Sid’s stout appearance had landed him the role of Hanuman in his elementary school’s abridged re-enactment of Ramayana. He hated his teacher for dabbing his cheeks red with face paint and parading him dressed as a cute little monkey god for other teachers to see. As if looking like that on stage wasn’t enough. His classmates imitated the ladies and feigned swooning in the dusky backstage. He swung the prop mace in his stubby arms, but they knew it weighed less than a cushion and ran around him, firing invisible cataclysmic arrows. He wished he could magically alter his size like Hanuman and tower over everyone else.
Sid forced himself to continue cycling on the road dividing the circular park and the houses arranged spirally around it. He did not want to sit in the front row for his Grade 11 class photo once more. He was done having others look down on him. He wanted to smile for real for a change, even if it was just in a school picture.
The sun could not compete with him. When his mother stepped out and stood with her hands on her hips, Sid stopped pedalling and gulped chestfuls of air. “If only you showed half this resolve to improve your grades,” Mrs Gupta said as they walked in together. She worried how her husband would react this time on seeing Sid’s test scores.
“You should tell your son not to overwork himself with this obsession of growing tall,” said Mrs Gupta.
“When you’ve never worked for anything in life, everything seems like overworking.”
Sid looked up from his plate and chewed his father’s words together with rice. He added more sugar to his bowl of curd.
“It would be better if he used this determination for something useful.” Mr Gupta turned and leaned towards his son. “Say, when do you get your test scores?”
The rice became chunky in Sid’s throat. Mr Gupta watched his son leave the table to fetch the answer sheet. The X’s and O’s hardly surprised him. He removed his glasses, rubbed his face, and sighed.
“Take off your glasses.”
Sid did so unwillingly but dutifully. Six ticks of the clock separated his holding, taking off, and putting down the glasses. Not even one separated the blow and his smashing to the floor. A single slap was enough. He didn’t meet his father’s eyes.
Sid’s glowing cheek felt heavier than his legs when he jabbed at it in his room, looking in the mirror. It hurt when he smiled. The redness of his cheek reminded him of his part as Hanuman and the yearning to grow out of everyone’s reach. Out of his father’s reach.
Ghosts of memories of happiness snatched away resurfaced in his mind. He wore his glasses, which were identical to Mr Gupta’s. But Sid saw the world differently. The mirror tried but couldn’t convince him of any resemblance between the two.
“Oh, you’re up in time to join us for breakfast for a change!” said Sid’s father.
Mrs Gupta watched her son slowly go around the dining table. She didn’t have to shield her eyes from the sunlight with Sid’s lanky frame covering the window. He briefly looked at her. She’d often seen defiance in his eyes since he joined college four years ago, but never this firm resolve.
“I’m turning down the job offer.”
Mrs Gupta stopped midway setting a plate for him. She motioned him to sit but he didn’t budge. The morning sun couldn’t hide his discomfort. Perhaps her husband saw it too, for he put down his cup of tea.
“But that’s the only one you somehow landed.”
“I don’t want to work… in a traditional job. I want to make happy… I mean, make kids happy.”
“What, you want to be a clown?”
“It’s not like that. It’s… similar. I have this idea of teaching kids to be happy, to not seek goals or conform to others’ standards of happiness. I think the best way for that is to change the games kids play. It should be about fun and not competition. There are—”
Mr Gupta dropped his arms on the table.
“Hear that? Your son wants to be a clown and not work. And why should he? I can just make money until I drop dead, and he can continue spending it!”
Sid watched him grab his bag and storm outside. He could hear the car’s roar until it turned the corner. The street was unusually quiet for 8 am on a Wednesday.
Sid’s fiancée entered the school playground. He stood at the far end, his spindly arms hanging by his sides, stretched by a small hockey stick. She frowned on seeing him wearing his old scarf, its withered laces fluttering along with his fuzzy hair. Some of the kids were standing straight, others bent awkwardly, and the rest lay in interesting postures. None of them paid her any attention as she walked over to Sid.
“What kind of game requires no movement?” she asked.
“Trees don’t move.”
She draped her arm around his shoulders and checked if any of the little trees eyed her. She wondered if their inactivity was down to their investment in the game or devotion to their thirty-year-old fun specialist.
“You look like a banyan tree with this scarf hanging down your neck.”
“With my hair I thought I’d be a tamarind tree. Why do you think I’m talking to you?”
“Right, you’re just a haunted tree.” She rose on her toes and planted a loud kiss. “Trees don’t blush, Siddharth Gupta.”
“It’s the sun,” he said, smiling.
Chinmay Rastogi is an MFA candidate from Sarah Lawrence College. In addition to learning new languages and the fact that New York City has its own weather rules, he likes to add colour to the lives of those around him, just like his hometown, and can often be found smiling under a motorcycle helmet or behind a harmonica.
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