Her hair glistened in the yellow streetlight as she twisted it sideways, made a spiral bun and put a small butterfly clip on it, her hands working with mechanical ease. She was standing with her back to me, and I saw her face only when she turned to him and they sat down on the yellow and black striped edge of the footpath, to divide their coins.
The golden five rupee coins were in one vertical row; the silver five rupee coins in another and the thin one and two rupee coins in two separate stacks.
He was a tone darker than her, just as old- eleven or twelve, with light brown hair that looked paler in the light from my headlights. He sat tapping his right thigh rhythmically against the ground, as she began dividing each row into two. She would approach each stack with her fingers stretched downward, the pile rising in the cavity of her palm, take as much of each row as she could and form a new one. Then she would carefully equalize the two rows, adding a coin here, removing a coin there. If there were an odd number of coins and the pile could not be divided equally, she would make up for the missing coin with those of a smaller denomination. While she worked with attentive eyes and precise movements of her hands to keep the stacks in order, he was busy singing a silent song, his head joining his thigh in the music.
After she was done, she smiled fondly at the neat job, gently moved his piles toward him, and started keeping her coins in her cloth bag. He broke his song, looked at his piles suspiciously and with one quick movement of his hand, took the last three of her golden coins left outside.
“Give my money back,” she said, with a frown.
“Now it’s mine,” he said grinning, his eyes lively.
“Give it to me, or…”
Throwing him a triumphant glance that lasted a hundredth of a second, she smashed his neat rows with a single stroke of her hand, and ran away with a fistful of his golden coins.He ran after her.
Her laughter rang in the silence of the night. Her anklets added music to the gentle hum of Delhi’s breath. Her dupatta, red and green, fluttered after her, as the glass chambered Satya Paul mannequins looked on.