It is afternoon on a summer day in a Bombay suburb. It is too hot for the children to play outdoors, but they have been cooped up all day in the house and beg their mother to let them out. She has already bathed them and given them their tea. They promise to stay on the porch, but she knows they won’t. Finally, she opens the door and they run out, yelling with joy. The mother goes to have her own bath and put on a clean sari for the evening.
The afternoon is so hot that even animals are not stirring. Parrots, however, are aroused by the children’s cries and fly out of the eucalyptus tree. The children begin to push and shove and argue, and a sleeve gets torn. The older daughter, Mira, separates the fighting boys and organizes games for them. They begin a counting-out game to find out who should be ‘‘It’’ for hide-and-seek. Raghu is It. He objects and cries out to the others that they are supposed to stay on the porch, but they have already scattered. The smallest child, Manu, stands on the lawn listening to Raghu count to one hundred, and at the last moment, turns and runs. Manu stumbles over a hose and Raghu catches him. Raghu pronounces him ‘‘dead’’ as Manu weeps. Raghu goes off whistling, looking for the others.
Ravi hears the whistling and picks his nose in nervousness. He is sitting on a flowerpot behind the garage and realizes he is too visible. He thinks of running around the garage if he hears Raghu coming, but he knows the older boy is strong, with his athletic legs. He sees Raghu coming and looks around for an escape. The garage is locked, and the driver has the key in his room where he is sleeping now. Ravi knows where the key hangs on a nail, but he is too short to get it. Next to the garage is a shed that is also locked. It is a storage shed with old furniture in it. There is a space where the hinges are coming off the door, and in a moment, Ravi squeezes through the crack. Ordinarily, he would never have gone into such a dark and scary place, but he hears Raghu hunting him. When Raghu misses Ravi, he picks up a stick and beats it on the garage.
Ravi is delighted with his escape, but he is also afraid. The shed smells of rodents, and it is dark. He is afraid to touch something and hunkers down imagining all sorts of things like snakes. Feeling something on the back of his neck, he squashes it, thinking it could be a spider. He stays motionless for a long while until he begins to see in the dark. When he sees an old bathtub, he climbs in it. He thinks that maybe it would be better to go back out, get caught, and join in the game with the other children. Soon it will be evening, and the parents will come out into the garden to sit on their wicker chairs and watch the children begin their games in earnest. They might eat mulberries or jamun, and the gardener will turn on the hose to water the garden. Ravi hears the children screaming as they are caught.
Now Ravi begins to think of himself as winning the game and being a hero. He has never experienced that before since he is a younger child. Only once or twice can he remember being distinguished from the others by a treat for himself: a piece of chocolate from an uncle, or a drive in the soda-man’s cart. He thinks what a triumph it would be to win over Raghu, who plays football. He decides to stay where he is so he can win.
It begins to get dark as evening comes on. He hears the water turned on, spraying the garden, sees the shadows through the crack and feels coolness. He thinks he hears the children laughing and singing, but how could they, when the game is not over? They have not yet found him.
He suddenly remembers that, to win the game, one has to run out and touch the porch. In a panic, he breaks out of the shed, falls down, and then gets up, running to the porch shouting ‘‘Den!’’ as he begins crying and feeling shame instead of victory. The other children stop their game to look at him in wonder. The mother gets up from her chair and scolds him for being a baby. The children resume their game. Ravi breaks from his mother and runs headlong into the group of children, insisting that he has won because Raghu did not find him. They are surprised and do not understand him. Hide-and-seek had ended when a fight broke out, and the mother had to come out of the house and make them change their game. They had played many games since then. They had helped the driver wash the car when the father returned from work; they had eaten mulberries, and they had made the gardener mad by getting in his way when he watered the flower beds. Ravi had been forgotten.
Raghu and Mira scold him and tell him to get at the end of the line if he wants to play with them. They begin their game again, chanting a rhyme and making an arch with their arms. Ravi is heartbroken. He does not play with them because he is devastated by his broken dream of winning victory for himself. They had actually forgotten his existence. He is aching and trembling all over. No one understands his pain. He lies down on the grass pressing his face into the ground and then stops crying. For the first time he understands that he is of no account in the world; it goes on without him. It does not revolve around him or his wishes.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Anita Desai – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.