by Roshan Murali

Ever since his cousin had shown Jan a picture of the DeLafées and told him how good they tasted, he hadn’t been able to get the thought of them out of his mind. He had also told Jan that they were really expensive and that not everyone was lucky enough to get to taste them. Jan was thrilled that he would finally be getting what he had been wishing for this whole year.

“Hey, Jan, ready for your birthday?” Bill shouted from behind him. His close friends, Bill and Maher, were the same age as him. Jan stretched both his hands in the air and shouted, “Yeah!”

They huddled together and stepped into their Science classroom. Today, Ms. Doherty would be teaching them about the solar system. But Jan’s mind was elsewhere — It had been two weeks since his dad had ordered them, and every honk from a vehicle outside and every ringing doorbell seemed like it was from the deliveryman bringing home his DeLafées.

Before Jan could sit down, he heard Ms.Doherty say, “Jan, care to tell us the name of the planet closest to the sun?”

Jan turned around to see Ms. Doherty looking at him with amused eyes. His face reddened and he averted his eyes to his desk. “Mercury, Ms. Doherty,” he said.

“Very good, Jan. Thank you.”

Jan sat down feeling slightly accomplished, but his real victory would come tomorrow. Before he could enter his daydream again, he heard a snort from behind him.

He turned around to see Nin looking at him.

Nin mouthed the words: Kiss-ass.

Jan turned back around to face the front of the class. Nin was a nobody, with his shabby hand-me-down clothes and his uneven haircut. He didn’t feel the need to respond to him.

Maher said, “Don’t mind him, Jan. I can’t wait for tomorrow. We are going to have a lot of fun. And the DeLafées!”


Ms. Doherty was just beginning to explain about Saturn and the rings around it when the school bell pealed, forcing her to stop and give everyone back their freedom. Jan couldn’t hide his glee. He would be back home in just half an hour, and his DeLafées would be hiding somewhere in his house, waiting to be found. He had seen more pictures of them on his dad’s computer—they came in a glass box, and each piece, round like a ball, was covered with a yellow shining coating. They looked delicious. He had to cry and fight for a whole month before his mom told his dad to stop worrying about money and buy Jan a couple of boxes for his birthday.


He saw his dad sitting on the couch in their living room when he got back from school. He ran to the couch and jumped onto it, landing right next to him. “Is it here? Can I see it?”

His dad said, “Now, now. Don’t forget our deal. I will give them to you tomorrow, but only if you learn to be patient.” He patted Jan on his head.

Jan frowned, folded his arms, and turned away from his dad. Then he turned back to him and laughed. “DeLafées!”

His mom came back in from the garden wearing a pair of muddied work boots and a straw hat. “Hey, Jan, how was school?” she asked.

His dad, pushing the glasses up from the tip of his bulbous nose, spoke up before Jan could answer. “He was asking for the DeLafées a minute ago. What did I tell you?”

“I was not,” Jan protested.

“DeLafées? Today?” she said, placing both her hands on her cheeks and parting her lips in mock shock.

Jan smirked and started running toward his room when his mom called after him: “Don’t forget to change your clothes. And wash your face while you’re at it.”


At dinner, Jan gobbled up everything on his plate and rushed away from the table. He heard his mom’s voice say: “He seems excited, Sam. Thank you.”

He figured his parents and sister would eat for at least another ten minutes. This was his chance to sneak a peek at his gift. He pulled his parents’ bedroom door against the doorframe and securely held the doorknob so that it wouldn’t rattle when he opened the door. After straining his neck to check for any shadows walking up the staircase, he quietly turned the knob. When it reached a point where it would turn no more, he opened the door deliberately, just enough for his lissome frame to sidle in.

He had disliked the lavender wallpaper since the beginning—his mother’s choice, obviously. Jan tiptoed to the cupboard and swung its door open, gently. It contained all of his parents’ important possessions—documents, watches, cash, and some jewelry. But the DeLafées were nowhere to be found. He let his hand creep behind the neatly stacked clothes. Still no luck.

He went back to his room, dejected. His mind raced with resentment against them as he contemplated the possibility that the one thing he wanted might not be a reality. They had done this same thing to him once before, when he had wanted a handheld gaming device. They had talked about it positively for a whole three months before deciding on the day before his birthday that they had to save up to pay for Julie’s tutor. Why he had to suffer just because his sister wasn’t intelligent enough to add a few four-digit numbers together was still a mystery to him.

An hour after he had hurled himself onto the bed, Julie opened the door and asked if he wanted some dessert, but he did not stir, even though he was awake. After a short wait, the door closed, and soon, the ill feelings churning inside him mellowed down as they passed through the tranquil filters of his dreams about the DeLafées.


“JAN! Happy Birthday!” screamed a dozen voices from downstairs. What? . . . What happened? . . . Birthday? . . . Birthday! The DeLafées!

Jan did not stop to brush his teeth or change his clothes. He ran downstairs to see smiling faces in the living room—party hats and plastic cups everywhere.


Jan went over to his dad, who was talking to Bill and Maher. “Dad, I need to talk to you.”

“Sure, what’s up, Jan?”

“Can you come to the kitchen?”

“Sure, sure.” He turned to Bill and Maher. “Please excuse me, guys.”

Jan’s friends turned to him and said in chorus, “Happy Birthday, Jan.”

In the kitchen, before his dad could say anything, Jan said, “You didn’t get the DeLafées, did you?”

His dad’s face grew stern, unhappy with the way Jan had asked him that. “Did you see the red package on our couch?” he asked after a moment.

Instantly, a grin spread across Jan’s face. He hugged his dad and said, “Thank you, Daddy.”

“Happy Birthday, kiddo.” His dad’s face relaxed and he patted Jan on the head.

Jan spotted a corner of the red package as soon as he entered the living room. But Bill and Maher were standing right next to it.

As Jan got closer, Bill asked, “Did you get the DeLafées from your dad, Jan?”

Jan’s eyes flitted to the package and, noticing, Bill said, “Oh! Are they in that box?”

Jan said, “No, he hasn’t given them to me yet. This one is just my grandma’s gift. Dad said its just clothes. You don’t want to see that. I’ll just take it upstairs.”

They did not respond.

“Be right back, guys,” he said, and ran up to his room. He closed the door and placed the package on his mattress. He ripped open the wrapping and unearthed a silvery, metallic, cylindrical box from it. The center of the lid was made of a transparent material, and he could see four round golden balls placed neatly on a red velvety cloth. He pulled open the lid and picked one up, holding it gently between his thumb and his index finger. He broke off a piece from it and placed it on his tongue.

He lay down on his bed, running his saliva, mixed with the flavor of it, back and forth on his tongue, trying desperately to make it last.


Jan’s bedroom door opened and a thin column of light fell on Jan’s black bed sheet. The lights were off and Jan was under his blanket. His mom said, “Jan?”

Jan turned in the bed to face her and lifted his head off the pillow. He said, “I feel sick, Mom. Can I sleep for a while?”

She walked in and placed the back of her palm on his forehead. “You seem okay.” She paused and when Jan did not respond, she said, “But sleep if you feel tired.” She kissed him gently on his forehead.

As she was walking out, her eyes lingered a split second on the bedside table, where Jan had placed the box of DeLafées. Then the door closed behind her as she walked out.


Jan checked the glowing red numbers displayed on the alarm clock when he woke up. It was 7:00 PM already. He had ended up sleeping for real. He quickly turned to the table to ensure that the DeLafées were safe. They were there where he had let them. He took the box and went down to the dining room.

“Hey! You’re up. How are you feeling now?” his dad said when he came into the room.

“Much better, Daddy.”

“Sorry you had to miss the party. Come sit with us for dinner.”

Jan sat at the far end of the table, a seat away from his sister, and placed the box in the spare seat between them, hidden in the shadow of the dining table.

He had just started to chew on his piece of chicken when his dad asked, “Did you like it?”

“Hmmm?” mumbled Jan, still not completely awake.

“The chocolates. Did you like them?” he said, again, now looking directly at Jan.

Before Jan could reply, his sister interrupted, “I can try one and tell you how it tastes.” Then she reached out one hand to the box slowly, with her eyes on Jan, and a sinister smile on her lips.

Jan slapped her hand off and grabbed the box from the seat.

“I told you! He skipped the party so that he didn’t have to share the chocolates. Bill and Maher said the same,” Julie said.

“No, I did not!” Jan said.

“Yeah, you did.”

“No. I. Did. Not.”

“Yeah. You. Did.”

Jan’s self-righteous nos and his sister’s impish responses kept gaining more syllables, and his mom sighed heavily, determined to stop it before it went too far and they both resorted to childish violence. “Stop it, Julie. Now, both of you finish your food.”

“I’m full,” Jan said and started to get up from the table.

“Get your plate, Son. No chocolates if you don’t,” said Jan’s dad.

Jan’s lips quivered. His grip tightened on the box and he ran to his room. He heard his mother’s voice from behind him say, “Now, look what you’ve done, Sam. Jan, come back.”

Jan heard a couple of knocks echoing from his locked bedroom door, and he looked at it with distaste, tears still streaming down his face.


When morning came, Jan woke up with a string of saliva hanging from the corner of his lips. When he straightened up, it swung back and stuck to his chin, leaving a mark of cold irritation in his mind. He got ready for school in dogmatic stoicism.

As he passed the dining table on his way to the front door, his mother called out to him. “Get your lunch, Jan.” Jan felt that if he conceded, it would be like giving up his anger, which he was not ready to do. “You can have it,” he said, without looking at her. He cut off her response by slamming the front door—he wanted the last word, even if he had to delegate that duty to the door.

He saw his dad getting into his white, mouse-shaped Prius. “Hey, Jan. Good morning!” he said.

Jan kept walking toward the bus stop without replying.

In the bus, Jan walked up to the fifth row, where Bill, Maher, and he usually sat. But there was a scrawny little kid already in his seat. When Bill saw Jan approaching, he said, “Sorry, man. He was here before us.”

Jan fumbled, “Ah, yeah, no problem. I’ll find another seat.”

“Nice party, though. We missed you there.”

“Thanks, Bill. I wasn’t feeling that well.”

All except a seat on the last row near the window were taken. Jan squeezed between the fat kid and the seat in front of him, carefully avoiding the snot that was hanging from the boy’s nose. He held his backpack tightly against his chest till the bus slowed down and came to a stop in front of the school.

He saw Bill and Maher walking into the building even before Jan’s row started moving out of the bus.

Jan felt like all eyes were on him when he entered the class—he had invited everyone for the party. He kept his eyes down and walked down to the last row of seats. He opened the zipper just a bit and peeked through it—the box of DeLafées lay silently, exposing only a portion of it to the light. It almost looked like it was peeking at Jan from behind the shadows.

He looked around the classroom. No one was looking at him. He let his left hand hold the top of the backpack up and sneaked his other hand in. He used the index and the middle finger to hold the container against his thighs, on the other side of the backpack’s fabric, and used his thumb to steadily push up the lid, trying desperately not to make any noise. Each time, his thumb would lose friction and slip up to hit the top his backpack. The lid finally gave. He could sense condensation forming on top of his upper lip and nose. He looked around again before proceeding.

He broke off a tiny piece from the golden ball. He could already feel it, softening and spreading on his fingers. He quickly pushed the lid back on top of the can and pressed it closed with the base of his palm.

He slowly pulled out his hand, avoiding the inner walls of the bag. Just when his fingers emerged from the rim of the backpack’s opening, a voice said from behind him, “Hey, what’s that?”

Jan turned around jerkily and pushed his hand back into the backpack, smearing what was on his fingers, on his books. It was Nin, and he was eyeing the backpack curiously. “None of your business,” Jan said furiously.

“Is that chocolate?”

Jan turned around and saw that he had smeared some on the zipper while his fingers were trying to make a quick getaway. “No, it’s just dirt or something,” replied Jan.

“That’s definitely chocolate.”

“Shh, okay, keep your voice down and I’ll give you some.”

“More than just some.”

“Okay, okay. Fine. After classes.”

Nin dropped his pack on the seat next to Jan’s. “I need to keep an eye on you.”


“So . . . why are you hiding your . . . eh . . . dirt? Are they made of gold or something?”

“Something like that.”

Nin stretched back, put his feet on the desk, and started whistling—he was a weird one. But at least he was ready to keep the secret of Jan’s DeLafées safe.

“Ms. Doherty is going to punish you if she catches you,” said Jan.

“We’ll see.”

Jan turned back to the front of the class when he heard the door open. Ms. Doherty walked in. His eyes flashed to Nin; he was sitting like he was a model student – feet on the floor and body leaning forward, ready to scarf in everything that the class had to offer. All that audaciousness had left his demeanor.

Jan smirked at Nin and went back to his notebook.


Ms. Doherty’s continuation of her lengthy explanation on the rings of Saturn ended, and they had their lunch break before Mr. Peterson’s class on life sciences. Listening to Mr. Peterson when you were sitting in the front row was never easy. He was old, and more than just occasionally, the room would fill up with the smell of something rotten. The boys called it the Peterson-phenomenon, as it happened only in his class.

Jan scanned the cafeteria and then went to pick up a piece of cake and some baked chicken tenders. He paid twelve dollars for everything and walked straight to where Nin was sitting, away from the part of the cafeteria where he usually sat.

Nin did not say anything when Jan sat down next to him. He went on chewing on the questionable little apple in his hand. When Jan was working through his third piece of chicken, Nin spoke without warning, “So, what’s with the chocolate? There’s got to be something special about it.”

Jan said, “They are really expensive. And they taste—”

“That’s all? Just expensive? My dad buys me all kinds of expensive stuff.”

Jan gave Nin’s clothes a once-over and sneered. “Yeah, sure.”

“Have you ever owned a drone?”

“A drone?” said Jan.

“Ha, you don’t know what a drone is?”

“Of course I know what a drone is. But you owning one sounds dubious. You are just making stuff up.”

“My drone flies in the air, and they go where I ask them to go. I can ask them to come steal your chocolates away if I want to.”

Nin noticed that Jan did not have a comeback ready for that. So he went another round. “On my last birthday, I got a dog that can talk. And it can do a backflip when you clap.”

Jan was silent again.

Nin waited for a bit with readiness in his eyes. Then he got back to his apple.


Mr. Peterson had finished discharging his third emission when Jan told Nin, “I don’t believe you.”


“I don’t think you have the flying thing and that lame dog thing.”

Nin said, “Don’t believe me if you don’t want to. What do I have to lose?”

Mr. Peterson explained about the Millipedes, which release a smelly-something to save themselves from predators. Bill and Maher were whispering to each other and tittering silently.

As the class ended and Nin was about to leave for home, he looked at Jan. “So, give me some.”

“You lied about the stuff your dad got you.”

“What? No, I did not.”

“Then prove it. Show them to me. And I’ll give you one.”

Nin said, “My dad won’t let me bring them to school. He doesn’t want them to be damaged.”

“Well, then, I can’t give you the chocolates, either.”

Nin thought for a while and then said, “Okay, come stay over at my place tomorrow and I’ll show them to you.”

Jan said, “What?”

Nin said, “You heard me.”


“Did you take your toothbrush? And your pajamas? I’m so glad you’re making a new friend, Jan. All right, have a good stay over.” His mom kept talking.

Later, in class, Jan sat in the front row, and avoided everyone else. There weren’t any tests planned, and it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t listen. He started thinking of what he could tell Nin. He could say that the toys he had looked cheap, like they were obtained from a flea market, or second-hand from this list that was owned by a guy called Craig that he had heard his dad talking about when he had to buy his old-new car – anything to save the DeLafées.

Jan did not see Nin the whole day. But when classes were over and he checked that last row one last time, he saw him there, with his legs on the desk as usual. Jan walked over to Nin and said, “You should stop absconding classes. They’re going to catch you one day.”

“What do you mean? I was right here, Jan. Did your fear of losing your chocolates make you blind?” he said and chuckled.

“All right. Let’s go.”

Nin slid his feet off the table, slowly, like they were made of something heavy. Jan hated how Nin was acting, like everything was going according to some plan he had.


The school bus moved flawlessly on the smooth road, which was forced to twist and turn to fit the gap between the barren lands on either side. The evening sky was a blend of red and gray, and there was only a single building visible, shrunken to the size of a box of DeLafées. The bus went five stops past Jan’s house—he had never been out this far. The city was in the other direction, and Jan did not know what was on this side. His curiosity was piqued by the range of Nin’s personal life. The yards of some of the houses were filled with random objects—car parts, grills, and in one, he even saw a detached toilet.

“Jan, let’s go. We get off here,” said Nin.

“Here?” Jan said, still sitting down, but he forced himself to get up and get down from the bus when Nin did not respond. Nin’s water bottle, hanging from his neck, clattered incessantly against his belt buckle. He didn’t seem to care.

They turned into the driveway to a house that was nearly as big as Jan’s. But, other than the size and shape of the house, it looked different. The paint on it was stripping off, and there were bags of garbage on the porch. One had a tear in it, and a cat was pawing at something inside.

Nin saw Jan eyeing the surroundings, and said, “They haven’t come to collect the garbage yet.”

Jan nodded. But he also sensed a bit of apprehension seeping through the newly formed cracks in Nin’s confidence.

As soon as they were inside the house, Jan asked, “So, Nin, where are all the things you talked about?”

Nin said, “Can’t wait to get your hands on them, huh? I’ll show them to you. Just wait a bit.”

Nin walked around—it looked like he was searching for something. Jan stayed near the front door, not sure how to make himself comfortable in this new place.

Nin came back with a couple of folded sheets and handed them over to Jan. He said, “I can’t find Dad anywhere. All right, let’s go upstairs to my room.”

“Okay,” said Jan.

As they were going up the stairs, Jan saw that on the other side of the kitchen, a door stood open and yellowish light poured out of it, only to be cut, once, by the shadow of someone walking inside.

“Who is that?” Jan asked.

Nin was already inside his room, which was right opposite to the staircase.

“All right, so, that’s your bed,” Nin said, as he pointed to a cozy little twin bed with its bed sheet draped to the carpeted floor. The room had a high ceiling, and was painted a dark color, like a room from The Addams Family.

Jan said, “Where are the toys, Nin?”

“God, all right.”

Nin went missing and reappeared again, carrying a dusty box, whose contents were clanking against each other. He placed it carefully in the space between the twin beds and stood back up with both his hands on his hips.

“Ha!” said Nin. “See? And you didn’t trust me.”

“I’ll trust it when you open the box.” Jan sat on the bed, with part-excitement and part-doubt.

Nin swiped the top of the box and a swarm of dust billowed up into the air, settling on Jan and everything else in a two-foot radius. Jan coughed, but did not speak.

Nin found the end of the tape that was holding the cardboard lid closed, and started scratching at it to get an edge up. “Ah, I shouldn’t have cut my nails yesterday.”

Jan got down from the bed and scuttled over to the box on all fours. “Move aside. I’ll do it.”

One scratch and an edge was up. One tug and the tape was gone. One pull and the lid opened. Jan greedily hoarded the view of what was inside. Under a rubble of broken plastic parts lay a set of white blades attached to a crimson rotor. He caught the pipe that extended from the motor and into the rubble again, and pulled at it. Three more such rotors emerged—it was the drone that Nin had talked about.

“You want to apologize now?” said Nin.

Jan’s eyes did not shift from the drone. He had seen it a couple of years ago with his Uncle Bob. He had forgotten all about it later, as his uncle hadn’t been able to make it fly. He had said that it was really old. This was definitely that same model. Jan asked, “Is this really yours?”

“Yes, what kind of a question is that? I got it for my last birthday. When it had just come out.”

Jan’s eyes widened, and a smile appeared on his lips. “Oh, really? Make it fly, then.”

Before Nin could respond, a call came from downstairs. “Nin. Coffee.”

Nin said, “It’s my . . . dad. I’ll be right back.”

Jan got up and dropped the drone back into the box. As it fell, the tip of a wing chipped off and dropped through the gaps in the rubble below. He walked around the room. There were a lot of framed photographs hanging from nails that had been hammered haphazardly into the walls—a picture of a toddler, crawling toward an older man, a picture of Nin and an older girl. The girl looked a bit like Nin, close enough to be his sister, and the same man was hugging both of them.

“What the fuck is this?” Jan heard Nin’s dad shout. Jan froze. He turned to the door and stood staring at dark stairway. He had never heard anyone in his family say the F-word.

Nin came back covered in some kind of liquid and his hair was stuck to it. As he got closer, Jan could see the coffee dregs in the brown liquid that covered his face. Nin said, as he walked to the bathroom, “Clumsy of me. I tripped and spilled all the coffee on myself. I better go take a bath.”

Jan heard the shower turn on. He seated himself on the bed and ran his hand over the sheet. It was soft and warm.

Nin walked out of the bathroom, fully dressed. His hair was back to sticking out in every direction. But his face had a reddish tint to it on one side, where the coffee had been.

Jan still hadn’t had the chance to ask Nin about the drone. He couldn’t bring himself to, not right then. He got up and asked, “Who are the people in that photo?”

Nin turned in the direction Jan was pointing. “That’s my dad with me and my sister. Just after my first soccer game. Mom took the picture, so she isn’t in it.”

They both stood staring at that picture.

Jan felt sick. He did not understand why. He wanted to go back home. But that would mean that he would have to call and talk to his dad. He said, “I’m tired. I think I’ll go to bed now.”

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“No, not so much.”

Jan changed into his nightclothes and tucked himself in under the sheets. Nin said that he would turn in later, after getting something to eat.

It wasn’t long before he was dreaming. He was holding onto his box of DeLafées, and ninjas, moving gracefully, cat-like, in front of him, were using the shadows to hide. The shadow warriors were after his DeLafées, and he needed to protect them. He conjured up a field of force, right when the ninjas jumped on him, and they bounced off of it, leaving the box untouched.

“KAAAA—” Jan woke up with a jolt as he was powering up, a reddish-yellow glow encasing his palms, to blast away a group of higher order ninjas who were heading his way. His throat felt parched. He looked around, but the room was dark. He waited for his eyes to adjust. “Nin . . . Nin, you there? I need some water.”

He sidled across the room’s wall with his arm extended, feeling for the light switch. His feet kept grazing against random objects, once, bumping against the dresser, which he had to maneuver around.

When he finally found the switch and flipped it up, the brightness hurt his eyes, and he squinted for several seconds before he realized Nin wasn’t in the room. The burning sensation in his throat persuaded him to go to the kitchen downstairs. As the fog of sleep began to clear, he started to sense a thick scent of smoke that wafted softly in the air. The house was silent, and his footsteps echoed from the walls as he started climbing down. The light in that room was still on.

He could see the stove from the base of the stairs. Standing in the darkness, he waited, trying to understand what was happening. Nin stood shivering behind his dad, who was looking at a patch of burnt wallpaper on the wall behind the stove. His dad looked different from the time in the picture, with unkempt hair and a rough beard. Jan had never seen his own dad with a beard and almost never with even a strand of hair sticking out from his head.

“Dad—” said Nin.

“You keep doing this.” His dad cut him off. “How much time do I have to take to fucking clean this up, now?”

“I can do it, Dad. I’m sorry—”

“Oh, is that supposed to fix everything? You are just like her.”

“Mom’s . . .”

His dad turned to look at Nin.

Nin did not say anything after that.

His dad studied the wall, again. Then he walked back to his room.

Jan watched as Nin picked up the dishes on the stove and moved them to the sink. Returning to the room, he silently got under the cover and closed his eyes.

Jan was still awake, thinking about how Nin’s knees had trembled as he stood behind his dad—the same Nin who had sat with his legs on the classroom table, when the door creaked open. Jan heard soft footsteps in the room, and then Nin’s bed creaked. Jan held his breath so as not to draw attention to himself. He stayed awake this way, breathing only the slightest, for what seemed like eons, until he heard Nin’s heavy, rhythmic breathing.


“Jan. Jan. Jan! Wake up. We need to get ready for school.”

“Huh. Sure . . . yeah . . .?”

Nin was hovering at the foot of the bed. He said, “Breakfast is ready. Come on. I’ll be downstairs.”

Jan showered and dressed.

He found Nin and his dad in the kitchen. His dad was leaning on the counter, and Nin was at the table chewing on a piece of bread.

When Nin saw Jan, he said, “Dad, that’s Jan.”

Nin’s dad did not look at Jan. He waved a hand in that direction whilst sipping his coffee. He said, “Tell your dad that I said ‘hi’. It was good talking to him yesterday.”

Jan nodded.

Nin’s dad then walked back to his room after picking up the newspaper.

“Come sit, Jan. We’ve got jam and bread today,” said Nin.

Jan sat down and ate silently.

They walked to the bus stop together. As the bus pulled to a stop in front of them, Jan walked over to the back row and took the seat next to the window. Nin sat beside him. He kept fiddling with his backpack. Jan turned to look out the glass pane. The trash bags were still there. But the cat was gone.

In class, Jan picked the first row again. It hurt to look at Nin. He did not know what to say to him. The images from the previous night kept popping up in his mind, and it was disturbing.

During the shorter recess, Jan took a trip to the restroom. While he was walking back, he saw Bill with the new kid. Neither of them looked at him. He turned when he reached the door and walked into the classroom, not stopping till he got to the window at the other end. It looked bright outside, in the playground. A quick scan did not show Nin anywhere.


Jan looked around to see that Mr. Peterson was in the room already. Jan rushed to his desk to take a seat, but there was already someone sitting in his place. He looked back up at Mr. Peterson.

Mr. Peterson said, “Was it the next classroom you were looking for? Mr. James’, I suppose.”

“Yes, Mr. Peterson, sorry,” Jan mumbled, and then he hurried to the right room.

During recess, Jan got his food and sat in the playground, alone. He was wiping his lips with a piece of napkin when he heard Nin’s voice say, “What are you doing here alone?”

“Nothing.” Jan said.

When Jan didn’t say anything more, Nin said, “You should come by when dad has more time. He was busy all day yesterday and he couldn’t really—”

“Would you like a chocolate?”


Jan pulled out the unopened box from his backpack. It felt light in his hand. “Would you like one?”

Nin’s eyes stayed on the box, his lips still apart from trying to complete his unfinished sentence.

Jan said, “Take one if you want.”

Nin said, “Can I take two? My dad would love to try one.”

Jan looked at the playground. Rain clouds had formed in the sky, and the ground was darker now. He saw Bill and Maher, talking to the new kid who had sat between them on the bus. He could hear thunder rumbling faintly in the distance. He said, “You can have the box. Here, take it.”

Nin stared at the box, but did not take it.

“It’s fine. I’ve got one more,” Jan said, and pushed the box into Nin’s open hands. As he waited for Nin to say something, with his eyes on the box of chocolates, he saw a tiny droplet fall, splashing onto the lid of the box. Jan saw one of the chocolates through the transparent part of the lid, brown and gold, right where the droplet had landed.

Jan said, “Come on, Nin, let’s go inside.”

When Nin did not move, Jan said, “Are you sad that you had to wait for me to give it to you, and were not able to steal it from me using your drone?”

Nin got up on his feet, wiped his eyes, punched Jan lightly in the arm, and jogged past him, with the box tucked firmly under his arm. Jan followed him back to the building, and they managed to get in just as the first raindrop fell, and the sky started mottling the ground with darker patches.

Roshan Murali is a software engineer from Kansas City, Kansas, and has been working as one for the last 4 years. He started learning how to write fiction last year.