The wind howled eerily and the leaves of trees rustled vigorously outside. It sounded as though it was raining, but it wasn’t. The only window of the room lost against the strength of the wind as it crashed open, sending a jolt to the young boy who was sleeping on the hard, cold gravel flooring. Dust, sand and scraps of white paint from the ceiling above littered around him. He looked over to his younger sister who was shivering, hands cupped between her thighs. He pushed his woollen blanket towards her and tucked her in, then hugged her tightly thereafter, embracing in each other’s warmth for another fifteen minutes. “Thank you Fawad bhai,” his sister whispered in a mumble as she yawned back to sleep. The young boy slowly loosened his embrace and stood up to make his way to the window sill.
He told me he’d come home early and cook dinner for us. He was very excited just the night before. Humaira burst out into a laughing fit at dinner table, “You cannot cook bhai jaan!”
He smiled and replied, “I’ll show you tomorrow. I’ll be better than you!”
He made a list of ingredients right after dinner, which he forbade me from taking a look, let alone peek.
“No ahmi jaan! It’s a surprise!” He kept on saying as he hugged his notepad to his chest and tapped the pencil on his study table.
I continued to observe him.
The little boy walks up to his grandmother.
“Grandma, may I have two pennies please?”
Grandma frowns and snaps at him, “What do you need them for?”
The boy takes a step back and bites his lips. He looks down to the floor.
“I want to buy two red balloons,” he says softly.
“For whom?” Grandma questions sternly.
“For you,” he says.
Grandma turns her body towards him and frowns harder.
“And what would an eighty-year-old woman do with two red balloons?”
The boy looks up and smiles.
“You forgot again Grandma.”
“What did I forget?”
“Eighty-one, Grandma. Not eighty.”
Grandma’s frown disappears. She stares at her grandson whose eyes were gleaming in delight. He steps forward and grabs his grandmother’s hand, and whispers, “————….
She suddenly jolts awake. She looks around the bedroom. The glistening sun bathes the room, casting a hard shadow of her wooden chair on the floor. But the shadow looks different. She frowns and rings the bell.
“Rise and shine Mrs Hudson,” the nurse greets as she enters the bedroom. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
Mrs Hudson slowly lifts her arm and points her frail fingers towards the shadow on the floor, and asks in a faint voice, “What’s that on my chair?”
The nurse smiles and walks over. She holds her hand.
“He was here this morning but he didn’t let me wake you.”
Mrs Hudson looks at the nurse, confused.
“Hold on a second,” the nurse says.
She carries the chair and places it in front of the bed. Mrs Hudson’s eyes widen and a slight grin appears across her face, but her smile got wider each second.
“My little boy was here!” She exclaims.
“Oh no no Mrs Hudson. He’s a handsome teenager now.”
Mrs Hudson gives a hearty laughter.
“No you silly girl! He’ll remain my little boy forever, even when he gets his own little boy.”
“Well well, alright,” the nurse crosses her arms. “I’ll get you some tea.”
“Wait!” Mrs Hudson calls out. “There is a card. Pass it over.”
The nurse slips the card into Mrs Hudson’s hands and leaves to prepare tea. Mrs Hudson slowly opens the envelope and takes out a piece of paper.
Happy birthday Grandma. I hope you remember it’s your birthday today. You’re 95 years old. Five more years to make a century, ey? By the way, you owe me two pennies for those two red balloons on your chair. I’ll be there tonight. Do get ready!
Your little boy ❤
That rusty brown crust — how inviting. My hand inched forward and in a second, a stinging pain rose up to my arm. My hand stood paralysed in the direction of the brown treasure. I looked up and she was there. Her frown and big blue eyes hit right to my heart. I stumbled behind as my heart skipped a beat, toppling over a whole stack of hand-woven baskets.