This was the time of the day that they enjoyed the most. The building was alive with noise and preparation. Eighteen homes where lunch was being prepared, clothes were being washed, vessels were being cleaned. So much activity and so many happenings.One could smell the poor sweeper in the corridor trying to finish his chores, surrounded by the smell of rot emerging from the bins on the landing. Adding to that was the laundry boy climbing the stairs, very audibly heaving a heavy stock. The new bride on the second floor was singing a strange tune, an unknown melody that made her voice reach out to them, the children in the garden.
They knew they just had an hour before they would all be called home for lunch. An hour in which they needed to try and fit it all their favorite games.
Today's game seemed to be 'land and water'.
The make belief water was the space within the bigger raised rectangle made of cement ,whereas the land consisted of the three tinier rectangles in the center.
Everyone was cheering on the nine year old girl, who had done a great job of catching out 3 boys who lived in the building across the road. But Ragini knew she could not give up unless she caught the brother- sister duo, the ones who lived on the first floor. She tried to get the brother who ran across from the central spot to the one on the left, to no avail. He was just too rapid.The sister smiled her silly smile of joy.
Lunch hour was nearly there and Ragini heard her mother call out.
No game in the world was worth missing the choicest pieces of fish her mother would have prepared! To choose before her brother of course. So Ragini wanted to signal the end of the game.
She turned her head away from her playmates to yell out....and....
She heard a huge crack,
She saw the group sitting in front of her widen their eyes, drop their jaws and gape...
She felt a chill run down her spine,
Something was just not right.
'What was happening?', her head screamed at her. So she quickly followed the shocked gazes to fix the point behind herself...
and realized with a shock that the central rectangle (made of cement) had given way, taking with it the brother-sister duo. They were half stuck in the gaping hole that promised to gulp them down any other second.
Ragini asked herself "Why can't I move? I cannot feel my feet, can I?"
She wanted to do something but just could not.
Thanking God that not everyone around her were as frightened as her, she witnessed her friends pull them out. They were shaking with fear but seemed fine from where she stood.
Her gaze ran all the way from their wide tearful eyes down to their legs covered with something brown, something smelling real real bad....
"I always thought that letting our children play on the septic tank would lead to nightmares like this! No one listens to me at the general body meetings", wailed a hysterical woman.