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weekly (Another Night…) – 4

2

“Iya, Gupti!”

“Mmph,” Gupti replied around a mouthful of one of Cassa’s sticky buns. “Iya mo, little one.” He swallowed happily and tousled the dirty little girl’s hair. Aneesh’s eyes were bright and alert, clearly reflecting the dancing flame of the nearest lamppost, and she smiled back up at him.

She’d managed quite well these last few seasons, particularly since her mother had fallen to the last bout of raj’e to sweep through the slums, though that was of little surprise to Gupti. Gupti would not judge the mother, nor would he judge Aneesh’s freedom from her.

“Gupti,” waved Yusi, passing in the other direction. Gupti raised his hand in return.

“Gonna catch some murderers tonight?”

Yusi grinned indulgently at Aneesh, then winked at Gupti. “Careful, with that one. She’ll have your job, soon.” He slapped Gupti on the back and continued home.

Gupti grunted warmly, took another bite of bun, and looked back at Aneesh. She was a dozen years this year, nearly of age, though still short for her sex. Even her younger sister, Iswa, was taller by several inches, already. Unlike Iswa, however, Aneesh didn’t even pretend to worry about bathing. Almost a uniform brown from the earth and the filth and the natural burnish of her father’s skin, she’d learned to camouflage herself well among the people, animals, and buildings of the slums, which had come in very handy when avoiding her mother’s cane.

Aneesh had required little adaptation to life without her mother, without a constant home. There had been little change, and Aneesh had kept her head above water easily. It was Iswa, however, that Gupti most worried over.

“Where’s your sister?”

“You gonna catch some murderers?”

“Where’s your sister?”

“You gonna catch some murderers?”

“Where’s your sister?”

Aneesh pouted, her hands on her hips. “Who cares?” she muttered finally. “Probably married.” She stuck her tongue out and winced.

Gupti held the last piece of sticky bun in front of his mouth a moment while he stared at the girl. Aneesh scrunched her face, daring him to disbelieve her, which proved her lie. He shook his head and popped the iced bread into his mouth.

“You shouldn’t lie.”

Aneesh opened her mouth for a flip comeback, but Gupti’s sad eyes derailed her intent. She shrugged exaggeratedly. “Everybody else does.”

Gupti softly touched a knuckle to her cheek. “I don’t.”

Aneesh gave him an exasperated look, surprisingly adult for her age, and Gupti laughed and pat her head again.

“So are you gonna catch some murderers?”

Gupti caught himself, then laughed even harder.

“You don’t lie, right?”

“No, I don’t,” he answered, holding his side with one hand and smiling. “But I can’t tell you what I don’t even know.”

Aneesh’s face sagged and she blew out disappointedly.

“Besides,” Gupti said, resuming his walk, “it’s Arbala. Murderers usually wait for the weekend.”

Keeping two steps for each one of his, Aneesh clearly didn’t believe him.

Gupti raised his eyebrows. “Truth. It takes a lot out of a body to kill someone. There’s too much work to be done during the week to waste on such endeavors.”

She squinted up at him, gauging him.

Gupti shook his head and spread his hands innocently. “As a friend of mine likes to say, the easy answer is usually the right one.” He nodded to himself. “And he’s usually right. Which is why,” he began, turning to her, “I can guess that you had a fight with your sister again.”

Aneesh glanced up, then down. She shoved her hands into the pouch-pocket on the front of her shift.

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