He grabbed her hair. She grabbed his hair.
It was a deadlock position.
He didn’t let go. She didn’t let go either.
He held on to a chunk of his sister’s frizzy brown hair. She frantically clasped whatever she could of his itsy-bitsy raven hair.
“Let go of me. Mouj will be here any moment.” He bawled.
“Are you scared? Sissy!!” she screamed.
He pulled harder. She cursed in pain. She tried to pull harder too, but his crew cut didn’t leave much scope for hair pulling.
“What is happening here?” They both turned to see their mouj standing in the doorway. Hands on her hips, black frizz slightly visible under her worn-out scarf, strained eyes and stained pheran, she was a formidable figure.
The hands went down instinctively.
He started crying.
“Sissy” She muttered under her breath so that only he could hear.
He cried louder.
“He broke my crayon” she said in her defence.
“I didn’t do it deliberately” he said in his.
“What will I do with you two? Look at the other children, look how well-behaved they are and look at you two, you are a disgrace.” She used to be angry with them when they misbehaved but today she was just sad.
The guilty heads went down.
He wiped his tears and went to hug his mouj but she resisted his attempts.
She preened her dress, her pretty white frock. It was her favourite dress, eid gift from mouj. She had cat-walked in her frock till Lala’s store and back, to show-off her dress when it was new. She ruffled her hair and resumed her poise. And then went to take her place besides her brother.
Two pair of puppy eyes looked up at their mouj. She wasn’t the one to give in easily but it had been a rough day, and these were the apple of her eyes.
She sat down, stretched her arms and made them sit on her lap.
They are growing too fast, she thought.
Soon they wouldn’t want to sit on my lap anymore, she thought.
She ran her fingers through her daughter’s hair and kissed the tear-stained cheeks of her son.
“Why do you fight so much? Me and my brother, we loved and took care of each other and always shared our things. Why are you two so wild?”
Anticipating the opening of an unbidden lesson on how to love your brother, she wriggled her way out of her lap.
“We want to play outside.”
Her mouj sighed. It was the sigh of a mouj torn between holding onto her children for a little while longer and letting them go.
“You can go out and play but you need to be back in an hour and complete your homework.” After pausing, she took a 2-ruppee coin and gave it to her son “Share it with your sister”
Eyes glistening with the spark of an unanticipated treat they looked at each other with ear to ear glee. All rivalry was forgotten, all blows and hair pulling forgiven. Out they stomped, she all poised and plumed in her pretty white frock and he pocketing the precious 2-rupee coin.
Square wooden windows, old and rotten at places, in the crooked brick houses trailed two radiant children romping around in the abrupt patches of light and dark in the street below.
Visit this amazing documentary photographer : Azaan Shah