The families were close as two coats of paint. He was the brat pulling a new prank on her every few hours — sometimes as mean as pulling her panties down in the lawn in front of the family. Off would she run crying waiting for Sukhi to come apologize. Or just console. Or simply come to her and just stand at a distance from where she could feel his presence. All her tears would vanish in an instant had he been there with her. She had imagined him close to her for so long and for so many times that even his thoughts made her smile. And soon she would be ready to brave yet another demeaning experience he would out her through.

For eight months in the year she was away from him writing him letters. She would never get a reply but that didn’t bother her. He was a hard-working student — she assumed — who didn’t have time for correspondence. She would eagerly wait for the summers when she would move, along with her family to the sleepy hill town of Shimla. It was from here that India was ruled when it was hot and the Britishers came all the way up for respite. Her father — Qureshi Babu — worked in the Civil Service that the Queen had set up to manage the daily affairs of a huge nation.

They would share stories all night long. Well, to be exact, he would share stories and she would intently listen with a sparkle in her eyes: occasionally giggling like she had no worries in the world. They were mostly about the Revolution: some motley bunch of people he used to meet after school who didn’t believe in the imperialist elite ruling the Indians.

Then came her turn and by the time she could start he would sleep off. She would still tell him all about how her day was — which was mostly about him — and he would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night asking her to ‘shut the fuck up’ and let him sleep.

His was the first appendage she had ever seen. It was out of curiosity then.

‘You show me yours, I’ll show you mine.’

She felt closer to him than ever. She even touched it, scared at first. He threw a fit when he didn’t find anything down there.

He would tell her all about the cute little girls at school and how he would steal a kiss on their cheeks when they weren’t looking. Rather than being jealous or appalled, she would get more charmed by him.

Once when she was thirteen, she stumbled upon him under the staircase that led to the primary school. He was a senior at school — the Prefect — who had supervisory responsibilities over the juniors deputed to weekly cleaning of primary section corridors. She would occasionally go there to steal glances of him bossing around. The ruder he was with the juniors, the more irresistible Saqina found him to be.

This time it was unusually quiet around the primary section. Unsure of whether it was the cleaning day, she still carried on walking when she heard soft moans.

Sukhdev was standing under the stairs looking around frantically as if he was searching for someone or just making sure there was no one around. She also saw Sheetal on her knees with his penis is her mouth.

Grossed out, she turned back and ran. Not even once did she look back till the time she reached her desk, picked up her bag and ran to the royal buggy waiting for her outside. The sight of Sheetal sitting on her knees doing something nasty to Sukhi was driving her crazy. It was weird — a feeling she never felt before. She was not sure if he saw her too. Deep down, for some strange reason, she wanted him to have caught her peeping.

That night, she touched herself down there. It felt funny but good.

It was Sukhdev’s eighteenth birthday. He was sick of cakes, candles and dinners. It was yet another ordinary day, he thought. But he had to go on along with the shenanigans.

The parents were in the drawing room with their scotch and cigars. Being Raibahadurs in those days of the Raj came with it’s perks. He sneaked out of the lawn with a bottle of the scotch — a little too fine for people of his color of the skin in 1944.

This had become a ritual for the last three birthdays. He would smuggle some booze out while Saqina would bring some fine Cubans. And they would sit against the wall throwing pebbles into the pond. She would make him drinks and light his cigars and listen to him intently about the Revolution: new stories everytime.

‘I don’t know whose dad is richer — yours or mine. All I know is that they’re both scum. Don’t know if their blood is still Indian or that had a price as well,’ he said chewing off a cigar’s end preparing to light it up.

Having poured a drink for him, Saqina took out her dad’s gold plated cigar lighter that seemed to have caught his fancy.

‘They’re traitors, Sukhi, selling off their souls to the fair-skinned tyrants. They’re not like you,’ she quipped and struck on the lighter flame for him.

It was very dark that night, drizzling pleasantly. She held the flame against her face which was shining in the dark. She was wearing pink lipstick, precocious for a fourteen year old. He had never looked at her in the way he was looking today. She had grown up into this pretty young lady with big eyes, flawless skin and supple breasts. She was sitting against the wind, making her wet blouse flutter against it.

‘You know I went to Punjab last month for the HSRA meeting. We believe in Socialism that will bring upon a new tomorrow for India: when there will be no rulers and no ruled. Everyone will be equal and we would decide how we want to live.’

Weaker the understanding, stronger the opinions. Given the absolute lack of depth of understanding of the Revolution, Sukhi’s enthusiasm was genuine. The voice was trembling a little bit, though. The finest scotch — that only the rarest rare could afford — was in action after a few mouthfuls.

Her blouse had gotten wetter. It stuck to her wet body really close. He could see the shape of her tempting breasts through her shameez. She probably noticed him staring at them but his glass was empty and she had to pour another drink into it.

Right when she turned back to get the bottle, she felt his hand on her blouse.

After a long, deep, audible breath, she closed her eyes and murmured, ‘Finally.

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