Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Livia Radman
Opposite my house is a little house, an austere little house—and there are so many of them. They live with their little dog and little bicycle. They have a little grill gate about the size of the door opening my wardrobe. They also have a little fence and anyone who sees this little house would agree with me when I say the thorns of the bougainvillea bushes around their house do a better job of protection than said fence. The tallest person I’ve ever seen, a close relative of a classmate, would be able to touch their roof and maybe place his palms squarely on top of it. Their roof, along with protecting their heads also is where they hang big blankets out to dry.
Opposite my house is a little house with little kids, all of whom are, I’m proud to say, my little friends. My first friend from among them was Ammu, the youngest of them all. While her other sisters play with a kitchen set on the window sill of their little house, this little girl flips her shawl around her neck and saunters to where the little boys play with their tops and tyres. She never forgets calling out Akka!(a term of endearment for an elder sister)every time she’s going over to play with her brothers and makes sure to keep calling until I come and wave to her. I’ve never seen her walk, always hopping or skipping about.
I remember quite faintly the day we became friends. She had called me Aunty and spent at least five minutes trying to tell her that I was Akka. I assumed she knew Kannada but soon learnt they spoke not Kannada, but Urdu. I’m still unsure if she knows what it means or if she thinks it’s my name, but either way, I’m happy if she doesn’t go around calling me an aunty when I’m at least a good fourteen years away from being one. Ever since then, it has become a routine. Every time she walks by to go and scare her brothers with her boisterous words, she makes sure to give a call, Akka! and I have to arrive at my balcony and wave to her until she can’t see me anymore.
A relative died one Wednesday and that was the day her brothers became my friends. I wasn’t close to him but to hear he was no longer in this world, leaving behind his young daughter alone made me sick. Everyone at home sat around sharing stories and memories they had with him, an attempt at keeping him alive in words and stories. I decided to walk to the balcony to breathe for the first time all day. A few moments later, I heard a collective shout of Akka! and saw 4 little boys dressed in dirty clothes wearing wide grins and waving at me. Their leader was Ammu who stood with her hands atop her hip, a proud smile on her face. She turned around and said something, nodding her head and pointing towards me. A final wave later, the five of them went back to their little house.
One call became five and I began hearing their collective shouting every day. They don’t speak the language I do, and I don’t speak theirs. And yet, we find our ways to communicate, flinging our hands and shaking our heads. On some days, they show me the toys they build themselves with the leftover wood and cement their parents leave behind. They then explain with wide smiles and flailing hands how they created their cricket bats from wooden twigs and threads.
The last of them to become my friend was the eldest of them all and she took her time. One day when Ammu and her brothers tried persuading her to come to say hello, she scrunched her face and looked over at me as though she disapproved of my existence. She gave me one stern look and marched back into her little house. Ammu and her brothers dropped their shoulders but gave me a wide smile and followed their elder sister. I don’t know what had changed but a few weeks later, the little ones seemed to have convinced her to be my friend and when I was least expecting it, I saw her waving to me along with her siblings.
She stood behind the others, but it was easy to spot her since she was the tallest among them all. She hoisted Ammu upon her waist and waved to me with crinkled eyes. Today, she’s my best friend among them all. She carries mud pots, one on her waist and one atop her head and walks to the public water tank to fill water for her entire family. On her way, she makes sure to call for me. On days when my heart feels heavy from hearing about the death of all those people around, from listening to my teacher go on about grades, from even so much as breathing, their calls give me the strength to go on. I cling onto their voices, their grinning faces and their waving hands and steer my way through my days, my weeks and these months. Opposite my house is a little house with little kids, all of whom are, I’m proud to say, my little friends.