And so it was, when I ran out to meet Kovalan, Mother continued to call. ‘Kannagi! Where are you? Kannagi!’
I grabbed Kovalan’s hand and broke into uncontrollable fits of giggles as we ran off. After placing sufficient distance between Mother and us, we stopped and, with hands on knees, panted and laughed through gasps.
‘Let’s climb trees,’ I said and raced off. Kovalan, being taller and swifter, relinquished a head start so he could enjoy overtaking me. He liked to win.
Running past, his voice triumphant, Kovalan called over his shoulder. ‘Tortoise! Tortoise! Tortoise!’
And I stuck out my tongue. I did these naughty things when there were no adults; and they all complimented my parents for my good manners. It was so easy to trick adults. When I grow up I will be a smart adult and catch all the naughty children.
When we first plucked up the courage to climb trees, I beat Kovalan to the top and that irked him. His only complaint—you’re a girl—was more of an accusation. As I scaled another tree, I called down.
‘Then better me, and climb faster and higher. Come on!’
Thus challenged, Kovalan scrambled up, lost his grip, and slipped. He earned ghastly cuts and gashes on his knees and legs. He grew dark and, for days thereafter, refused to visit. Wracked with pain, I pined for him. Every time I beat him in a challenge, he sulked and stayed away.
After one such wrenching week, when Kovalan called, I let him clamber up the easier branches while I took a more difficult path. He hurried past and reached the top, then sat on a branch and dangled his feet. He turned smug and urged me. Upon reaching him, I threw a challenge.
‘Another one, that tree!’ I said.
Again, I took a circuitous route, and he won. He quite enjoyed himself and it made me happy. He had that effect on me. His happiness was mine.
We had another friend, Anandan. He was a year older and bigger than Kovalan. In truth, he was Kovalan’s friend, and therefore became my friend too. We played together, fought bullies, pulled pranks, and screamed and ran down streets. We had such great fun. Some adults thought us naughty and complained about our poor upbringing. These remarks came from adults who had forgotten their childhoods, an affliction which most grown-ups suffered.
I was wary of Anandan. Unlike Kovalan, who was soft and kind, Anandan had a mean streak. I wondered what Kovalan saw in him but did not ask. Whatever Kovalan decided I accepted. I trusted him.
Over time, I learned that Anandan’s father was once a poor man who had found his fortune in Araby. He exhibited a daring which my father and Kovalan’s father, both descended from ancient merchant families, lacked. Anandan, who had inherited his father’s hunger, worked hard for luxuries and recognition—trophies that Kovalan and I accorded scant regard.
Though Anandan’s lack of wealth did not bother me, his lack of decorum did. For that reason, I did not quite like him.
Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019
Continued on Friday: Crocodiles and Inconsiderate Rocks