Ilamaran. Ila for those who had to call him frequently. He was the tallest of the four. He was wearing bright yellow trousers that came upto his knees, and a shiny black t-shirt, the kind atheletes wear. He seemed fresh off a bath, with smudges of talcum powder below his well-oiled side burns. Ila was clearly the leader of the pack. The other three followed him as he walked purposefully to the blue box at the corner of GP road. The blue box housed a lungi-clad man and his shop. A shop that sold, among other things, warm sweet tea in flimsy melting plastic cups. And no-frills omelettes that were free of contaminations from onions and tomatoes and at times even salt. Ila asked for three sachets of cocunut oil. The shop keeper nodded knowingly and picked a brand from the few options available. It was the least expensive, at a rupee a sachet. Ila kept one, and handed out two to two of his companions, leaving out the youngest, his kid brother Nedumaran. Nedu was disappointed but didn't complain. He knew he was not ready for that role yet, and was happy doing his bit in what to him was an exciting adventure day after day. The other three ripped open their sachets and smeared the oil from the forearms down to the tip of their fingers. They practiced grabbing each other by the arm, and freeing themselves from the grasp. They didn't want to lose too much oil, so they stopped after a couple of tries. Ila then bought a couple of blades, broke them into two halves each, the way barbers do before a shave, and distributed them around. They then waited at the GP Road - Anna salai intersection for the next crowded bus to stop at the signal. They were ready for the hunt. Nedu would get in from the front. The others from behind, but not together. It was peak hour and this wasn't difficult to achieve. When one of them spots a possible victim, he would give a missed call to Nedu. Nedu would then initiate a distraction to make the job easier. Once the job was done, they would get off at different stops. The one with the catch would of course be the first one to be off the bus.
The first bus wasn't crowded enough, they let it pass. They got on into the next one headed to central station. At Shanthi theatre, the first stop past the signal, Arumai got on. His arms were glistening with oil too. He spotted an anxious kid with a clear outline of a mobile phone in his shirt pocket. He momentarily felt sorry for the kid, but what had to be done had to be done. He reached out for his phone to give a missed call to his accomplice at the back...
This one, all grown up!
11 months ago