A touching short story by Amitendu Palit about a young boy and his tryst with his newly bought T-shirt.
The T-shirt wasn’t fitting him as well as he thought it would. The length and shoulders were fine but the sleeves came down almost to the elbows.
Rahul was highly disappointed. He had banked a lot on this T-shirt. Crestfallen, he looked at himself in the mirror from different angles. The shirt had looked gorgeous in the shop, in its striking combination of gray and crimson. But somehow, it wasn’t looking great on him now.
Today was a big day for Rahul. It was Saptami, the beginning of Durga puja and he was to go out with Alka today. He had bought the T-shirt for the date only. It had taken a lot to persuade Alka.
Doe-eyed, petite and with curling tresses, the wheat-complexioned Alka was one of the most sought after girls in his school. Her company was in great demand during the Pujas. Rahul couldn’t have had his way had Preeti not helped him. Being one of her closest pals, Alka couldn’t refuse Preeti. But in the process, Preeti forced Rahul to take her along also.
Sly girl – Rahul thought ruefully. She didn’t speak a word about this till the very last day of school, knowing fully well that Rahul would’ve no option then but to toe her line. Rahul could distinctly remember the gleam in her eyes when she disclosed the deal.
Barely an hour was left for his meeting. And here he was, strapped in his brand new costume, thoroughly disgusted with himself. Time was running out. Should he call Ma and tell her the problem? That won’t be right, he felt.
His mother, as it is, was a trifle upset over his buying such an expensive T-shirt. “Five hundred and fifty! My God, Rahul, one can get two good T-shirts with that money,” she had said upon hearing the price.
Baba too, had looked at him disapprovingly. He had felt hurt and angry with his parents.
Later, Ma had come to his room and had sat down on the bed next to him. She had lightly tousled his hair and patted his cheek while explaining things.
“Your father has retired Rahul. We are living on whatever little savings he has. You’re fourteen now, quite a grownup. You’ve to understand a few things. We can’t afford to spend as much as we used to before. Besides, you know how much Baba spent on Didi’s marriage.”
Rahul recollected the incident as he tried to sort out the sleeves. Regardless of what all he did – straightening, folding and pressing – they refused to fit tight and hung loosely. Quite like the sleeves of the khaki uppers worn by their building chowkidar!
Dejected, he gave up on his efforts. As he stepped into his jeans, he glanced at the timepiece on his study table.
Ten minutes past ten! God, he hardly had any time left. Preeti and Alka would be waiting for him at eleven.
The meeting place was a couple of kilometers from his house. He would be taking a bus, as it was too humid to walk.
Where would he treat them? ‘Texas’ would be a good idea, he thought. Didi had taken him there a couple of times. They prepare delicious chicken pakoras and tikkas. On the first occasion, they had ordered full plates for each of them. When the food was served, they had looked at each other with open mouths. Each plate was more than enough for two people. Didi being a small eater, Rahul had had to force himself badly. They were more careful the next time. Of course, Arnab-da too was with them then. It was just a month before Didi’s marriage to Arnab-da.
After putting on his sneakers, Rahul was compelled to look at himself in the mirror again and was badly put off by what he saw. The wet hair was parted neatly on both sides, making him look like the quintessential schoolboy. Something Alka surely won’t like. One of his friends had told him, she prefers the rugged looks, unkempt hair and all, with a touch of stubble on the chin. He thrust his face against the mirror, searching desperately for the non-existent hair growth on his face.
As an afterthought he ran his hands through his hair roughly, to give it a disheveled, ‘macho’ look.
He was stopped by Ma on his way out. She put a sandesh in his mouth, the daily offering made to the home deity. Rahul nearly choked on it in his hurry.
“What have you done to your hair?” Ma was startled. Rahul rushed out, pretending not to hear.
“Don’t be late, Didi will be here soon.” The words hardly registered as he bounded down the stairs.
The hot sun reminded him of May and June, as Rahul mopped the sweat off his brow. His new T-shirt made him feel even hotter. He longed for the cool, fanned comfort of his bedroom.
As he trudged homeward, his mind went back to the girls. They made him wait for almost thirty minutes before turning up. Rahul had wanted to take a round of the pujas first, before having lunch. In that case, he could’ve spent more time with Alka.
But since Alka was in a hurry, they couldn’t move around. He had always thought girls to be frugal eaters but was proved completely wrong by Preeti. She ate like a glutton.
During the end of the meal, as he summed up the prices in his mind, he realized, he was short on cash. He skipped his ice cream, looking mournfully at the girls devouring sundaes.
Preeti talked as much as she ate, mostly with Alka, about their other friends, unknown to Rahul. He tried unsuccessfully to butt in, a couple of times.
To get their attention, he referred to the length of the Mathematics course for the term end examination, only to be snubbed by Preeti.
“For God’s sake Rahul, don’t talk about Maths on a Puja day.”
Alka was formal, inquiring about his parents and sister. She was looking lovely in her rust and red sari. Rahul wanted to compliment her, like the men in the movies, but couldn’t find words.
On their way back, Alka glanced at his T-shirt and said, “It’s a bigger size, I guess.”
Preeti chipped in, “Rahul, don’t try to get bigger than you are” and the two started giggling.
Didi let him in upon reaching home. She came to his room as he was taking off his sneakers.
“It’s hot outside, isn’t it? Wait, I’ll fetch you some water.”
She went out and came back. Rahul downed the water thirstily, in one go. He felt better. “When did you come, Didi? How’s Arnab-da?’
“I came an hour back. Arnab-da ……he’s fine, I think.”
Rahul could make out the indifference in her voice. Was she upset with Arnab-da?
“Would you be going back today?” he asked.
“No, I’ll be staying.”
She took the empty glass from his hand and turned to leave the room. As she turned, Rahul saw an inch long black bruise on her back, just below the nape. The dark mark stood out on her fair back like a burnt patch amidst thick vegetation.
“What has happened to your back Didi?”
She started at Rahul’s question, hurriedly wrapping the sari round her back. “Nothing,” she replied without looking at him. “It must be something,” he insisted, grabbing her arm and turning her around. “Have you hurt yourself?”
Didi was silent. Slowly she lowered her gaze from him, shuddered and started sobbing, clasping the front of his T-shirt.
Rahul was confused and didn’t know what to do.
He thought of calling Ma, but like in the morning, decided not to. Didi calmed down and wiped her tears.
“They’ve finished me,” she said. She was quiet again, staring intently at the floor.
Finally, she looked up at him and said, “I won’t go back.”
Rahul was unable to make out what she had gone through. “What did they do to you?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you everything later.” She caressed his face with her fingers. “What a beautiful T-shirt! Where did you get it from?”
“You must be joking,” Rahul said. “It’s awful.”
“Who said so?” She looked at him questioningly, “Alka?”
Rahul nodded. She felt the T-shirt and smiled. “She must be crazy. It’s beautiful. And you’re looking great in it.”
She went upto the door and turned back. There was a mischievous smile on her lips. “I’ll take you out for dinner tonight, but on one condition. You must wear this T-shirt.” She left the room.
Confused, Rahul came up to the mirror for the umpteenth time in the day. He stared at his full image on the tall, shining, looking glass.
He was looking gorgeous.
Read other writings by Amitendu Palit
The Dark Evening (Short Story)
The House at the Corner (Short Story)
A Strange Darkness (Poem)
A Poetess and her Innermost Being (Book Review)
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