Ill-gotten Gains

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #133, where we write about the image below, from sasint at Pixabay.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

Nothing was moving in the heat. Even the mosquitos had sensed the slim pickings and were taking a break. Ajay and Johar were lounging idly in the shadiest corner of the town square.

“I’m bored”, complained Ajay, symbolically allowing his arm to flop down heavily to the ground.

Johar momentarily raised his head. “I know. There’s nothing to do, I hate this place. But make the most of it. In two weeks, we will be back in school, and I was warned. This year will be  tough.”

Ajay gave the barest recognition. “Why’s that?”

“My brother said so. We’re in Mrs Bhanuka’s class. She’ll give us a hard time, prepare us for big school.”

Considering the statement for a moment, Ajay resumed his repose. “He was only trying to scare you. You fall for it every time.”

Johar grunted but allowed the conversation to peter out. The boys were interrupted by a third voice.

“Hey, you two, what are you up to?”

Farid. Always mischievous, their best friend was a welcome sight.

“Where you been?”, enquired Ajay.

“Chores. Nani wouldn’t let me come out until I finished”, he shrugged.

“We’re bored. There’s nothing happening and it’s too hot.”

“We could pay Mr Shukla a visit, then maybe go to the river for a swim?”

Johar chimed in. “Shukla’s? Forget it. We don’t have a penny.”

“Who mentioned paying?”, retorted Farid, an impish look in his eyes. “He’ll be open again soon, and a watermelon would be refreshing right now.”

“We’ll get into trouble. Dad said he’d kill me after the last time.”

“Only if we get caught”, retorted Farid. “Come on, it will be fun.

The three resumed their indolence but were interrupted by the high-pitched motor of an old put-put, as it barged across the square. Farid impatiently kicked a stone away. “Come on, are you in or not?”

A short while later, Bhuvnesh Shukla was busy rearranging his display ready for the expected afternoon shoppers. He watched as Farid approached. That little bastard, always up to no good.

“What’s your juiciest fruit, Mister Shukla?”

Shukla regarded the boy with suspicion. “It’s *all* juicy, boy. But unless you’ve money to pay, it’s all out of bounds.” As he was speaking, Shukla spotted Ajay sidle up. It was no accident that Ajay was the fastest runner of the three. “That goes for you, too, sonny Jim”, Shukla turned to face Ajay.

“Don’t worry, Mister Shukla…”, began Farid, successfully recapturing Shukla’s stare.

The moment was enough. In a trice, Ajay had swiped a large mango from the display. Disturbing the pile, he was spotted immediately by Shukla, who started to give chase. “Watch the shop”, he hissed to Farid, “anything missing, I know your Nani”. Without waiting for a response, Shukla tore after Ajay.

But Shukla was not the only one to move quickly. Johar had been watching the scene unfold from around a street corner, and darted out toward Farid. As he neared, he cupped his arms and Farid lifted one, two, three ripe watermelons from the display. Johar was gone as quickly as he’d arrived.

With Shukla in hot pursuit, Ajay finally finished counting. He dropped the mango, and faced now with the choice of pursuing the culprit or rescuing his wares, the unfit Shukla chose the latter. Stopping to recover the fruit, he waved his fist at the disappearing Ajay.

“You little thief. I’ll remember you”, before he realised that the shop was left unattended. Chasing Ajay had taken its toll, though, and he was able to return at no more than a gentle jog. He spotted Farid, empty handed and looking innocent.

“Bastard got away, but he didn’t get anything”, panted Shukla as he brandished the mango, adding, “You know him, boy?”

“No sir, never seen him before.”

“Well, remember his face, and if you see him again, come tell me, right?”

In a rare gesture of goodwill, Shukla briefly smiled, and tossed the mango to him. “For looking after the shop”. Shukla’s expression once again hardened. “Now skeet. I’ve had enough of little boys for one day.”

“Thank you, sir”, said a grateful Farid as he retreated around the same corner as Johar. Two blocks further, the two friends met up, and were admiring their handsome gains as Ajay sprinted up to them. “Now, what about that swim. I could do with cooling down.”

Back at the shop, Shukla had finished resetting the pile of mangoes. Taking three steps back to admire his handiwork, he scanned the display and scratched his head. Still, something doesn’t look right.


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