“I told you this was going to happen!” Vijay wiped the sweat off his brow, “But did you listen to me? No! Now look what has happened.” He stuck the spade into the soft soil in their backyard.

“Yes…yes I know you told me. And I never listen to you” Shilpa agreed eagerly, as the torchlight she held in her hand shook, its beam making wild circles on the ground at Vijay’s feet.

She kept staring at the soft bundle that was lying a few feet away , swaddled in cloth. In the darkness, she could convince herself that it was still breathing. She shook her head, such wishful thinking was of no use. They had a job to finish.

“I told you she was too young to be able to handle this. God only knows what will happen tomorrow…” Vijay mumbled as he dug deeper with the shovel.

”Less talking and more shoveling!” Shilpa hissed at Vijay, “What she doesn’t know cannot hurt her.”

“How did we let it come to this?” Vijay stopped shoveling to catch his breath.

“It is my fault, I have been a negligent mother!” Shilpa stared at the soft at the bundle of cloth as tear clouded her eyes.

Vijay stopped shoveling and walked to her, he held her close as she began to shake silently.

“Come on, it’s not your fault. These things happen.”

“Do they happen to every mother? I don’t think so!” Shilpa sobbed. Vijay pulled her into a tighter embrace and patted her back, while he made sure there were no lights on in the neighborhood.

“I am just a bad mother, there is no excuse…I..I overfed him to death…” Shilpa sobbed.

“At least he did not starve to death. That would have been worse…” Vijay hoped this would be comforting, when she sobbed harder, “come on, does anyone know how much we need to feed them and when we are supposed to stop? It’s okay!”

Shilpa calmed down a bit, “But, what do we tell Veda, she will be heart broken! You remember the first day we brought Chintu home? Veda was so excited! I have never seen her so happy!”

“I can still see her jumping up and down all over the house! We have a new member in the family She shouted. She told all her friends and all the neighbors!”

“She asked me if Chintu was her new brother!She asked me if he too would be going to school with her!” Vijay said.

“She was the one who put the idea in my head too, of Chintu being like a family member. And you know what? Despite everything even I began to think of him as a family member.” Shilpa sobbed again.

“Why would you not! He was a cute bugger, that one!” Vijay said.

“ When he could no longer walk around, we should have taken him to a doctor,” Shilpa said

“Yes, well I guess we should have. But come on, we thought it was just child fat, you know, what they called chubby fat. At his age, it is considered healthy, or at least it was supposed to be!”

“Well what is done, is done!” Vijay said, “We should take care of this before Veda realizes something is amiss.”

“Yes..yes..we should…” Shilpa said in a low voice, But she did not let Vijay go, “Promise me you shall help me get another one just like Chintu?”

“I promise!” Vijay said solemnly, “We will go to the adoption center the first thing in the morning!”

Shilpa nodded. Vijay shoveled some more dirt out of the grave he had dug. He went to the small bundle on the ground and picked it up gently.

Shilpa covered her mouth to prevent her sobs from escaping.

Vijay lowered the small bundle into the ground. He seemed to say a prayer for a moment. Then he began to shovel the earth back into the small grave.

He was soon done. They stood beside the small shallow grave in their backyard.

“Do you think Veda will notice?” Shilpa asked in a shaking voice.

“We will do our best to save her from the horror of it. But she will find out sooner or later!” Vijay said.

They stood there a while longer, staring at the grave.

The next day, Veda returned from school, her exuberant self. “Amma, I am home!” She threw her bag in the living room and rushed to the guest room. She opened the door and went to the small crib inside. Shilpa stood at the door wondering how things will work out.

Veda picked up the guinea pig in the crib and turned to Shilpa. She stared at Shilpa for a while, she smiled, “I am going to call this one…Pingu!” Veda grinned at Shilpa

“Umm…baby…that is Chintu!” Shilpa said trying to convince Veda.

“No mommy this is not Chintu!” Veda said looking at the new hamster.

“He is, baby, he is your dear Chintu!”

“Chintu is dead, mommy. I saw him dead last night before you came into my room and buried him in the backyard.” Veda said.

Shilpa was stunned, she stared at Veda with an open mouth.

“That is ok, mommy! Chintu was eating too much. He was obese, you die faster when you are obese. Besides, we all have to die someday!” Veda closed her mother’s open mouth and began playing with her new hamster.

[Image courtesy:]

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