When Madhu heard the news that the Harappans’ trade was failing, she was near tears. Her father was an artisan, a wonderful one at that, yet work no longer came in the way it used to. If trade with the lavish young nobles of Kemet, or the prosperous ones of the Fertile Crescent were to stop… she could hardly imagine the consequences. She feared she could be sent to Memphis or Sumeria in exchange for wheat for their meals.
Every single night she would sit up worrying. What would happen to her family? What would happen to her? Despair and helplessness clouded her thoughts as images of her family in poverty and her being traded for wheat played in her mind, refusing to stop. But what could she do? She was only a child. All she could do was wait.
It was when she was done helping out her mother with chores and preparing their dinner that she heard the news. Half the area of Upper Harappa had been buried under waves, the old lady from across the street had whispered to her mother. She heard from a friend of a friend, who was an official, who had received the news from a messenger up north.
That night, she was up thinking, again. As she continued having thoughts, her despair slowly turned into anger. It was so unfair! Just because her father's income was affected by falling trade, she was made to suffer. In the spur of the moment, she made an impulsive decision. She carried a spare set of clothes and ran away from the small cottage her family stayed in. She didn't know where she was going, but she knew that anything was better than staying and letting society decide her fate. She finally decided to stay the night at her friend’s house.
When she made it to Kaash’s house, the boy had already snuggled up under a large cloth on his sandstone roof. The heavens were watching upon him and he was about to be lulled to sleep as a pebble hit him smack in the nose. Shrieking in alarm, the boy rushed over to the edge of his modest little mud house, surprised to find his closest friend requesting permission to enter his home. The girl entered through the unguarded door immediately upon being given the okay.
"Did you hear the news?" she asked after she had sneaked past his parents and huddled under the cloth with him.
As she told Kaash about how the collapse in trade had dragged her future down with it, and how it seemed the water gods were angered at their failure, both kids began getting worried. Kaash’s father was also a well-known artisan in town and he was sure that he would meet the same fate if he stayed at home for much longer. Together, they decided to run away.
They snuck onto a boat at the crack of dawn with no idea of where the boat was headed and later realised that they were stowaways on a boat headed to Sumeria. After they arrived, the two kids tried to get off the boat unnoticed but unfortunately, the ports were crawling with guards. They tried to blend into the crowd as peasants using some brightly coloured scarves, hoping they would be enough. Just as they thought they were in the clear, they heard a deep voice calling out to them. “HEY! Where are you two headed to?” it boomed. To their horror, it was one of the guards. The only thing they could do now was run for their lives.
After running through the ports, dodging guards and crashing into bewildered locals, the chase was up. The guards had cornered the two in a small alley. They were immediately identified as illegal immigrants. One of the guards, however, despite being completely aware of the area's policy when it came to dealing with criminals, decided to take matters into his own hands. He was evidently skeptical of the current law. Without thinking twice, in front of all the other guards, he raised his sword and killed the kids in the name of justice.
“...And that’s why you’re not allowed to go mango picking with us older kids. The ghosts of Madhu and Kaash will surely get jealous of a tiny child like you who gets to live such a blessed life.”
“Aai!” the five-year-old sobbed for his mother, “Aai, I don’t- I don’t want to go mango picking,”
“What happened now?” their mother sighed from across the room, stopping the churning of her butter. “Vaibhav, I thought I told you to stop lying to your little brother! Have you no shame as a—”
The eight-year-old crossed his arms with a pout, “Yeah yeah, Marathas don’t lie.”
Their mother gave him a stink eye and went back to churning the butter they needed to welcome home their warrior father with a feast. The two brothers headed out to the woods to collect mangoes for their evening feast.
Only one made it back.
Author: Nandini Patil and Suditi Mukadam
Editor: Jia Bakshi