, but it hardly had any impact. Perhaps she had been on the wrong end of such questioning before and was now, understandably wary. “Did you see anyone else around when you were cleaning?” asked Egg. She shrugged her pudgy shoulders, “No no, I just saw saab was leaving for work.”

“Sounds like a dead end to me.” Maddy said and starting getting up. “No wait,” Rahul pulled him down by the shoulder. “When did my father leave for work? Did he pass Resham’s room?” he asked. The maid shrugged, “He left in a hurry. Usually, he go earlier. Haan, he pass it, he has to, the stairs are there.”

“Thanks.” Rahul said and stood up as if he had gotten what he had come for. “Lets go guys. I think I know who did it.” They were confused but his stride was confident and he was gaining ground on them, so they did what boys do and followed.

“Who is it?” asked Maddy, who was the first to catch up with Rahul’s quick steps away from the house. “I bet you that it’s my dad.” was the reply he got. "What?" said Maddy, "No way," "Yea dude, they fight all the time, he always wants to know what she's writing in that diary of hers."  Maddy looked unconvinced. "Plus he's never late for work. I think he waited till Resham left for her tuitions and snuck in."

“That's so stupid. It’s not your dad!” said Egg who had caught up with them as well. As usual, sweat gleaning like a thin film on his forehead. “Shut the fuck up white hog,” snarled Rahul and turned towards Egg like he was going to make trouble for him. “Alright, Alright, lets not start this again,” Maddy intervened. Turning to Rahul he said, “What the hell is up with you? Lay off Egg, man!”

“If you’re going to stand up for this whiny little wierdo then you can go to hell too!” said Rahul and stormed off, leaving Maddy speechless. He got the same sensation as before when Resham had lied. It was a heady mixture of excitement and curiosity.

He followed Rahul into the house and into his parent’s room. He ignored Egg's voice pleading with him to hold on. Instead found himself thinking, 'Catch up instead why don’t you.' There may have been a momentary sense of guilt at the thought, but right then, it felt as if time was running faster somehow and there was none to be wasted.

Rahul was searching his parents’s room frantically. He opened drawers and shut them, it seemed without hardly looking. Maddy reasoned that he was trying to find the journal before his mother came back from the store. “I’ll help you alright, if it’s here then everything is sorted.”

“Found it.” Rahul announced standing next to one of the cupboards. “I’m the best detective of all time!”

“No way dude! Let me see” said Maddy and sure enough, Rahul was holding a thick brown journal with Resham’s name written on the spine, with pink glitter. “God, she’s such a girl!” Maddy smiled as he inspected the book. “Let’s check out what she was writing about last?” he said. Rahul immediately snatched the book away from him, “No, she’ll kill us!”

“She’ll never know. I can’t believe you don’t want to see, Gimme it.” said Maddy grabbing the journal right back. The journal was bookmarked so it fell right open at the correct page.

“Dear Diary, “ he started to read out, laughing “Ashni confirmed it today, she saw them coming out of some restaurant on friday.” Maddy laughed, “I think Krish’s got another one on the burner man.” For some reason, Rahul did not join in, so Maddy kept reading.

“They’ve been doing it for months now. Ashni says her dad admitted it sort of. I can’t believe that Mr. Reddy and Mom would do this. It’s just sick and I feel so bad for Mrs. Reddy.” Maddy faltered there and looked up at Rahul for a reaction, though not maliciously. Rahul’s face was wooden, “I’m sorry dude” he began shutting the book but Rahul stopped him.

“Read the whole thing.” he said. “No man...” said Maddy though he opened the book again. “Just read it.” Rahul said and he sounded resolute, so Maddy obeyed.

“I confronted mom before dinner. she tried to laugh it off but I told her that I had proof. She cried then and told me all this stuff about how unhappy she was with dad and how young she was when she got married. I get that, but I don’t get why she’d pick Mr. Reddy. He’s a dirty old drunk, though I guess he didn’t always used to be. She said she ended it anyway. I don’t know if she’s lying but she promises she isn’t. She’s made me promise not to tell Dad or Rahul. I guess if she’s ended it all, it’s better for them not to know.”

There was more to be found out on the page but Egg ran in. “You guys, aunty’s coming. thanks for leaving me behind like that, by the way.”

Before Maddy could stop him, Rahul lunged at Egg and pinned him to the floor. The smaller boys scream was muffled by Rahul’s fists crashing against his face. “Stop it!” cried Maddy.

Rahul’s mother found them once again, scuffling on the floor. Only this time, Egg’s nose was bleeding and Rahul’s fists were a bit bruised; the journal had been forgotten. “Tell Vishal you’re sorry Rahul.” she screamed at him as all of them sat before her. Egg was holding a napkin to his nose and a confused expression on the rest of his face. He knew what had hit him, but not why. Rahul simply sat in silence. 

Maddy kept imagining Rahul's mother and Egg's father and as a result, found himself unable to meet her eyes. Not that she noticed, her wrath was directed at her son.

“Go to your room and stay there till you learn to be civilized.” she said to him and sent Maddy and Egg on their way as well.

“Rahul is a jerk.” sniffled Egg as they walked their way back home. “Why’d he hit me like that?” Maddy shrugged, he was unsure if it was his place to say anything. “Forget it alright,” he replied after a moment, “He’s got stuff going on.”

“He’s a jerk.” said Egg “What did I ever do to him? I was just trying to help him!”

“Forget it Eggshell,” was the only retort he got and after that, the walk to Egg’s house was filled with silence. 

For reasons that he was only barely beginning to understand, Maddy didn’t tell Egg that the missing journal had been found. Along with a few other skeletons, that were probably better left buried.

It wasn’t till the next morning that Maddy began to wonder what became of the journal. He had spent a large part of the night thinking about what it contained. He wondered if in retrospect he could detect the signs. The detective bug is contagious and how, he thought to himself. Suddenly, everything was something to be discovered.

On a usual day, Maddy would have headed to Egg’s house to pick him up to go to Rahul’s. Only today, he faltered and found himself wondering whether he should. When he reached Egg’s, he saw that last night’s fight had left sore reminders on the boy’s face. Egg was so pale that even the slightest hint of bruising appeared angry and red.

Egg’s mother was flitting around the bruise like a fly would, an open garbage can. As if milliseconds could make the difference, she would keep coming into Egg’s room to check on his face.

“Why aren’t you boys more careful Maddy?” she chastised him, “Vishal can’t play like you boys, just look at these bruises” she tutted his disappointment and worry every few seconds. “Mamma please,” Egg was saying, unable to hold Maddy’s eye line.

Maddy could only nod in agreement and present a apologetic face. It was not that hard, the sight of Egg’s crimson face and swollen eye were persuasive enough.

“Alright, what d’ya wanna do today?” he asked his friend when they were finally by themselves. Egg shrugged, “Nothing, I can’t go out in the sun like this, have to stay home.” Maddy wanted to hide his disappointment but couldn’t.

Egg’s house was any ten year olds nightmare. His mother insisted on open doors throughout the house and the only television had been averted by his father to watch the financial news. He would sit, watching for hours, delivering constant verbal retaliation which was all he could muster against his current situation.

“You should go to Rahuls,” Egg said making Maddy wonder if he was really that transparent. “I wanna check on him too,” he said finally, “How about we come get you in the evening, that alright?” Egg nodded and with that, Maddy headed to Rahul’s.

Neither Rahul nor Resham were home when Maddy got there. He met their mother instead. Maddy had been friends with Rahul since nursery school and therefore, thought of his mother more as background rather than a person. She had always been around in time to offer food or drink or an occasional stern word and no more.

Today he felt as if she had a neon light shining from behind her. He felt unable to look her in the eyes. It was a strange and scary feeling to hold the secret of a grown up in his ten year old hands. If she noticed his discomfort, she did not let on. “Rahul’s gone to his grandparents for the day,” she told him and with that, he took his cue to escape. Perhaps like Egg, he wasn’t ready to come to this house either, he thought as he walked away.

It was a strange day for him. Not that he needed to see his friends everyday, but today it felt as if it was a sign of things to come. As he gets older, he will realize that the older the friendship, the harder it is to sustain. Much happens, or is inflicted on each other during the process we call growing up. In the moment however, the only thing he realized was the gaping stretch of time, that can be a day involuntarily spent alone.

When Rahul called him at home, he was all but ready to bounce off the walls. “My mom wants you and Egg to come over for dinner,” Rahul said and Maddy immediately agreed. Perhaps the earlier premonitions were only mirages caused by the afternoon sun, he decided. He phoned Egg, “Alright, I’m coming to fetch you, Rahul says his mom’s made chocolate cake for you.”

Egg was reluctant, not even chocolate sweetened the deal for him. “I don’t know man, Rahul is crazy and my mom’s really angry with me,” Maddy sighed, “Come on Eggshell, guys fight sometimes, you can’t whine about it like this.” He hoped to egg along Egg, if the phrase can be used with a straight face, and it succeeded. Nothing baited Egg more than a chance to prove that he was like the rest of the boys.

They arrived just as dinner was being laid out. Everyone had been scrubbed and looked clean, but Rahul’s mother noticed Egg’s shiny bruises first. “Oh you poor dear!” she cooed at him, giving him a long hug when he walked in. Egg flinched, though Maddy could not be sure if it was the bruises or the pity that caused it. “Put your bag in Rahul’s room dear,” she said to Egg “There’s already too many files cluttering up the living room.”

Rahul’s father was there. Only Resham was away, presumably at Krish’s house. With Egg gone, Maddy wanted to ask Rahul about her journal, but could not think of a way to bring it up that did not involve his parents.

Rahul’s father was an austere fellow. Tall and stocky like his son but not nearly as gregarious. He hardly spoke a word to them while they waited for dinner, preferring the company of his papers instead.

None of them really spoke to each other either, preferring the distraction of television. “Doesn’t Egg look like a tomato now?” Maddy asked Rahul in a feeble attempt to start up a semblance of their former glory, but it was a No-Go. Only once did Rahul speak and it was to ask them if they wanted anything to drink.

Yes, they did and he went to fetch it. The three of them had never been so polite to one another. 

Dinner went by quietly also, except when it was interrupted by the ringing of a cellphone.They could hear snippets of discussions that sounded heated but made little sense. Something about “share prices” here and “carrying forward the losses” there.

Rahul’s mother fussed over Egg, trying to make him eat seconds and thirds, fretting over his swollen eye. Through all of this, Rahul simply stared into his food. Maddy began to wonder why they had come, since nothing seemed to be fixed between Egg and Rahul and consequently for him.

“Stop babying the boy,” Rahul’s father said finally and turned as if speaking to Maddy, who was to his right. “My wife told me about this fight you all had, I keep telling her boys will be boys right?” and gave Maddy’s arm a nudge, as if to add punctuation to his sentence.

“You’re just setting a bad example,” she retorted back and quickly followed it by an offer to take everyone for some ice cream. Ice cream is ice cream and as must have been her intention, all three of them were momentarily bonded in their greed for it.

“Good then, I’ll get my wallet and off we go.” she said smiling, even as her husband forgot all of them in favor of yet another phone call. It was the perfect time, so Maddy seized it. “Things between you and Resham alright?” he asked, secretly a little bit proud of his spy like subtly. Rahul nodded in reply.

“Ya know it’s getting late, maybe I should head home,” said Egg squirming in his chair. “Why the hurry?” asked Rahul. The question is rather plain but his tone rang strange even to Maddy’s ears. “Its late dude.” replied Egg in a voice with which it would be impossible to deny his reluctance to stay.

Maddy wondered if he could be blamed really and was contemplating for once, taking a stand when Rahul’s mother came in, worry splashed all across her face in bright pink. “Oh dear, Oh dear, sweetheart, I need to talk to you.” she said to her husband, ignoring the children.

For once her anxiety was evident enough to persuade Rahul’s father to say a curt goodbye to his phone call. “What happened?” he asked her, “Did you take money from my wallet?” she asked him quietly, though the three boys could hear.

“What?” he said, obviously getting impatient with his wife, “Why the hell would I do that? What’s happened? Are you missing money?” She nodded. “How much?” he barked, “About ten thousand.” she said quietly.

The three of them exchanged looks. Another mystery! thought Maddy and immediately felt chagrin at his own excitement. “Where did you last see it Mom?” asked Rahul. “Shut up boy, this is not a matter for children.” his father snapped and then asked his wife the same question. It would have been comical, except Maddy could see a shiny layer of held back tears forming over Rahul’s eyes.

“Oh stop screaming at children.” she said to her husband, inciting a chilly look from both the men of her family. Poor woman, thought Maddy. “I just put it in my wallet before dinner. I only left it to come eat. Or did I? I’m so absentminded!” she cried. Rahul’s father let out an impatient sigh, “Well, the maid has an off day, Resham isn’t home, so either you’ve forgotten it or one of us took it.” he said.

“Maybe one of us took it.” Rahul chimed in. “Shut up idiot,” Maddy said, “We’ve all been here alright, who could have taken it?”

“That’s not true, Egg was in my room earlier, without us.” said Rahul. Maddy began to feel a sinking of his stomach and he could tell from Egg’s expression that his insides were doing the same. “I didn’t take aunty’s money you jerk!” he cried. “Yeah, that’s not funny alright!” said Maddy.

Only now Rahul’s father was listening. “Well, there’s no one else here except you boys,” he said. He looked like he wanted to say more but Rahul’s mother interjected. “Madhav’s right, that’s ridiculous.”

“Can I speak to you in the kitchen for a second?” she said rather than asked her husband.

They left the three boys sitting on the dining table and shut the door behind them. Still they could hear the conversation.

“What the hell are you thinking, speaking to a child like that!”

“What? Children steal sweetheart, all the time. It's not unheard of.”

“ Oh god, you’re sick you know that?”

“I don’t know what you’re getting so riled up about. Like father like son..”


“I say if he hasn’t taken the money, he has nothing to worry about. We can check everyone’s bags.”

“What the hell dude!” Maddy got up from his chair and pushed Rahul. “You know Egg didn’t take anything alright, I think it was you who took it.”

Rahul shrugged, “Whatever man, you can check my stuff. I don’t have anything to hide. Do you have something to hide Egg?”

Rahul’s parents came in, his father clearly the victor of that battle. “ok dears,” said Rahul’s mother “we’re just going to look everywhere in the house, you boys look in Rahul and Reshma’s rooms”

Egg was sitting there with a face even more crimson than the one he came in with. Poor kid, thought Maddy, there were tears streaking down his face. “To hell with it,” he said, “Show them Egg, just show them and lets just go.”

“No one is accusing anyone of anything Madhav,” she said, though not very convincingly. “Yes you are,” said Egg softly. “Well, if you’re not guilty, just show us your bag, I’ll even go get it.” said Rahul, making as if he was going to head towards his room.

“I’ll get it.” said Egg.

They waited in silence for Egg’s return and when he did, he presented his knapsack to Rahul’s father as if it was a sacrificial lamb. Eyes downcast, Rahul’s father unzipped the main compartment.

Nestled there amongst inhalers and sun protection lotions, was a brown journal with thousand rupee notes sticking out from it like bookmarks.

“Egg!” cried Maddy, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Rahul’s father sighed and took out the journal. “What’re you doing with Reshma’s things Vishal?” he asked. When he opened the book to the page the money was marking, his eyes widened for a second and his weren’t the only ones.

Maddy was looking at Rahul. The boy had an almost bemused expression on his face. Egg had been set up, Maddy thought but couldn’t digest that his friend would extract such pointless revenge. He realised the only way to save Egg was to reveal how he and Rahul had found Reshma’s diary.

They say a million things run through your head when you are about to make life changing decisions but only two ran through Maddy’s at this time. Would Reshma ever speak to him again once she found out that it was his idea to read her journal? and How could he say outloud what he had read?

He couldn’t come up with an answer to either and found that he wasn’t offering any defense for Egg.

Rahul’s father did not call Egg’s, or at least not while the children were in the house. Egg tried to defend himself but Rahul interjected at every point and the scene became heated. Rahul’s mother was easily distraught by any sort of commotion was. “I don’t believe it” she kept saying, but no one was listening really.

Finally, unable to justify her stoic faith in the smaller boy, she simply said “I’m going to get rest, this is all too much for me.” Rahul’s father asked Egg and Maddy to leave, which they did. The entire experience was surreal.

“I didn’t do it,” said Egg during their walk home. “I know you didn’t.” said Maddy, “I’ll fix it alright?” He wanted to reassure his friend but he could see that he was failing. Really, he wasn’t convincing himself either, so instead he just helped maintain the silence till they reached Egg’s house.

It wasn't hard because Maddy's mind was running through the events of the last few days. He suspected Rahul may have been the original culprit behind the diary theft as well. If this was true, Rahul knew about his mother and Egg's father before they found the diary together. 

Still young, manipulation and deceit were dictionary words for him and not the harsh reality. As is everyone during their first times, Maddy was unable to comprehend the emotions that rushed through his veins.

Egg’s father was waiting up when they arrived and he did not look happy. Even though it was his own house that Maddy was leaving Egg at, he felt afraid for the boy. As he was closing the gate behind him, he could hear drunken bellowing and perhaps, though he wished different, things being thrown around. Obviously, Rahul’s father had called him after all. Maddy could not even begin to imagine that conversation.

When he reached home, he phoned Rahul. He could hear the same bellowing on the other end of the line, only the voices were different. Rahul however, sounded eerily calm. “What the fuck dude” Maddy cried into his receiver. “Come by tomorrow” said Rahul and the line went dead.

While a part of him carried a picket line of warning messages, another part wanted to know just how correctly he had pieced together the puzzle. And another part, because he was still young, hoped he was wrong. It's when this one-third of us stops hoping that the rest of us grows old.

The worst parts of those hours till morning was the fact that he could have fixed everything in a second, right then and there. In bed, Maddy tossed and turned between trying to block out his cowardice and reviewing every detail with the fine tooth comb.

By the time he rang Rahul’s doorbell the next morning, he had convinced himself Resham would understand and that he would clear Egg’s name. Rahul’s mother answered the ring and at the sight of her pale and tired face, all the resolve drained out of Maddy as well. “Oh Hello dear,” she said, as unable to hold his gaze as he was hers. As he stepped in, he saw luggage arranged. From the colour and style of the baggage, he knew they was hers.

Her eyes followed his and she smiled weakly. “Oh, I’m taking a trip with my sister. All very last minute but exciting no?” How was he going to tell her that he knew she was lying. Unable to face the question, Maddy simply nodded in agreement.

They stood silently for a while, skirting around the question and then it popped out of her, “How is Vishal? Hope his father wasn’t too hard on the poor dear.” 

Suddenly she said, "I'm glad you've come by dear, I hope Vishal does too. You boys have been friends for so long, it'd be a shame to lose that." Again Maddy opted to stay silent and shrugged. He wondered if she knew that he knew.

He was almost happy to run up the stairs and to Rahul’s room. His friend, though of this he was not so certain anymore, seemed to be packing as well. “I’m going to live with my mom and aunty for a while.” he said in explanation to Maddy’s quizzical look.

“You knew what it said in Resham’s diary before we saw it together didn't you?” Maddy asked, although he did not need to and Rahul gave him a look that said as much.

“You put it there in your dad's cupboard didn’t you? and in Egg’s bag.” more questions wasted. “Why?”

“They deserved it.” said Rahul.

“Egg didn’t do anything to you alright!” cried Maddy, “That’s just you being a jerk!”

, “Yeah, maybe it is. but he didn't need to butt in when he did."  Rahul shrugged. "You could’ve told them everything though. So why didn’t you?” This was a question Maddy had been unable to answer, even to himself, so he had none to offer Rahul. “Forget it man, Egg’s a loser” said Rahul, “he needed to be cut loose anyway.” He said this like it was a technical procedure or a Cassandra's dream.

“Screw you!” cried Maddy and before he knew it, was swinging punches. He wasn’t sure which one of them he was angry with, but it felt good to release the rage. Rahul was bigger than Maddy, but not stronger. They had never fought against each other before, but each knew the other’s weaknesses.

“You’re really an asshole!” Rahul was saying when he could breath out a word, “You think he’s a loser too.”

“Egg’s my friend!”

“Only because he makes you feel better about yourself you asshole,”

"He's better than you alright," Maddy said. Even as he had taken control of the fight and had pinned Rahul below him, Rahul shouted "He's a pale clumsy oaf dude and makes you feel like you aren't. That's what you like about him!" 

Maddy let his punches belt out as fast as Rahul’s words. He would never be sure which caused more damage.

Finally he just got up off the other boy. He could hear Rahul’s mother climbing up the stairs and sure enough, he passed her as he ran out of the house. Not once did he look back to see what state he had left his former friend in.

As he walked back to his house,  he thought of all the times he had laughed with Rahul and at Egg. He pictured the three of them in his minds' eye. The two of them and skinny white Egg and realized that there would always be a Rahul in Egg's life, even if the name or face was different. He wondered if he had ever been one of them and concluded he probably had. That it was unwittingly done can work as a balm till one realizes that inflicting pain can only be a dullard's occupation. 

It was almost afternoon. The summer sun was sending a beating towards all those it looked down upon. All around him, the streets were empty as everyone hid inside houses, with their air conditioners and blinds shutting out the world as it really is.

For once, he didn’t wonder what was going on inside these houses. He didn’t wish to find out any more than he had this summer.

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