The near-darkness to which the brown curtains subjected the room was making Amir almost feel drowsy. The heavy thick piece of cloth had something resembling flowers stitched on it. He ran his hand on the contours, absentmindedly, not knowing how really to spend time. It was a holiday, and an afternoon, and with Papa asleep and Maa busy with chores, there wasn’t much to keep himself busy at.
The eyes were slowly giving way now. He was almost half-asleep.
Just then, the door bell rang. Far from being irritated to be disturbed when just about to doze off, Amir felt rather excited. Activity was activity. And on an afternoon with nothing to do, even to open the door for the maid or the dhobi was an event, an occurrence that gave the passing time some shape, some meaning. So before his mother could even call out to him to answer the bell, he was almost there, ready to finally let some sunlight in.
Through the netted door, Amir saw a man, dark, spectacled, slightly bending forward with a beaming smile on his face. Even he, as little as he was, could see that the smile was fake, forced and rather shaky, that of a man eager to please. On his shoulder, he carried a thaila, and in his hand was what looked like a box wrapped in plastic. Before he could ask the man anything, he himself spoke.
‘Bete, mummy ghar pe hain?’
‘Haan hain….kya kaam hai?’
‘Unko jaa ke bulao…’
He had ignored Amir’s little query. Children have to get used to their little queries being ignored.
He gave the man a momentary stare and then rushed inside. Maa was in her bedroom, recording expenses in her diary, the one household task she seemed to enjoy most. Looking at Amir entering the room now, she gave her writing hand a pause.
‘Kya hua? Kaun hai?’, she asked.
Again, before Amir could speak, a question had been thrown at him.
‘Koi aadmi hai. Bola ‘mummy’ ko bulao’, replied Amir, then eager to provide some extra useful information, ‘Lagta hai kuchh bechne aaya hai…’
‘Bolo woh ghar mein nahi hain.’
‘Lekin hum bol chuke hain ki who ghar mein hain’, Amir lied.
His mother looked up from her diary now. For a moment or two, she looked at Amir, wondering whether she should get angry at him, and then decided against it. Instead, she clicked her tongue, threw the diary on the bed and stormed out of the room.
‘Kya hai?’, she shouted at the man outside. She stood in the dining room, in the darkness. The man couldn’t sight her, and as he hadn’t really seen her coming, he took a little while to reply.
‘Didi zaraa idhar aake dekh to lijiye…AquaGuard Zero-B sab bhool jayiyega!’, he finally did, holding something he had just taken out of the box.
‘Nahi chahiye!’ is all she said in reply and then stormed back into the bedroom. The man kept pleading behind her, begging her to give the machine just one single look, offering her the world’s cleanest water, and even free installation of the contraption in the household kitchen.
Amir looked at the man closely from behind the netted door. He appeared exhausted, if anything. Mentally and physically. Sweat poured down from his forehead, pure transparent drops of crystal, like the clean water he promised. The flat was on the 3rd floor. God knows how many such he had visited this afternoon, Amir thought, and how many steps he had had to climb, only to be snubbed at the doorway.
After this latest unsuccessful attempt, the man prepared to pack up and leave. When just about to turn back, he looked at the door and saw the kid gazing at him.
‘Bete…ek glass paani pila doge?’, he asked in a low tone.
‘Haan, ek minute rukiye…’, replied Amir, without even a moment’s hesitation and ran to the kitchen. He didn’t need his mother’s permission. You never deny a thirsty man water if he has asked for some, he remembered having been told by his elders many a time. Surely, Maa doesn’t need to be bothered for this.
He filled a glass with water and walked back to the door. Silently, trying not to attract his mother's attention, he kept the glass down, unlatched the netted door (something that required both his hands), lifted the glass and placed it into the man’s extended hand. He did it all almost like a ritual and it gave him an immense sense of satisfaction. Why, his little mind wasn’t quite disposed to fathom yet.
The man drank the entire glass and gave it back to Amir, saying ‘Thank You’. He himself replied with a neat ‘Welcome’ and closed the door again. He then watched the man pick up his thaila and walk down the stairs, to ring the bell for another potential customer, to sell the world’s cleanest water.