Sonu woke up with a start. He rubbed his eyes and peeped at the darkness inside the little shanty. He looked at the small clock beside him. Exactly that moment, it shrieked, informing him that it was 4am.
He walked to his trunk at a corner and wrenched it open. The mild thud echoed through the little space as the two figures, his mother and his little brother shifted in sleep. As he dressed silently, with his usual Kaaki-coloured knickers and an off-white t-shirt, his mother woke up.
“Ready?” Her voice sounded hoarse. Sonu smiled at her. Her mother lifted herself and opened her arms beckoning her eight-year-old son. He grinned and ran to her side. She kissed him on his forehead.
“Take care. Don’t burn yourself. Be pleasant. More importantly, smile. I’ll have the food ready before you return so that you won’t be late to school.”
Sonu nodded and ran out of the shack, as fast as his lanky legs could carry him.
His mother’s eyes welled up as she shifted her gaze from the closed door to a photo precariously hung above it. “The past year has been a battle to survive. I hope you are looking after our son.” She mumbled, wiping her tears off the sari.
Meanwhile, Sonu reached the shop. It was already open and a few men were seen sipping at their glasses. He hurried inside and greeted the owner. The middle-aged man smiled patting his shoulders gently and off the boy sprinted, to help making tea and serving it with love to all the customers, who filled the shop for the next three hours.
This had been Sonu’s usual morning routine for a year now. Over time, he had become a known face in the place and to the customers, that everyone liked him. His smile was deemed contagious that it lighted up everyone’s day. People chose to be served by him.
But, that morning saw him exhausted. The usual spring in his step was missing. Concerned enquiries were shirked off, although he was feeling hungry even after his morning tea. Sonu had been trading sleep to studies lately, as his exams were scheduled in a week.
As he placed another plate of Idlis and piping hot Sambar to accompany, a sense of longing betrayed his eyes. His smile got wiped off for a moment, as his stomach rumbled with unattended hunger. He quickly gathered himself and disappeared with a smile. But, Abdul Mama, a regular customer, was quick to pick the missing piece. He knew what to do. He called him and placed his order. In minutes, Sonu served the Idli-Sambar combo lovingly. An inaudible sigh escaped him, as he turned away for the next order. Abdul Mama called him.
“Sit here, child. This is for you,” he said pulling a chair and pushing the plate towards him.
“No mama…” Sonu’s voice choked.
“Aakhir dil tho chahtha hai, Munna..dil ki baat tho suno..,” Abdul beamed at him feeding him a mouthful.