Govinda hid himself from view behind a tree. There were many trees on the fringe of the building site. They obscured it slightly from the view of the high-rise apartments that loomed over it. Govinda had chosen the most slender tree to hide behind. His small frame could almost be concealed behind it. His hands held the trunk like he would fall. His fingers fumbled the grooves in bark. His young, boned shoulders could just be seen on either side of the tree. Every now and again, he would carefully move a single eye out from one side of the trunk. He could hear his heart beating. He could feel his palms sweating. He was suddenly aware of the blood rushing around underneath those beaten, ill fitting clothes he found across the street. He looked down at the plastic bags and plastic cups and plastic packets around his feet. He heard the boys shouting and looked up. He watched the next boy stand up to the wicket. Govinda remembered that this boy was left handed. Every time that he had seen the boy, he had hit a six beyond the trees where he stood, hiding weakly.
He peeked out and watched the tall boy swagger up to the wicket. Four broken breeze blocks stacked high. His steps were slow, but long and smooth. He had a hole in each leg of his browning jeans. His dusted knees would spike out with each of those long, smooth steps. He wore a faded soccer shirt which hung from his shoulders and flashed the bottom of his flat stomach. The glued and nailed bat dipped and rocked, slung across his shoulder like a sword. He pointed vaguely towards the trees on the right side of the field where Govinda hid, without looking from the ground in front of him. Some of the older boys started to laugh at his old swaggering confidence. Two of the younger players frantically ran towards Govinda’s tree. He quickly cowered behind it. He poked a single eye out.
As the boy took to the wicket, Govinda studied the broad smiles on the children’s faces. Their half moon smiles shone against their sunned skin. Their heads wobbled side to side as they exchanged tactics, pointing and shouting towards the younger boys, arranging them like chess pieces. The wide fielders would stand idyll, hands pressed onto their thrust forward hips as they looked around. The bowler had started pacing to his starting block. He moved a little quicker than the batter. The wind blew a sharp gust and whipped the dust into the air between them. They stood twenty long, slow paces from one another, staring. Studying one another’s eyes through the dust. The bowler was around the same age as the batter but a little shorter. He wiped his slightly darkened upper lip. The batter stretched his lower lip over his soft, young moustache. The beads of sweat formed and dripped from his forehead, sliding around his fixed stare. He winked at the bowler, and smiled.
As he struck the ball into the blue sky, the dust burst up from beneath him. The red tennis ball stood out against the deep blue. They watched it float gently. As the ball stopped rising and began to fall, his team mates began to shout and whoop. Govinda just watched the sky. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes tightly. He turned and started to run. He ran towards the busy road. He could hear the steps of the younger pawns behind him. But he ran faster. He kept a half eye on the oncoming traffic, listening for the beeps. But he watched closely as the ball bounced and rolled into the ditch on the other side. A rickshaw slammed on its breaks as Govinda shot in front of it.
“You little bastard! Watch the road!” the fat driver shouted, beeping the horn again.
Govinda dived into the ditch and fished the ball out of the filthy water. He looked back. The younger boys had stopped by his tree. He watched them for a moment through the blur of passing traffic. They stood confused as this boy emerged from the ditch with their ball. Govinda glanced both ways, and ran back across the road.
“Hey! Give us our ball back!” shouted one boy as Govinda sprinted towards them. He kept running, he ran past them and out onto the field. Blood burst around every part of his body as he felt the rough sand under his soft, bare feet. The heat from the pulsing Delhi sun had warmed the sand. It scorched his soles. But he kept running. He heard the footsteps behind him get quieter. He gradually slowed, arced his arm and threw the ball towards the wicket as hard as he could. The ball bounced around ten feet short of the target. The older boys turned around as the ball bounced again. They saw a strange little boy standing on the field, panting. He was looking around at their faces. They watched as their pawns moved closer and closer to him. He was a skinny little boy. His trousers were damp up to the knees and his clothes were worn and full of holes. The batter looked to his friends and pointed the bat towards Govinda.
“Who’s he?” he asked behind him.
The boys shrugged.
“He can throw pretty well.” Govinda’s heart skipped a little. He stopped his smile from breaking through. “Who are you?”
Govinda looked down at his feet, burning in the harsh sand.
“Anit” he replied.
“Who’s your father?” the boy asked.
“He’s called Anit too.” The younger boys caught up with him. They surrounded Govinda and started to eye him up and down. Govinda looked through them, towards the older boy with the bat.
“I don’t know him. You live in the Jhugghi?” Govinda nodded. He looked at the slum in the distance. The dark, rumbling slum. This was the closest he had ever been to the Jhuggi Jhompdi.
“How come we don’t know you?” shouted the boy, swinging his bat slowly across the field, passing each of his friends.
“We just moved here. Two days ago. From Orcha.” The boy turned to his friends behind him and gave a light shrug. He turned and walked back to the wicket. Raising the bat high in the air, he pointed towards Govinda’s tree.
“You’re wide right. This one’s for you.” Govinda knew that he was just another pair of legs to chase his sixes. But he didn’t care. He smiled and ran back towards the tree.
- Artwork courtesy of Paul Aitchison – www.paulaitchison.wordpress.com