“Allah is with me today”, thought Aftab – Mini was out in the tiny balcony of her room again – to dry her hair. He rushed outside to stand beneath the balcony hoping few drops will also fall on him; the first direct contact between him and her. Aftab was not sure whether Mini was in love with him as well but she did oblige him by appearing on her balcony every few days and standing there with her hands on the railing and ear phones plugged in her ears. All of fifteen, the main job of Aftab was to go to school though he seldom studied. He did not like to help his papa in the “Universal Bike Repair Work Shoppe”, but used to help neighbors with errands to earn pocket money. Because of this hobby he was very popular in his Muhallah, with people calling out his name every now and then.
Though Aftab knew Mini since they were children but he noticed her first when she came to his papa’s workshop with her scooty. Having dragged the dammed two-wheeler she looked out of sorts with her hair ruffled. Her hands were all dirty with grease. As she waited in the shop clearly uncomfortable, Aftab offered to bring her scooty to her house when it was ready, “I will bring it to your house, you can go home”. Obviously impressed with his chivalry she simply said “Thank you Aftab”.
After that day there was just one fact of Aftab’s life – he was in love and his sole purpose to catch a glimpse of Mini. From that moment Aftab counted his life not in days but by how many times he could manage to see her in her balcony. Whenever their eyes met she gently smiled and then she turned her eyes down shyly. But as no word was spoken Aftab was still unsure. ‘If love is a game then Mini was surely the champion’, thought Aftab.
Gradually all of Aftab’s friends came to know of his fling and started teasing him. Aftab ignored them as he did not have the will to take on anyone now. But spreading of the news of the new love in the colony helped. Akram, one of Aftab’s closest friends told this to Rani, a friend of Mini, who he had been able to befriend a month back. They were the new couple in the colony and it was their duty to help others’ find love. Rani agreed to break the ice between Aftab and Mini. The big garbage dump in the back of the colony was decided for the rendezvous. Rani asked them to be there by 2 PM the next day and committed that she will anyhow convince Mini to be there.
“Aftab is the friendliest guy in the colony”, Rani said introducing Aftab. “We will stand here looking around for any unexpected guests, you two go ahead and talk”, continued Rani pointing towards Akram. “Don’t be nervous”, was her parting advice. Only weather in this month of October could not be held accountable for the sweat in Aftab’s palms. Not the one to beat around the bush for long, Aftab announced directly, “I like you” - a silence - “He He He”. That was the most beautiful string of muzzled laugh Aftab had ever listened to. To add more seriousness to this momentous moment, Aftab wanted to quote a couplet from Ghalib, which he had mugged a day before. But Ghalib failed him and he had to salvage the moment with a vacant look in his eyes and a sheepish smile. Before this moment of innocent acknowledgement could proceed any further, he saw Akram rushing towards him shouting “Abbu”. Aftab left hurriedly but not before whispering this in Mini’s small ears “Buddha Park, 2 PM on Sunday”.
Aftab wanted to look distinct for the first date of his life. The scarlet colored shirt tucked loosely in his faded blue jeans made him look striking and borrowed jutias with crooked beaks ensured that everyone was bound to give him a second look. When he asked his Ammi for two fifty rupee notes, she did look at him suspiciously but said nothing.
When Aftab first saw Mini at the Buddha Park he thought he had witnessed Allah’s miracle. Carefully holding a tiny hanky between her fingers and using the other hand to shoo away some strands of hair that were bothering her, she entered through the revolving gate, next to the main gate which was permanently closed. As they settled down on a grassy patch in a corner Aftab couldn’t remove his gaze from her. Her tiny breasts under the kurta looked like rose buds, eager to blossom. She was chewing her own lips and looking the other way. When Aftab placed his palm over hers, she withdrew her hand, but still smiling and said “Not here”.
This time they grew comfortable quickly and settled into a conversation. Aftab was doing much of the talking; telling about daily life and fibbing wherever required. Almost out of nowhere eunuchs emerged clapping wildly, asking for money. Mini was horrified and sprang to her feet, looking pitiable with hands folded across her chest. First Aftab tried to ignore them but they refused to budge; after all young couples were their core customers. Aftab was unsure how to handle this situation but he tried to be chivalrous asking them to leave immediately. As if just waiting for a provocation, one of them moved forward took his balls, literally, into his firm hands and the other one drew his sari up. Hurriedly Aftab drew the two fifties from his back pocket. Eunuch snatched one and went away shouting profanities.
Aftab looked towards Mini, who was crying now, and put his arms around her small shoulders and said, “Do not worry, if you were not there, I would not have given any money”. “Let us have ice cream”. The ice cream costed 35 rupees; he could get only one. Aftab proposed to Mini “We will eat from the same cup”. As they sat down, this time not in a lonely corner but amongst other couples, Mini took out a mobile and said “I have a gift for you”. She played “I just called to say I Love you” and informed Aftab that this is the best love song, composed by a blind musician. Though Aftab could not understand much, he enjoyed.
Just then he felt someone poking at his back. He saw a constable asking him to get up. “This is a family place, not for having sex with young, adolescent girls”, he barked. Embarrassed Aftab took out fifteen rupees that were left and pushed into his palm without saying anything. Seeing fifteen rupees as bribe further enraged the police man, he delivered a tight slap right across Aftab’s face saying, “Trying to bribe a policeman?”
As Mini rushed out of sight crying, Aftab had his first tryst with humiliation. More than the pain, the humiliation brought water in Aftab’s eyes as he took his first steps being a man from a boy and losing bit of innocence on the way.