Vanaja was watering the plants when Karthik walked in, his shirt a mess and face all bloodied, and his school bag dragging behind him like a corpse. She dropped the hose-pipe and rushed to him.
Karthik just looked at her and proceeded to his room. She pulled him back.
"I said what happened? who did this? Who did you fight with?"
Funnily, he didn't seem to be in great pain despite a bleeding lip and bruised cheek. Like some big cat had mauled him.
Vanaja took off his shirt and immediately pulled him to the bathroom.
"I knew it. I knew one day this would happen. Picking up fights with classmates, fighting..are you a boy or are you a...?" She ran the hot water and prepared the scrub, while searching for the Dettol. Then she turned to look at him. His eyes were red, and his lips quivered.
She pulled him close and waved her hand over his ruffled hair.
"Oh, I'm sorry sweetie..."
She held him at arm's length, studying the wounds.
"Does it hurt a lot?"
"Oh, my poor baby.." She washed the wounds and gave him a bath.
"I've told you na chinna (darling in kannada), not to pick fights with the other boys? This time see, it's hurt you so bad."
"I wasn't fighting with the boys."
Vanaja placed the milk cup on the table and sat beside him.
Karthik bowed his head.
"What? Who was it then?" She found her voice rising again. She sighed deeply and turned his chin up.
She couldn't believe what she'd just heard.
"Why would Rinki do this? And why did you have to go fight with her?"
Rinki was Karthik's music school classmate from two lanes down the road. And to think that music wasn't the only thing they practised.
"I was teasing her sister."
"Rinki came to her rescue."
Vanaja looked at her little tiger sipping milk. And then burst out laughing.