Rain growled in and created hunchbacks for pedestrians. Detrimental lubrication was evident. The dog-nose wetness made everywhere appear vague. One building stood tall and looked a bit visible than the rest.
The apartments inside were the same, no difference at all. But while almost all the apartments opened their windows from day to day, this one had its sole window permanently closed.
In this apartment lived three children. If clustered together, their heights were like steps, ascending steps. All were dressed in cloths of fresh dirt. A boy and two girls in a room of utter bareness. The children’s room.
Pum, the smallest, was lying on the floor sleeping, drooling. Thess, the smaller, was standing by the closed window. Tim, the small, was squatting with his legs spread out, staring at the floor pensively. The apartment obviously had the absence of parents. Their dresses were different but of the same quality – inferior.
Everywhere was silent save for the puerile snoring from Pum. “I wish I could open the window, but Dad said not to,” Thess spoke up.
She shifted her perpetually forlorn look away from the window and met Tim’s eyes on her.
“Dad ain’t here,” he said.
Thess shook her head and left the window to pet Pum, who stirred in her sleep. “Dad’ll bring presents. He used to do that, you know,” said Thess.
“Yes,” Tim said drily.
Pum began to perspire. Quickly, Thess woke her up. “Where’s Dad?” Pum asked.
“He’s coming,” Tim sobbed. “With presents.”
Thess hugged herself and swung from side to side. “He used to say stories under the tree,” she said in one breath.
Tim slowly warmed up. He brightened gradually. “The story of the witch of Oz and the one of the birth of death. These are my favourites,” said he.
“Mine is the one of the boiled bread,” prattled Pum. “The baker was truly foolish.”
Everyone laughed. They were obviously oblivious of a female eavesdropper by the door. This woman had three loaves of bread with fried egg inside each. She had a black-red scar near her left eye and a dull ring on her left hand, indicating marriage.
She grinned as she overheard them. A moment passed. Then, she inhaled, unlocked the door, threw in the loaves and locked it back. She smiled when she overheard them this time.
They obviously wolfed them with relish. “What is a lazy man’s job?” asked Tim.
“Sleep!” Thess and Pum answered together. Laughter ensued. This puerile assembly spoke well into the night. By then, the heavy crying outside minimised a bit.
The next day came. The woman came out of a room adjacent to two permanently locked-up rooms before the children’s room, battered. Minutes later, a man came out of there as well, well dressed, handsome, too.
After adjusting his dress, he exclaimed, “Another nice day! It was a beautiful night, wasn’t it, dear?”
The woman turned and looked at him, speechlessly baffled. The man confronted her. “How was I last night?” he whispered.
She slowly shook her head and looked down. He seized one of her injured wrists. “I want to check on the kids,” she said weakly.
“What kids?” he thundered. He pointed to the door leading to the children’s room. “Those things in there?” he asked. “They are not useful anymore. I have to get rid of them. But I cannot, because hard-earned money might go down the drain.” Her eyes were pleading for release of her wrist from his grasp.
First, Tim stirred. Then, Thess. And finally, Pum. The children stretched their bodies and Tim got up. He went to the window. A man, moderately dressed, had dozens of balloons in one hand. He looked up and saw Tim. He smiled and released them. They floated in the air. “Bubbles!! Those bubbles!” Tim exclaimed and hit hard at the static window. He hit the window with an extra vigour each time.
It was becoming relentless. One balloon was approaching the window. Tim screamed and, with one final effort, hit at the window with both fists. It broke.
The couple heard the breakage and rushed in. The man stormed towards Tim. “D-Dad?” Tim said feebly and went to his siblings. He brought them close to him.
The man blushed visibly in fury. “Damn! The window’s broken!! Rubbish! Nonsense!” he exclaimed and turned on the woman. The children watched helplessly as she became a punching bag. He elbowed her, kicked her, choked her.
He was on top of her, strangling her till she longer moved, before finally raping her.
When he finished, he got up and heaved a sigh. He turned to the children. A tear left Thess’s eye. A sob left Pum and Tim sighed heavily.
“Dad, remember the witch of Oz?” Thess muttered.
“And the boiled bread?” added Pum.
“And the birth of death?” Tim chipped in.
“Shut up, all of you!!!!!!” the man thundered.
Thess stepped forward and screamed in a high-pitched voice, “No!!!!!!!!!!!!” She ran away. Tim and Pum followed her. For moments, the man stood rooted to the spot. Then, he covered his face and wept.
The children ran away from the building, jumping with great enthusiasm, their footsteps visible on the wet pavement.