“Plastic hairband, unbreakable, plastic hairclip, flower shape, butterfly shape, colourful comb, unbreakable.” The combseller recited in a half-hearted monotone, uncertain whether this was a real customer or just a joker passing the time. “Big comb and small comb, pink, orange, maroon, green, blue, yellow comb—unbreakable.”

Omprakash gave them a test run through his hair before selecting a red specimen, pocket-sized. He dug into his trousers and extracted a coin. The combseller suffered hostile elbows and shoulders while searching for change. He used his shirtsleeve to wipe hair oil off the rejected combs, then returned them to his satchel, keeping in his hand the big dual-toothed one to resume his soft twanging through the compartment.

“What happened to the yellow comb you had?” asked Ishvar.
“Broke in two.”
“It was in my back pocket. I sat on it.”
“That’s the wrong place for a comb. It’s meant for your head, Om, not your bottom.” He always called his nephew Om, using
Omprakash only when he was upset with him.
“If it was your bottom, the comb would have smashed into a hundred pieces,” returned his nephew, and Ishvar laughed. His disfigured left cheek was no hindrance, standing firm like a mooring around which his smiles could safely ripple.