Ranjit was visiting his cousin. His niece was a difficult girl but had always been fond of him. He didn’t boast many skills, but having a stabilizing effect on his niece was one of them. It was with little hesitation and great relief then, that his cousin asked him to accompany Riya to her parent-teacher meeting.
“But I am not her parent!” Ranjit protested.
“An uncle would do just as well. Besides, Rajiv and I have a big order to complete, and we just can’t spare the time. It’ll give Riya some more time with her uncle. Won’t you like that sweetie?”
“Yay!” yelled Riya. She jumped on Ranjit and wrapped her arms around his neck, smothering his voice. Her giggling made him smile.
“Her teacher has a lot to share, regarding her behaviour. Make sure you handle it well!” said his cousin.
“Relax sis, how much trouble an eight-year-old can be?” he said, pulling Riya’s fluffy cheeks. His cousin’s wistful smile sent off alarms bells.
With a stomach full of his sister’s crispy pakoras and the school canteen’s potato patties, and a head full of anxiety, Ranjit walked to his niece’s classroom. They walked hand in hand, and it was the baby-faced adult who felt secure in the tiny grasp. Her squeaky shoes and yellow sundress relaxed him. But the teacher’s steely, cold stare made his stomach groan with discomfort.
“Riya, how are you today?” she asked, barely managing to maintain an equable tone. Her adversary shrugged. The teacher diverted her attention to her companion.
“Hi, I’m her uncle.”
“My favourite uncle!” said Riya, grabbing onto his leg. Ranjit smiled nervously. The teacher was visibly surprised.
“Hello, favourite uncle. Please take a seat. Now, I’ll get straight to the point. She has really been acting out for the past couple of months.”
“She’s always been a naughty kid,” said Ranjit, playfully flicking Riya’s nose.
“Believe me, I know. But it’s gotten worse recently. While she kept her pranking limited to her classmates in the past, she is now targeting teachers and other staff members.”
The teacher threw a bitter look towards Riya, who was tugging at Ranjit’s leg trying to get him to notice the raging pigeon fight outside the nearby window. His gut told him things could get ugly this side of the window as well. Or perhaps it was the pakoras and patties going at it.
The teacher opened one of her desk drawers and produced a catapult. “For the past couple of weeks, there have been many catapult hits. Sometimes it’s a spitball, sometimes a rolled up paper. Once it was a lizard! A pebble was used just once, to snap a scaffold rope.”
Ranjit’s eyes grew with shock.
“It wasn’t a high scaffold. No one was hurt.”
He sighed with relief.
“But, things were getting serious. Nobody suspected this to be the work of an eight-year-old. That was until two days ago, when I turned from the blackboard and saw her aiming at me.”
Ranjit looked at Riya, who smiled innocently. “I did it just like you taught. Bull’s eye!”
Ranjit felt it was only the five-foot-wide table keeping the teacher from pouncing on him. His stomach was really doing somersaults now.
“I can see why you are her favourite uncle, but at least it’s good that you’re not a great teacher, or she isn’t the ideal student. She just missed my eye.”
He threw his niece an astounded look. She smiled meekly and looked at her feet. Ranjit wanted to be mad at her, but looking at her like that, he just couldn’t.
“I hope you can say something to convince her against doing these things.” She leaned and rested her arms on the table. The way she looked at him, hands held together, told Ranjit that she expected some reproach right now. Ranjit thought he should, but wondered if he could. He took a deep breath and waited to let it all out slowly in a bid to calm things down.
He did let out air, though not from the orifice he wanted.
A gunshot couldn’t produce the kind of silence that ensued. A gunshot couldn’t be this loud.
The teacher lowered her head. Ranjit guarded himself against the onslaught he expected. Her body began to shake. But it was from a failing attempt to stifle laughter. Ranjit sighed with relief and invariably let out the leftover air with a soft pop.
He didn’t boast having many skills, but breaking tension from the air was one of them. He didn’t always do it willingly, or knowingly, or by breaking wind.