In order to sense this story a bit differently I suggest you read out aloud the bits in italics. The rest, you can read in your mind.
There was a little boy who lived on a narrow, crowded street. His house was on the first floor and it had a small balcony that overlooked the street. At any given point in time (night or day), if you stood on the balcony and looked below you’d see the walking people – and occasionally a bike zig-zagging through them.
The little boy had no friends, but he was not lonely, or even alone.
Every afternoon the boy would come back from school and stand leaning on the railing of the balcony, and as he looked down at all the walking people… in slow motion, one by one, the people would transform…
A large duck waddling with a big box of sweets.
A dung beetle pushing a bike.
A butterfly with a school bag slung around her shoulders.
A big red-ant on a cycle.
Till eventually the fireflies arrived to dot the buildings with light.
At this point the boy would go inside and finish the homework his teacher had given. Then he’d eat… and sleep.
This was the daily routine… school, home, balcony, people becoming animals, birds, insects, and sometimes even fruits and vegetables… like badnekaayi, tomato… endless possibilities.
So, one day – same as every other day – school, home, balcony…little girl. In the balcony across the street – a little girl, leaning on the railing…looking down at the walking people.
The boy was a bit surprised – the house across had been vacant for a long time, ever since the ajji who lived there had died. The boy wondered who this little girl was… and just then the girl looked up… the boy looked away, turning his head downward, at all the wildlife below.
Time flowed…slowly and hesitatingly the boy lifted his eyes towards the balcony. The girl was still there…looking below.
The boy saw that she was holding something in her hands… it was round and shiny… he squinted trying to see what it was. Just then her hands moved, and she raised the object for him to see. It was a small winding clock. She was looking at him again.
It was a small winding clock and the evening sunlight glinted off its steel body. The face of the clock was black, the hands white, and the numbers too. The little boy had never seen anything so beautiful.
There were two small, inverted bowl-like things on the top of the clock. The white seconds hand moved steadily. He could almost hear it. He closed his eyes, listening to the tak…tak…tak.
Tak…tak…tak…tak… the sound continued, even as the boy opened his eyes. The fireflies had arrived. The girl was gone. It was time to finish his homework, eat…and sleep.
But the boy could not sleep that night. The tak…tak…tak… would return to wake him. The little girl holding up the clock… would wake him. And he lay in dark, awake… and wondering…
He was drawn to the balcony.
Making his way slowly in the dark, he opened the door to the balcony as quietly as he could. The night was a thick, black shroud – and yet, across the street, on the balcony opposite – it glinted. The clock.
The boy stood leaning on the railing, mesmerised. He had never seen anything so beautiful before.
He lifted one leg.
Across the railing.
And then other.
He was now sitting on the railing. His little feet dangling over the walking people.
The clock glowed in sharp bursts. Tak…tak…tak.
Using his hands the boy slipped away from the railing.
The clock began ringing.