He was originally from Kolkata. When I was little, Mum told me this was a place several kilometres from home. “Have I ever been there?” I asked her. “No. Neither have I. You need to take a train to go there.” I remember wondering then how it would feel to ride in a train. I didn’t think I would like it too much. I preferred gambolling in the backyard at all hours, even though I would get a fright every time a street dog appeared.
“How did he manage to come to Delhi then? Is he allowed on a train?” I couldn’t imagine how someone so vile could be let loose in public.
“Of course. But he is clever and good as gold on a train.”
Months had passed since he had first come over to Delhi, but there was little love lost between us. It seemed he made an extra effort to be mean to me. When the wind blew across the sky, he would make fluttering noises as loud as – well, fluttering – and it would scare me to death. Even the birds detested him. When he would be asleep in the sun, down would come their droppings. Mom told me he would get a good thrashing whenever that happened – served him right.
I once wondered if he could be sent back to Kolkata. “That can’t happen.” Mum sighed when I asked her. “He used to go with the old man in the house who has now retired from his job.” I knew who she meant. In winter, I often saw the old man climb up the stairs to the sunny terrace in the house. When he wasn’t looking, sometimes, I would follow him and hide behind the potted plants.
Winter had been particularly loathsome this year. While I managed to keep myself warm under the sun at daytime, night-time was intolerable. Mum and I earlier slept in a decrepit bamboo basket which rain had one day destroyed beyond repair. I didn’t know where to locate those night shelters the government had built. All I felt each night was the cold, damp floor. Sleep came to Mom and me in disturbed little shivers.
One morning, I noticed the world around me was white. The fog was dense and thickening even as I looked. Strangely, I felt rested and warm. The floor wasn’t cold anymore and what I saw warmed my heart.
He was there, looking at Mum and me, no tricks up his sleeve this time. For us, he had embraced the chill of the floor. Never before had I had such comforting sleep. I glanced up to see the old man smiling to his wife.
“You wanted to throw away my friend from Kolkata. But look, there’s still something that old shirt is good for!”
I cozied up to Mum and gave the couple a photogenic smile. The morning, though white, was turning out to be beautiful. My foe of several months was now my friend.
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