Chunni Chand leaned across the shop counter to grab the hurtling school bags; the students were running late for the matinee show. They slapped a twenty rupee bill each on the grimy counter and swung their knapsacks across, only to hit out at a pace towards the cinema across the road. It was a school legacy generations had graduated, smiling about. You were not a ‘true blue Raffanite’ if you had not “CC-ied”.
CC as Chunni Chand was fondly known was in cahoots with the truant. He provided a range of services to the young of this select school; safe-keeping their bags during school hours so they could play hooky with less conspicuity was base one!
Peskiness was not a fault; he was clear on that, it was their teen age. He hummed nasally now, doing a brisk business of selling paan, cigarettes, Aquafina, and the odd snack while his young clients sank into their cinema seats, the titles of the latest Hollywood blockbuster rolling on the big screen.
“You are my pumpkin pumpkin hello honey bunny,” rang Chunni Chand’s caller tune, back at the shop. CC gurgled through the betel juice in his mouth,”Guh gg ghello!” The voice at the other end was frantic, “CC ji! Nitin here! Trouble, trouble…my father was to meet Padma Ma’am at 10 today, please arrange a parent, quick. Three hundred? Yes, standard rate. My details are in the school diary, blue bag, yes. Just take care of this, all right. I have to get back to the movie.”
CC glanced at the dusty clock on the far wall, subtracting ten minutes automatically; there was still a half hour to go. Ever since he had attained adulthood, CC had gotten into the habit of keeping his time telling devices ahead by ten minutes. His sluggish childhood pace had scarred him somewhat, his family had arrived late on several occasions while he was growing up. Shaking his head free of those painful memories, he pulled out his well-thumbed register now. Running over his stock cast of “parents for hire” he did a mental match, taking notes from Nitin’s diary particulars. Within minutes, Nitin’s ‘father’ was signing himself through the school security gate, wearing the deferential look of a parent summoned for chastising.
“Intermission time" CC smiled to himself like a cat with the cream, popping open lemonade bottles with grand gestures. A hungry horde of students was pouring in a steady stream from the direction of the school. It was not considered cool to carry packed tiffin from home. The teens liked to hang out at the corner shop, munching and socializing. “The sandwiches would hold until lunch hour”, CC calculated; he had better order some paneer rolls though; several kids ate on the long commute home. He was kept busy over the next hour. It was not until the school bus engines began their start up roars that CC next subtracted ten from the clock face. “Where are these kids?” he began to fret in his head. “Nitin’s father should have been back with a debrief from Padma Ma’am!”
Just as he made to scan the building across the road, Chunni’s blood froze at what he saw in his line of vision. A frisson went up his brain stem. He cast about in fearful futility before turning to the bags in confusion. Blue bag, Nitin had said? His hair stood up with alarm. There were two!
Always! Every time! His father’s words drilled his smoking ears, “You must think things through. Stop racing ahead by your silly ten minutes!”
Chunni Chand Banaras Paanwale was turning the minute hand anticlockwise when the School Discipline Officer and guards landed in full force.