An unusual work day
'Come on boy, come down now. It’s time to go. We are getting late!!', Ram hollered at the tree without a pause and walked towards and through the clearing.
Manu looked at him going out and started climbing down the tree. He didn’t like being left behind and Ram's going to the clearing meant the longer he took getting down from that tree, the longer the distance he'll have to cover to catch up with him; and that man walked fast.
So he climbed down fast and ran after him.
It was his favourite pass time, Manu’s. Sitting on that heavy branch, halfway up the tall Peepal tree, and watching the sunshine break way and glimmer over and through the spaces between the rooftops and treetops early in the morning was the best moment of most of his days. He got up early, climbed that single, old, tall tree and sat there each morning till he heard Ram call him out to go for breakfast and start work day.
Breakfast meant a steel bowl of milk and a small pack of glucose biscuits for Manu. Of course he did not know it was called a glucose biscuit or what glucose meant, nor could he read what was written on the pack. All he knew was the round face of the baby on the packet and that the biscuit inside it tasted best with milk.
They weren’t very serious people and hand to mouth arrangement worked well for them. The stolen food served as the main course, the choicest expletives hurled after them as dessert.
Most of the work was done by Manu, as he had a more pitiable face, and when needed, a more agile body, which was small enough to not get caught. In contrast, Ram was a grown man of 30, albeit one would say as fragile as Manu, and was more of a backup and rescue plan than anything else, in case things went south. His job was to look out for opportunities with his sharp, gifted eyes, and tip off Manu. Their targets would mostly be foreign tourists.
Why foreign tourists? Well, as targets, locals were a strict no no as they could very well prove dangerous to their whole modus operandi in that they’ll no longer have any turf if they stole from shopkeepers and sellers in the area. As far as Indian tourists were concerned, they were just not as profitable a target to go after.
So this was how they worked most days. Today however, was different. Today they had a goal. You see, despite the stealing, the duo had some rules and standards to abide by. Actually, it was just a three point rule. One, they would not physically hurt people or animals. Two, they will not attempt something as big as could make them noticeable or worse, land them in a police station. And three, they would not live on the street, or pavement or any such place.
Rent for taking care of the third was coming up in five days. And it was a full 3500 rupees. Yes, a three thousand and five hundred worth of crispy new currency. Their home was the shabbiest of dwellings one could imagine; a tin shed perched on top of a cloth colouring factory, with just a fan and a bulb for amenities inside, and the nearby government public convenience serving as bath and restroom. But it was a fixed home at least, and Manu wasn’t terribly fond of bathing in the first place. Talking of bathing, maybe that lack of love of water part came in with how his beginnings had been.
Some years ago, Ram had found him wet and shivering one night, by the trunk of the same Peepal Manu was so fond of now. Manu was but a babe then, and without a name. So Ram gave him one and took him home.
-- -- --
Ram had tried to make Manu understand how much money they had with them currently and how much more they needed on an urgent basis, but he still knew that the boy did not grasp the situation that well. Regardless, being first day of the new week, it was the best chance for them to score something. What that something would be, neither knew.
While Ram worried and anxiously looked about after a few hours had passed, Manu was content and a little proud with a bag full of guavas that he had just sneaked(okay snatched) about half an hour ago, from a shopper couple who were left reeling from the shock like instead of a pack of guavas, a loaf of meat had been snatched from their hands by a tiger.
Morning had turned into afternoon and both Manu and Ram had moved to the park near the metro station where Ram thought about ways he would get the rest of 1270 rupees left in order to get to the golden figure of 3500. Meanwhile Manu munched another guava before retiring for rest on Ram’s lap.
Ram was a little tired too but he just sat. They had done some running today; the shocked couple had been one of those people who come even after a packet of chips or cold drink at great length. Ram and Manu had to duck and hide and skittle away before they could recognise the young one who had stolen their guavas.
Manu was fast asleep in minutes.
-- -- --
A loud shriek woke both Manu and Ram, who too had drifted into a slumber along the way. They looked about, almost nobody was around in the area of the park they were in, and could not see the source of that shriek immediately; though the voice seemed to have come from their right.
Kids shriek all the time in parks, but for some reason, Manu was in rapt attention and had immediately started climbing the tree they were asleep under.
Seeing him climb, Ram started towards the right. Manu had started screeching and huffing at something, he was angry and scared. Someone had noticed him on the tree but did not stop what he was doing. Seeing that Ram was also walking towards the sound, Manu, the baby monkey, rushed towards down and ran towards what he had seen. He reached there well before Ram came around the bend of the low wall.
Two men had a woman pinned down by the upper body and had her mouth shut, and the third one was trying to wrestle and control her kicking legs. Manu ran head on into the commotion and started screeching and swinging his little arms at the third man’s face, trying to scratch furiously. The man, alarmed at how fast it came down from the tree and at him, and in trying to ward off the mad monkey, stumbled back and let go of the woman. The other two also let go and took a defensive stand, although still hopeful that they might have a chance left.
But to their distraught, saw a man shouting at the top of his lungs running towards them as well. The monkey launched itself at the third man furiously once more. This time he caught the small thing by an arm and smashed it into the wall. It fell, limp.
The man running towards them launched himself at the one who had smashed baby monkey and was throwing punches. But all three had gained ground by now and the two partners of the main guy had rounded and overpowered Ram within seconds. They beat him up without a pause.
Fortunately, the commotion, with help from the young woman had been able to gather people who came for help and overpowered the goons.
-- -- --
Ram did not remember exactly what followed after. He just remembered leaving the place soon after the crowd came.
It took him three days of visiting different government clinics and hospitals to get a plaster on Manu’s broken arm which had resulted in collision with the wall. The normal, human hospitals and clinics wouldn’t do it.
They had been at home the fourth day, resting. The landlord had given him one more week to arrange the rent but most of his savings had been spent in the last three days, let alone arranging the remaining 1270 rupees.
Ram had been thinking how he will now get the money to pay the rent, when he noticed the bag of guavas from that fateful day lying in heap of other bags of food and medicine. The fruit looked edible so went ahead and fetched one.
But inside the bag, was another, smaller bag. He opened and expecting from the looks of it, he found a box with a ring inside it.
A gold ring.