Tara,” Aunt Sita interrupted her friend. “It’s about 5.20 now. I’ll be back by 7.30. Latest.” She drank her tea in quick, noisy gulps. “But if you get hungry, go ahead and eat. Don’t wait for me. Adi will… Where is Adi? He sneaked out again, didn’t he?”
Tara shook her head. “No! He had to leave. There’s a staff meeting at BodZ.”
“Uh huh,” said Aunt Sita, frowning. “Don’t start lying for him.”
“How’s Aditya?” asked Chitra. “In trouble again?”
“He isn’t!” Tara scowled at her aunt. “Sita-ji here is on his case 24/7.”
“He’s as headstrong as his father. I let Sivan do whatever he wanted. And see what a sticky wicket we are in.”
“So what!” Tara felt betrayed by Aunt Sita’s criticism. “Father’s a genius. Everyone says so, even his enemies. There are different rules for geniuses. Don’t say anything against father. And so what if Adi doesn’t do well on tests? What he knows, he knows pukka. If father were here, he’d know how to help Adi. It’s like the story with the sun, the wind and the man in the heavy coat. You’re always huffing and puffing, but what he needs is the sun.”
Her aunt said nothing, though a tiny smile played about her lips. Chitra raised her cup towards the ceiling.
“God keep you, Sivan-bhau, wherever you are. Come back to us, safe and sound.” She glanced at Aunt Sita’s impassive face and Tara’s agitated one. “Let’s talk about something else. Sita, I’ve decided to give my favourite teenager a makeover. It’s my birthday gift. Oh, you’re quite welcome, Tara darling.” She blew a kiss at Tara.
“Make her over? What’s wrong with the way she is?”
“Well, for one thing, Tara’s hair style is totally unsuited to her face. She also needs a manicure. Just look at her nails! Have you been making her use a nail cutter? Ugh! And there’s serious heat damage. Your skin is a delicate fabric, girl, not a solar panel. What do you do? Work in the rice fields?”
“You mean she’s dark,” said Aunt Sita, fanning herself. “I don’t care. I won’t allow her to be bleached. I’ve seen those bleached girls. Geckos.”
“Bleaching! Did I say bleaching? Step into the 21st century, Sita-ji. Molecular Cosmetology has come a long way. A melanin touch-up is quite easy these days. First we’ll do a genomic protein analysis, figure out all the epidermal weaknesses. Then we’ll…oh, just leave her to me.”
Aunt Sita was cornered. She narrowed her eyes, crossed her arms under her considerable bosom, and felt silent. After a few seconds of playing Aunt Sphinx, she stirred. “We’d better get moving, Chitra.”
“Yes.” Chitra collected her things: the chiller scarf, the dust mask, her hat. She winked at Tara. “Don’t worry, darling. I’ll turn you from a kauva to a queen.”
Kauva. Crow. So it was true. Tara felt as if she’d been kicked in the stomach.
The Beast With Nine Billion Feet;
by Anil Menon;
Publisher: Young Zuban