Anand knew the snake wanted to eat him, even if his mother said it only ate the cats and dogs scurrying over the trash pile. Anand held up one open hand, and then a single finger on the other, examining the years of his life in nicked and dirty scars.
His family was Dalit, the untouchables, only suited to garbage collection, or cleaning toilets, as anything they touched turned to trash. He wanted to get to two full hands, and then he could join the men picking up the trash in town and not battle against the snake for its treasures
Slithering scales moved just under the surface, the trash shifted beneath his bare feet. Eyes wide, his body froze. A movement against his leg caused a lightning bolt of fear to erupt into a scream.
“Anand , you fool!” The slap on the back of his head knocked him down into the trash pile.
“Maa-” Anand cried, “I saw the snake-”
“-You spend too much time in dreams.” His mother’s bright eyes glared at him under her green hijab. “Show me what you found.”
Lost in his battle against the snake, he hadn’t even looked for treasures. One hand, buried in the pile, pressed on something hard. He offered it up. The sun glinted off the tarnished metal cup, big in his tiny hand, with a flat, thin handle.
“I found this.” He hoped it would be enough to make her happy.
His mother snatched it, brought it to her eyes to squint at it. “Is it for a candle, like a lamp?”
Anand ’s eyes went wide, a lamp- maybe it is magic! He remembered the story his father told him of a magic lamp that gave out three wishes. He imagined himself a prince, in shoes, and a glittering gold suit, riding an elephant. He wished to be off this pile and safe from the snake.
His mothers fingers, with better vision than her eyes, turned it around, found scratched letters on the thin handle.
“Oh no, it’s a measuring cup. At least it is metal, go sell it to Bhediya.” She threw it at his feet and left, off on her own search.
Anand shivered at the name of the man who bought the treasures his family found. He had only ever gone with his brother to see him, never by himself, but that was before.
The possibilities of a magic lamp vibrated in his head, erasing any fears. He could never let Bhediya have this wonder. Anand kneeled down to stare at it, scared to touch it. What should he wish for?
Always hungry, his stomach clenched. Naan! Just the idea of the soft bread made his mouth water. He remembered the naan and samosas they had from the cart vendor, a few weeks ago. He didn’t believe his brother, Sona when he told him his plan.
Careful of police, they found a street vendor who preferred to sip from his bottle of Feni then attend to his cart. Sona showed him how to touch the samosas, fingering each one, then to breath on the naan, with big huffs. Anand had to get on his tiptoes to get over the side of the cart, just up for a minute until the shouts began.
Then they ran! Anand flew, almost keeping up with Sona, diving between legs, and carts. The dogs joined them for the game, running alongside with joyful barks. The police cursed and threw rocks, but Sona knew a hiding place through an alley that stunk worse than the trash pile.
They waited until dark and the vendor carts left. Sona knew just where to look too, finding it in a garbage pile. Real food, just thrown away! Kicking away the rats, they ate until their stomachs burst, deep fried samosas, and pillowy, fresh naan, so much of it they brought more home for Maa. He wanted to eat like that again.
He closed his eyes and wished for naan, and samosas but nothing happened.
Anand tried to remember fathers’ story. He had to rub it, yes, that was what made the genie come out. The story reminded him of his father’s warm hands, and leaning against his thin body.
His father was the strongest person Anand knew, until the day he started coughing, struggling to even breathe with the sickness. Then his body became still, only the rumbling breath proving he was alive. Finally the light left his eyes, gone to be reborn in a better life.
Anand held his magic lamp in one hand while he wiped his damp face. He should not be so selfish, he should make a wish for someone else. Sona, his older brother, and best friend, now had the same disease as their father, slowly wasting away. All night he coughed, making Maa cry, and forget she had another son. If Sona was better-
Anand rubbed the metal lamp with his hand, his thoughts on his brother, wishing he was healthy.
A small plastic bottle appeared in the magic lamp, yellow with a white cap. Anand’s mouth dropped open. He picked it up, to feel it's physical existence. Examining it closely, he saw writing on the side, a magical code holding secrets he wished he understood. He tried to open the top but it just spun. He prodded, twisted and pushed until finally the bottle opened. Many white little balls rolled inside. How does this help? He put his nose in and found a sugary smell. He tried one, frowning at the gritty, sour taste. He swallowed it quickly, but his stomach only growled. The magic bottle must be a sign that Sona was better!
Anand leapt up to run to his home in the multi-colored cloths stretched between the bent poles.
“Sona, are you cured?” Anand needed only a glance to see he was no better, on the ground pale and gaunt. Anand stood and stared at his still form, the heavy rumbling breath. He pushed on Sona's shoulder until he saw his wet eyes, showed him the magic bottle, and then left the tent. What else? He should wish for money, to make his mother happy.
He closed his eyes and wished for rupees, for the air to be as thick and full of the yellow, blue and green paper as a monsoon pouring down on him, and the trash pile turned to a hill of gold and silver coins.
Anand rubbed hard, using his full palm. This time a small plastic card appeared in the small metal lamp, with raised numbers and words.
Anand picked it up and turned it around. Not rupees, not gold, just a piece of plastic, a black strip on the back.
He gritted his teeth. The trash pile was full of plastic. He couldn't even sell this to Bhediya. He might as well sell the lamp, it obviously didn’t work.
Maa had more things to sell to Bhediya, and Anand walked slow through the narrow street, dragging his fear along with the weight of the bag.
Bhediya had black narrow eyes, and a huge nose. His tongue licked his teeth as Anand approached, keeping a safe distance.
“Is this all you have, boy?” Bhediya picked through the Anand's bag of treasures, each dark finger ending in a sharp claw.
“I have one more thing of metal, a small lamp.” Anand ’s eyes were glued to the talons.
“Show me.” Bhediya growled.
“I thought it was a magic lamp, but it doesn’t work-” Anand stepped closer to show the man.
Bhediya sneered, his black eyes glancing at the small object before going Anand, moving up and down. “It is only a cup for measuring, rice or flour.”
Bhediya snatched Anand ’s arm in a vice grip and held him tight. “ I do have need of a boy though, one with a pretty face.” A single claw caressed Anand’s cheek. “I have a very important buyer who would like you very much.” Bhediya bared his teeth.
Anand knew of boys who went with Bhediya, like his cousin PK, who left and never came back.
Anand closed his eyes and rubbed the magic lamp, his fingers desperate. He had one last wish.
Anand felt the power course through his body, changing him. He leapt toward Bhediya, to touch him, his fangs tasting Bhediya’s neck. He twisted and coiled around him, squeezing the light from him, before he released to slither down onto the side of the road. In a wide grin, his tongue flicked in and out, tasting the air and freedom.