In the mood we were in, fire could be liquid, could be sand, or molten like lava, licking the last of us. Inching closer, Annabelle, red as henna, as cinnamon, as coals in the oven, the color of syrup, asked if ‘until evening’ was too long. The two boys at the end of the room, were huddled like uprooted weeds. “Do you know the song, Aye dil hai muskil…?” said the girl I no longer remember the name of. I could hear the boys mumbling something in answer, their teeth chattering. We felt the strange power of something beautiful, the way flames are — vivid, delectable, ochre — but also limitless, something that could singe you, burn you. One of them began coughing. The man from Alimuddin’s Indian Kitchen, raw as vengeance, rough as the bark of hound dogs up in Alaska, who had come to our aid, smiled silly. He stretched his hand and pulled the curtain like he perhaps did when he dressed and left for work. The restaurant was closed for something or the other. Annabelle read the notice on the side wall like she would regard the violets by her bedside, with the same teaser flourish she displayed to the boys earlier, as we walked down from school. The same vaunt of beauty that would be dead by the time the marriage-for-citizenship the man would trick her into many weeks later — bearing the strain of an indigo ocean, the fault-lines of impermanent earth — would end. At this moment in time though, now, the helplessness of the boys, their combustible masses, same as haystack waiting for a flicker, enthralled us. We laughed how the boys, our classmates, cold in their undies, had to hold their pee because they were, for once, caught spying on us. Only much later, in our Physics class, we’d know it takes nearly the same temperature to make glass from sand as the heat of atomic explosion. And still later, how that day had enough ammunition to break one of the boys, shatter him like glass.
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