I found a new perch where I could sit to wait for Shweta. Moments before, a skinny guard with a rifle had told me to remove myself from the shopping malls steps. Grumbling, I grabbed my bag and settled by some bushes housed in marble planters on the elevated sidewalk.
From my spot I watched the bookwallahs, with their bootleg copies of Mein Kampf and self-help books written by cricket gods, hawk their wares next to the fruitwallahs selling their fleshy pink guavas dusted with chili and sea salt. Some dogs picked at a diaper in the gutter and an old woman, tired chin tucked in her chest, rested by a scale where passerbys could guess her weight for some pocket change. Men were arguing with veiny fists at the nimbu pani stall. Plump aunties scuffed along as they clutched pudgy babies in knit winter caps. Kids in primary school uniforms greedily lapped up their dripping McDonald’s ice cream cones.
On the street below the sidewalk in front of me was a family of six: a father, a mother, three small children and a baby snug in its mother’s chest. The thin man, clad in a threadbare brown stripe cotton kurta, sat blowing up an array of colorful balloons in all shapes and sizes: hearts and rainbows and stripes and you name it, he had it. He tied some in knots, making animals that he secured with string to a wooden display from made of sticks. Three of his children were running barefoot across the tile sidewalk, clamoring for his attention and those walking by. In one hand they held their tins; the other was clutched in a fist and motioned to their mouths “food food.”
The smallest sister was bald and wearing a sleeveless blue velvet dress with the zipper ripped out of the back. She walked up with some balloons and her hand to mouth. A mall guard stepped out from behind me, snatched the balloons from her hand and pointed his gun at her face. She scurried back to her dad, only a few meters away and unfazed.
This went on. The kids would run around and tag each other and beg some and then tire and go sit back with their parents. Their mother, displeased with their empty tins, would give them a thwack in the gut with her metal lunch tiffin. She was yelling. Balloons were bursting. Their father coaxed the girls over with the offer of some deflated balloons to quietly chew on. Out of the path of their ornery mother hen, they sat quietly by his feet as he continued to work. The gnawed on the balloons and began to giggle.
A family of three approached the balloonwallah and his family. The two parents, plump in their crisp button down and heinously bedazzled shalwar kameez, followed their equally as doughy son to the edge of the sidewalk. He pointed at the ones he wanted and barked back to his parents, who in turn barked to the wallah below them.
No, that one.
How about this one?
No, that one!
The chubby boy was getting impatient. That one! he pointed.
The little girl in the blue velvet dress was chewing on a balloon that her father had given her.
The wallah hesitated a moment before bending down and snatching the balloon from his daughters mouth. He blew it up and quickly gave it to the boy on the sidewalk above. The parents mindlessly threw a few rupees into the makeshift cash box — if one could go so far as to call it that — and walked off.
The little girl in the blue dress began to cry.