Shambhu rushed to his house, his heavy oversized school bag slowing him down with each step. The closer he reached to his house, streets became darker, narrower and more cramped. He wanted to get home soon so that he could go to the market with his father, to sell vegetables. It was better than being in school.
“You are a grown up now” his father would tell him. Ever since he was a little child, he assisted his father in carrying vegetables. Most of the times he just hung around the vegetable cart talking to other children on the way or listening to his father talk to other elders.
But these days, Shambhu was more concerned with how his father negotiated for money and was quickly becoming adept in money matters. He knew how much the vegetables cost and how to calculate the total bill amount. He would do the math in his mind and verify it with his father’s calculations every time his father made a sale. He rewarded himself with a rupee he was going to earn in the future when his calculations were correct and punished himself by reducing one when it was wrong. By the end of the day, he would have given himself at least Rs 30 in his mind. One day he was going to be very rich. He knew he was going to quit school soon. He had already started taking a lot of leaves because his father seemed sick these days and would need his help. His right eye looked like a stone and he would drop things very often. He would also smell bad most of the days. But this didn’t deter Shambhu, for he only became more eager to help him and perform better calculations every day.
They moved through the same lanes every day, selling vegetables to familiar faces, ending their trip at the corner spot near the famous wall with a cat painted on it. One day, his calculations did not match his father’s. Shambhu asked him, “Why did you give him for Rs 50 less father?”
“He is the landlord Shambhu. One man like him is born after people like us have committed a hundred sins, to punish us. God has his own ways. I must have done horrible crimes in my previous birth. You need to be careful of them too. Never pick a fight with them. Never. Do as they say” he replied.
Cringing at his father’s response, he looked away, staring at the ground in front of him. Shambhu disliked him, and his father too, for being so meek. Someday I am going to take all my father’s money back from that man in the white shirt.
He did not want to be timid like him. He wanted to be strong and never sell his vegetables for a rupee less to anybody. He was going to be a rich man. Like the men in the white shirt. He would own a big house, sky high. He did not like living in that pigeonhole of a room they have. He would have the best vegetables in the whole village and ample food for his children and wife. They would eat the best mangoes, best jalebis, best pakoras. He would get white shirts stitched for all his sons so that they never have to bend in front of any other man. He would walk down the street with his shoulders taut like a king. This would be his kingdom. He crossed the store, where his bride to be was waiting for him, right behind the glass wall. She never moved, she was always there waiting for him, an incarnation of goddess Parvati herself. Mesmerised by her beauty he would stand and stare at her every time he passed by that glass window. Her slender arms by her side, eyes lowered down, like a perfect bride. She looked beautiful in her red skirt. Standing there, so still, as if waiting for him to free her. His touch would bring her back to life. “I will marry you when I have enough money”, he said to the mannequin, his eyes gleaming with pride. He winked at her, where she stood still like a doll under the yellow lights of the fashion store.
“Shambhu” his father shouted, who had moved ahead, completely unaware of his delusion. “Hold this!”, he handed him a basket of mangoes. “3 kgs is three times 80 which is equal to Rs 240”, Shambhu quickly calculates.