Can you help me?

I’m Kabir, nine, and a goalkeeper in Pretty Public School’s Junior TrashBall team. A month ago, that was all I was. And I liked it that way, thank you very much. Now however, I’m in a tornado of torrid trouble.

It’s Trash Rajah’s birthday, you see. Every year, it’s celebrated with virus-infested trashbombs and noxious firecrackers at the Supremely Vile Stadium. The stadium sits on top of the holy mountain of garbage, Puke Peak, in the middle of Lethal Lake.

I’m in position, defending my goal. The problem is what’s behind me. It’s my Dad. Yup, you heard that right. Can you see him? He’s chained far back to a pole, his arms and legs dangling over the precipice. Under him are the poisonous waters of Lethal Lake. If you listen closely, you can hear him screaming.

I can’t focus on that for facing me are a gaggle of squalid, smelly garbage monsters. They’re snarling, sputtering spit, smelling their farts and armpits and squawking. They’re amused and sloshed on rotten cola. All the myriad varieties of these nasties have one thing in common. They carry trashbombs in their jaws, hands, claws and giant nostrils. They are all aiming the trashbombs at Dad. One hit and he will fall into Lethal Lake and choke on its world-renowned toxic waters.

Probably chewed to little bits by the plastocrocs that are swarming below him excitedly. I shiver in my underpants. The only thing that stands between Dad and the monsters is me. And I’m not that good a goalkeeper. The monsters move their collective limbs and jaws. A flurry of misshapen trashbombs hurtle towards us. I lunge to one side of the goal hoping to protect Dad, wondering where my sister Lila is. As usual, my pesky little sister has done her favourite deed – a Vanishing Act. She’s planning something. I just know it. I hope it’s nothing to do with that troublemaker traitor Kungfu Aunty who has made our peaceful life a living hell.

You might have a younger sister or brother and you may think what’s so bad about having one? Well, you haven’t met Lila. She is the nosiest, most annoying creature on the planet. You might like to play trashball or swim in pig swill, but Lila, her hobby is to rebel. Yeah, you got that right. Her hobby is the reason Dad was kidnapped and is going to die a horrible, chewed-to-bits death.

It’s. All. Her. Fault.

For she’s the one who found Kungfu Aunty. But to know how exactly it’s all her fault, I have to start from the beginning, for you don’t know what happened, do you?

A month ago, on a normal Tuesday trashball practice day, my only worry was my oxyhelm. It was a wonderfully muggy day. The playground at my school, Pretty Public School, had been freshly littered with soggy paper, broken glass, rubble and leftover food. In keeping with the Directives of the Government, the trees that edged the playground were burnt a night before, so that a charred, nasty smog floated in the air, making it hard to see. Polythene bags and rags hung on the branches, artfully placed by Gardener Kaka. In the flowerbeds, the burning leaves and debris simmered slowly, creating purplish smoke.

It was quite a site. I wasn’t happy though. My regular oxyhelm had been punctured and I was using my mother’s oxyhelm, which was…well, you will find out in a second, anyway. “Come on, Kab!” hollered Meera Kudur, the defender and my best friend. She flanked Tanay Bolt, our striker, who was playing against us today. He gave the trashball a kick. It vaulted towards the goal, at a hundred kilometers per hour. ‘Block it, Kab!’ snapped Meera, her ponytail swerving impatiently.

“No, no, no –” I craned my neck and barreled towards the trashball, urging Mom’s oxyhelm to behave itself. The sudden movement caused my oxyhelm to spout hundreds of needles. The trashball sank into these needles and lodged itself comfortably on the top of my head. Phissss, it said sadly. The trashball dissolved around my helmet, dripping goo.

“Oh no,” I said. Meera reached me, hands on knees. “Again?” Through my face shield, she looked green and gooey, thanks to the muck dripping on the visor of my oxyhelm. “I will drown you in sparkling water!” The threat came from Virat Namra, the well-built captain of the Junior Trashball team. He strode towards me, with a mean expression and meaner muscles that twitch threateningly. His burly best friends and notorious homework snatchers, Ishani and Ayaan, huddled closely behind.

Virat poked a big, muscled finger into my chest. “This is the second trashball you’ve destroyed!” he said. “Soap scrubber!” threatened Ayaan. “Shampoo sparkler!” repeated Ishani. “It’s not my fault! It’s my oxyhelm,” I countered.

“We all wear oxyhelms,” pointed out Vedika Dutta, our soft-spoken math genius, who also was the team’s forward. “Only yours attacks and gobbles trashballs.”

Excerpted with permission from Kungfu Aunty Versus Garbage Monsters, Shweta Taneja, Talking Cub.