Ajay muttered a curse when the doorbell rang. He hated being disturbed in his study, especially in the mornings. But this was the first time someone had come calling on them since the lockdown came into effect. Curious, he dropped his newspaper and pen, and went to answer it.
“Namaste, sir!” A young-looking boy greeted him at the door.
“Sir.” He slid down the hanky he was wearing for a mask. “I’m Rakesh’s brother.”
“Rakesh. He brings your paper.”
Ajay’s hand tightened around the handle, and he stood staring at the boy for a moment or two. “So, you are back from your vacation, huh?”
“No sir. It was not vacation.”
“No? Then what? A quarantine camp?”
His eyes went wide. “No, sir! God forbid.”
“Then,” Ajay said, “is it hide-and-seek your brother’s been playing with me.”
“It was an accident, sir. Bhai fractured a leg.”
Ajay paused. “An accident. And you are telling me about this today – after seven days!” He shook his head. “I have been going mad here, waiting for the paper every damned morning, and–”
“Sir, the phone got crushed and…”
“And you were too busy watching news to come yourself. Right? Scared of corona? Or you broke a bone there as well?”
“Sir, I… there was no one to attend to bhai. He was in the hosp–”
“All right. Whatever.” He waved a hand. His paper was waiting. “Go take care of him, then. What are you doing here?”
“Yes sir. He’s better now. Back home,” he said, taking out a strip of paper, and handing it over. “I came for last month’s bill.”
“Of course,” Ajay said, running his eyes over it. “That’s something worth stepping out for. Isn’t it?” He smiled at the boy and went inside. He came back counting money.
“Sir.” The boy cleared his throat. “Could you… give some advance this time? We lost a lot of money in the treatment.” He halted, as Ajay looked up at him. “Your paper you will have regularly from tomorrow, I promise.”
Ajay felt like giving him a slap instead. He deducted a week’s worth of papers from the bill, and thrust the remaining amount into his hand. “No thanks.”
“Don’t need your paper,” he said, “found another vendor.”
“Sir, please,” the boy stepped forward, “so many are cancelling out of fear, and we are sma–”
Ajay slammed the door shut before the idiot could waste any more of his time and went back to the balcony, rubbing his hands with a sanitizer.
His wife was waiting there for him with a hot cup of tea. “Was it the old vendor?” she asked.
“Yes. His brother,” he said, sitting beside her. “Bloody unprofessionals.” He took a quick sip, and opened the paper again. “Anyway, did you see this?” He angled it towards her, showing her the picture in which hundreds of daily wagers were making a foot journey back to their faraway hometowns, their luggage on their heads. “This is brutal. Inhuman,” he said. “Never think about the poor, do they? Bastards.”
“They don’t. They’re politicians,” she said, her eyes moving to the society gate two floors down. The boy with his hanky back in place was unlocking his cycle. “But we should. Shouldn’t we?” She turned back to him, her hand on his arm. “Don’t you think it’s our duty too as fellow citizens? To come forward for anyone in need in these times. There are so many ways we can help them. Big and small.”
He considered her for a moment, leaning back, wondering how she always managed to read his thoughts. Then, he drained his tea and got up.
“Where are you going?”
He picked up the newspaper. “You’re right,” he said. “It’ll take an hour but I owe that much to the society.”
“An hour? What do you mean to do?”
“To write a letter to the editor. Condemning it,” he said, and went in.