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Mansi and Tarun sneaked out of their little shanty. The women of the house were busy with their chores. The men were hard at work at the site; the hours were long before they could be home. Outside, the huge structures rose menacingly around the tiny shacks; they resembled giant monsters reaching out to devour the skies.

Mansi and Tarun looked up to see if Ratan Chacha could spot them. He was just a speck in the sky, precariously balanced on the scaffolding while coloring other people’s dreams. They stealthily ran across the manicured lawn and headed to the park- the slides, the swings, and the merry-go-rounds in attractive hues, the giant animal figures, and the jumbo aquarium with colorful fish. It was an irresistible treat. They jumped onto the merry-go-round and went round and round until their heads were in a tizzy.

Their excitement was short-lived. Soon, they found themselves suspended in the air, flinging their tawny legs wildly and screaming in agony. The hairy hands that held them belonged to Ramlal-the burly watchman, their sworn enemy. The squeaking of the merry-go-round had broken his slumber. The kids landed unceremoniously on the ground and took flight. Ramlal retreated to his gloomy cabin adjoining the main gate.

Mansi and Tarun waited awhile before venturing further into forbidden territory. The building that housed the gymnasium and the party hall had long aroused their curiosity. They sneaked behind the building and moved cautiously around it, hoping for a peek into an intriguing but forbidden world. One of the windows in the corner was open and they stuck their faces inside the grill to look.

Mansi’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets and Tarun started squealing with excitement. They were staring into a brightly lit room. Magical strains of music flowed out through the window. Pink and white balloons dangled from the ceiling. Plush chairs in red velvet were arranged in neat rows. Seated on them were little kids and their parents. The kids resembled little princes and princesses in their fine clothes. The men were in bright, traditional attire and the women wore shimmering clothes and dazzling jewelry.

Suddenly, the music stopped, and all fell quiet. The kids gathered around the table in the middle. Mansi noticed a girl in a purple dress with a tiara adorning her forehead. A lovely lady in a red flowy gown stood by her side, prodding her on. Tarun’s eyes were fixed on the large brown cake with white topping; he started drooling. The kids started singing in unison “Happy Birthday to you, Sayli…”. The little lady blew out the tiny candles on the cake and started cutting the cake, her Mom lending a helping hand.

Mansi was awe-struck. She remembered the stories that her mother had told her, about fairies in heaven. It was the first time she had seen them, little fairies and big ones too. Was it possible to see them if one was alive? She pinched herself to make sure that she was not dead. Suddenly, she felt gruff hands pull her up. She looked around for Tarun. He too was dangling in mid-air. This time, Ramlal carried them, whining and wailing, all the way to their home. He rudely dropped them on the floor, with a stern warning that next time, they would be caned.

That night, Mansi dreamt that she was a fairy named Sayli, dressed in an exquisite purple dress, with a tiara adorning her forehead. Her mother was seated next to her, dressed in a shiny red saree, with beautiful jewels on her neck and hands. She noticed for the first time that her mother was indeed beautiful. Tarun was dressed in a shiny robe and was munching on a huge chunk of cake. The cake was brown, with a white topping.

A new day dawned. The coldness of the floor woke her up, she had rolled off the mat that she shared with Tarun. He was still asleep, curled up like a tiny wheel. Her Mom was blowing into the wood in the far corner, trying to cook up a broth for the morning meal. Her father was probably at the site already, doubled up under the weight of the bricks and cement on his frail shoulders. Mansi walked out through the makeshift door and sat on the stone at the entrance, rubbing her eyes all the while. Suddenly, she saw a pink and white balloon floating toward her from above. She could not believe her eyes. She ran towards the balloon and latched on to the thread that was dangling below. Running back inside her home, she shouted to her brother,” Tarun, look what I have found”. He struggled to his feet and ran after her.

Hitting the balloon towards Tarun, Mansi squealed in delight. Tarun caught it with his nimble hands and hit it back at Mansi with one hand, clutching at his loose shorts with the other. Mansi’s threadbare dress flayed around her when she jumped up to reach for the balloon.

Their happiness knew no bounds.

-Chitra Nair is an educator, poetess, and author based in Mumbai. She writes on topics that touch her heart.

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