Alisha threw the blanket away as she heard the conch shell blowing. Her grandfather was done with his morning prayers. From the side table, she grabbed her Barbie purse, took out the biscuits she had saved, and skittered out of the room, leaving her parents snoring.
Strong fragrance of incense filled her as she entered the puja room. He sat in front of pictures of Gods and Goddesses, his snow-white hair still wet from an early morning bath.
“Good mornin’ daadu!” she said, stuffing the biscuits in her pocket.
He turned around, scowling. “Alisha. What did I—”
“Oh, sorry!” She giggled, and pressed her hands together like one of those classical dancers. “Raam Raam, daadu!”
“Now come on.” She jumped, butterflies fluttering in her tummy. “Let’s go. They must be waiting.”
“Yes, yes.” He pushed himself to his feet, and walked out towards the kitchen, Alisha following behind like a tail. He picked a bundle of leftover breads from the counter, and turned, extending a hand. “Let’s go.”
“Feeding dogs is a punya – a good deed,” he had told her the morning after they had landed in India, three days back. It was her first visit to her grandfather’s, and she was up early, part jet-lagged, part excited. “They pray for the prosperity of the house.”
She didn’t much care about prosperity, but the beautiful sight of them jumping around, wagging their tails had pushed her to wake up early and come every day after that.
They crossed the small garden now, and reached the big iron gate. He unlatched the smaller door within it, and pushed it open.
The brown fluffy one, always playful, got to its feet first. It was her favourite of the two. The black one followed timidly behind.
Grandfather tore the breads into pieces and began throwing them away one by one. The dogs snatched them mid-air, chewed in a hurry, and cocked their heads back up for more.
Mesmerized, Alisha took out one biscuit, and tossed it to the brown one. A clean swipe of its long tongue and it was gone. She broke into a smile, and dug out another. But just as she was about to throw it, she felt a jerk in her arm, and the world around her swung suddenly.
Her grandfather stood staring at her, his grip tight around her wrist. “What are you doing, girl?”
She squirmed. “Biscuits daadu. For the…”
“You stupid child.” He slapped his forehead. “These are chocolate biscuits!”
“Yes,” she said, confused. “Don’t they like — Ouch!” She lurched forward as something brushed her elbow. Behind her, the dog stood salivating, its eyes fixated on her hand.
Before she could do anything, her grandfather had leaped in front, swinging a leg.
“NO!” Alisha cried, as the kick caught the dog on the snout with a sickening sound. It flew back, yelping so loud it hurt her ears, and landed heavily on its side. It sprang back up, and bolted away after the other one, its painful screams echoing down the street.
She whirled around and ran back into the house.
Mom was up, coming out. Alisha flung her way into her.
“Nothing!” her grandfather said, rushing in after her. “Got scared of the dog.”
Mom knelt. “It’s all right, baby. It’s gone.”
“Yes. Got a bit greedy, that one,” he said. “She shouldn’t have brought those chocolate biscuits out. Please tell her that it’s not something you give to dogs.”
“Sweety,” her mother said, looking at her hands. “Daadu is right. Chocolate is harmful for dogs.”
“No, God!” he said. “It’s expensive is what I’m saying. I brought them for Alisha, not them d—”
Alisha spun around, wiping her eyes, and flung all the biscuits on the floor.
“Eli!” Mom got up. “Say sorr—”
But she turned, dashed away to her room, and slammed the door behind her. And, sometime later, when mom came in telling her that Daadu was going to the terrace to feed the birds, Alisha turned away her face, and kept watching cartoons, sitting cozy in her father’s lap.