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When Dheeran was seven years old, his father took him to the Madurai house. It was large and hollow, littered with broken furniture and forgotten relatives. He gave Dheeran a bar of chocolate, told him he would be back soon, and left. During the nights, Dheeran listened for the sound of the front door unlocking, his father’s low voice. Sometimes he slept. In the morning, his periamma gave him a tumbler of Horlicks, a salty fried egg and a loaf of tutti-frutti bread.

“I will be back in the evening," she would say, touching his cheek. “Look after the house for me."

“I’m going today," Dheeran would say. “My Appa is coming."

“Eat the bread if you get hungry. Ok?"

Each day, Dheeran kept his bag by the front door. He combed his hair, wore his watch and went to the room where his grand aunt lay dying.

“I am going today," he would say. She would not answer and he would wonder if he had accidentally killed her by talking too loud. Once he heard the uneven rattle of her breath, he would tiptoe to the front room and sit by the door, his bag slumped against his leg like it was asleep. Every so often Dheeran would check his watch or eat a slice of bread. The searing splashes of sunlight on the floor would gradually turn into bars of deep yellow, then fade altogether. His periamma would return. Someone would light some incense. Dheeran would pick up his bag and go upstairs, telling himself that his father would surely come tomorrow.

******

Puppy monster

“Your periamma is not here," said the young man. “Here is your tea."

“I drink Horlicks," said Dheeran, his mouth still gummy with sleep.

“Then here is your Horlicks. Do you know who I am?"

Dheeran shook his head.

“I’m your uncle," he said, “You can call me JackieChan Uncle."

JackieChan Uncle had large, soft eyes and thick tufts of black hair growing out of his ears. He took Dheeran up to the roof and pointed out the bus stand and the home of an alcoholic actress who had starred in a blue film. He also pointed to a hawk and said that it carried off puppies and ate them on the water tank.

“That’s the PuppyMonster. Tomorrow I will find a puppy and feed it to him," said JackieChan Uncle. “You can watch."

“I won’t be here," said Dheeran. “I’m going today. My Appa is coming."

“Let’s make a bet," said JackieChan Uncle. “I say you’ll sit here all day eating bread and looking at your watch."

“I’m going today," said Dheeran, standing up. “Really."

“Bets da," said JackieChan Uncle, “come on."

JackieChan Uncle began making squawking noises at the PuppyMonster. Dheeran ran downstairs, tripping over a broken stair and smashing his nose into the dusty floor. He combed his hair, strapped on his watch and said goodbye to his dying grand aunt, periodically wiping the blood that trickled out of his nose. Then he walked out into the dusty street, his bag bumping gently against his side. He walked quickly, like he knew where he was going, weaving through tangles of people and smoke until he came to a bus stop with a cement bench. He sat down, feeling a dry sourness settle inside his mouth. He thought that if this had been a movie, he would have gone and found his father by himself. He would have stolen a lorry and beaten up seven bad men, saying bold, cruel things to them with a sneer that made him look handsome and important. His father would have wept and Dheeran would have smiled and said don’t cry, it’s ok. Dheeran watched the patches of late afternoon sunlight dim and disappear. Then he saw JackieChan Uncle, walking towards him through the haze of the evening.

“I wanted to ask," said JackieChan Uncle, “You know the tragedy story of Silk Smitha?"

Dheeran shook his head.

“I’ll tell you. Come."

Dheeran took his hand and they walked back slowly, the glow of the shoplights falling softly from their shoulders.

To submit a prompt (a word, phrase, quote or brief idea), mail Kuzhali at kuzhali.stories@gmail.com or tweet it using the hashtag #kuzhalistories.

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