The first rains of monsoon brought the news that there was going to be a new tenant on the sixth. Our hearts pitter-pattered with excitement and curiosity. We wondered if there was going to be a new kid, a new addition to our little group of five. But we soon came to know that the tenant was a middle-aged man who was going to live alone.
He came to my flat on the 3rd, and settled the deal with father who was the landlord. While he escorted the new uncle out, I remember him stopping on his way to turn back and say to me, 'Do come to my place with your friends.' 'Of course, of course they will,' my father had said as I could only manage a shy smile.
'Ma wants us to talk to the new neighbour,' Ritu exclaimed one cloudy day. That was exactly what we needed to hear, for deep inside, we were all planning to do so but never really had the courage to say it first. We ran our way upstairs, and bumped against each other when Noni, who was leading us, slowed her pace to a minimum on the final flight of steps. We tiptoed towards the mahogany door and as Pinu stood on his toes to ring the bell, it opened on its own. There he stood, in a lovely blue Punjabi and a white pair of pyjamas with his unshaven face and golden, full-rimmed glasses. We gasped in amazement. He just laughed and let us in.
His flat was a work of art. None of us had ever seen a place so unusually beautiful -- the spotless floors, the spacious rooms, the simple, dark brown furniture, the paintings on the walls, the potted plants against the wet window sills. It was the first time Tunu, the youngest by three months, found out that plants could actually be kept in homes! We discovered that he had all sorts of painting equipment for he was a painter in his early days, and to our pleasure, he was kind enough to let us use them. As it rained outside, we sat on the floor, painting our hearts out, while he cooked khichuri in his kitchen. The smell made our tongues water and stomachs grumble.
From that day onwards, our courtyard remained empty, for we spent all our time, except for when we were at school, in our new uncle's house till the piercing tone of the intercom would force us to go to our respective homes. Soon, our little seven-year-old worlds began to revolve around him, for he seemed like magic. He seemed to have an answer for everything. He taught us that there was more to TV than serials, that music did not mean songs like 'Kata laaga' (much to Tunu's amazement). He made us listen to Rabindranath and Nazrul, and on rainy afternoons, we sang in chorus to numerous songs which he taught us himself.
Our parents thought he was doing all that for money, that he was teaching us everything because he expected money in return. They knocked on his door, and made their proposal and came back with tightened jaws and white knuckles. We did not know why, but the five of us simultaneously received a thrashing that day. Tears rained on the first, second, third, fourth and the fifth floors that day. And without us knowing, tears rained on the sixth too.
However, when he opened the door the next day with his warm smile and a tray containing five mugs of steaming hot cocoa, we forgot our woes. As we wandered in his place, I saw something I had never seen before. In the cupboard where he kept the painting equipment, on the very last rack, there was a photograph of a child of about our age, a woman and Uncle. They stood close to each other, with Uncle holding the little boy. Curiosity bubbled inside of me, and I rushed to the living room where Uncle was, to ask him about them, only to find Tunu clutching her stomach.
Uncle had escorted us to our homes, immediately after which a meeting was held among the parents at Tunu's place. 'He fed my daughter poison, that evil widower!' I heard Tunu's mother wail. 'This cannot go on anymore. We must do something for the security of our children,' my father said. We had no idea what security they were talking about when they went to the sixth, nor did we know what 'widower' meant. We heard yells and screams and decided to go there the next day to find out what had happened.
The sun was high up in the sky the next day, and the heat suffocated us as we made our way to the sixth and babbled among ourselves about last night. We halted on our way when we saw the huge lock hanging on the door. Silence engulfed us as we stared at the 'To-Let'. We knew what it meant. It meant our magic was gone.
Shreyosi Endow, 16, is a private A-level student.