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Updated: Feb 12, 2019

I reach into her school bag before my own. Scrunching away at the monotony of Nutella, I shove the box back inside the baby pink pockets when I hear the unmistakable melody of packed goods. I quickly slip whichever flavour of brownie or Oreo cookie I am able to nick into my pocket and silently apologise to her, making a mental note to get her favourite sandwich the next day.

I step sideways towards the yellow-red box wrapped in a polybag and patiently wait for the loot of the day to be revealed. In no time, a small crowd seems to have gathered around it. Seconds later, while everyone cursed the other for taking a larger piece of the pizza, I steal a bite from the paneer in the metal-box across the other table.

I pick up the pace, stepping out to the corridor, not even bothering to carry the money I know is in my bag. My head tilts in sympathy as I spot the familiar faces, fresh out from whichever subject plagued their fifth period.

Our feet seem to guide us to the canteen rather than the other way around as if it were second nature to us. Shuffling down the stairs, I wonder at how the Matri seemed so close back then but now, two fleets of steps to the canteen seems like trouble. I somehow always manage to find some company on this tiny journey, where I see so many familiar strangers - faces that will take me years to forget, even though I never had a name for so many of them.

The small space is a sea of blue topped with some faces, vaguely discernible - a typical Wednesday in the canteen. We scatter on our mission to gather as much profit as we can, with zero funds, yet endless prospects.

We reassemble at the crimson steps just outside. Or if the sun is kind, on the brilliant green grass of the field we share with kindergartners. The goods must be distributed equally, in theory at least, or it's an invitation to a cat and mouse chase.

It’s funny how easily two six-feet-something, 17-year-olds would blend in with 7-year-olds, even if it is for just a minute, just until equality is established.

On good days everyone has something this little shop offers – samosas, lemonades, ice cream cones, coffee bites - all in the plural.

On the great days, we have the best conversations to fill us up instead.

- Ritul Madhukar