It was probably the worst day of the businessman’s life.A very lucrative deal had just slipped from his fingers,he had been told by his boss to “rethink” his options before coming to office again and the icing on the cake was the divorce petition filed by his wife,who had had enough of his erratic schedules and high handedness.
So here he was,clearing out his office,muttering profanities every now and then.A chance reflection in the mirror re-acquainted him with himself.A haggard looking,tired thirty seven year old man,with severely depleting hair,an impending divorce and an uncertain future.
It was fairly late at night when he staggered into the parking lot.There it was,a shiny black Honda City.His baby.He remembered loving it more than his own kid.The thought of losing his only child cut through his heart like a bullet through butter.Misfortunes,as they say,come uninvited and in large numbers.His baby wouldn’t start,no matter how hard he tried.Frustrated beyond belief,he aimed a well delivered kick at the car and started walking towards the exit.The nearest bus stop was about half a kilometer away.As he walked,the businessman thought about his life.
* * * * * *
“Please,one more time grandpa,”cried the excited child.His grandfather,an old wizened man smiled wearily,creasing the sides of his mouth.This was the child’s first trip to the local fair,and he had been excited about the prospect all week long.It was his seventh birthday today and his grandfather wanted to spare no expenses to make it memorable for him.
“No baba,you’ve been on this ride enough number of times.It’s getting late now,we may miss our bus home.” The child gingerly stepped out of the hanging car and grabbed his crutches.The right leg was alright,the left had been smashed by a drunk driver last year and when gangrene set in,the government doctor had chopped the leg from the knee joint.The duo started walking slowly,the grandfather stooping and wheezing breaths in between,the child hobbling but smiling throughout.They did not have much,a small stone hut,a few kind neighbors around and the paltry pension of the grandfather.But they did have one thing beyond any measure.And that was love.
* * * * * *
The businessman cursed all the gods he knew as he sat in the dingy bus,now thankfully devoid of crowds.Just a few people,a college girl chewing gum,two worn out budding musicians,the conductor and a middle aged man.The businessman’s thoughts were entirely on the divorce proceedings which would commence two days hence.At this conjecture,he wanted to have total custody of his son.He was so lost in his thoughts he did not even notice when the bus stopped to pick up new passengers.When he finally decided his rebuttal in court and some of the smugness returned to his face,he looked at the two new faces seated across him.
Like all people,his eyes strayed to the crutches and then to the empty socket where the leg should have been.”Poor kid,what a wretched life,”thought he and looked out of the window.A marriage procession was going along the opposite side of the road.The businessman gazed at the happy revelers, the bursting crackers and the radiating face of the bridegroom.He wanted to shout out,”Don’t.Don’t get married.It’s all a great big lie.” But something held him back.Swirling memories of his own wedding came back to him and he hastily withdrew his eyes from the street.The grandfather smiled at him.He managed a half smile.The child,eyes glistening like diamonds smiled next.The businessman got tired of smiling.He was about to gaze at the street again when he felt the touch of a small hand in his.The child had extended his hand with a small candy,like the ones found in fairs.
“It’s my birthday today.We’re returning from the fair now.My first visit.”
The candy was duly accepted with a startled thanks.As he ate it,he thought of the umpteen times his son had come up to him with the hope of receiving a hopeful word of praise,a hug or simply a look of love.His heart ached for his son now,but it was too late for anything.He glanced at his watch.Twenty minutes till home.The child turned to the grandfather.
“Dada,for my next birthday,I want to go to that fancy city mall and watch a movie.Will you take me?” This brought forth a sad knowing sigh from the old man.He patted the child reassuringly and silently wiped a tear from his eyes.Next year was too far away,he did not know how they would survive the next week.He’d spent a considerable amount on taking his grandson to the fair and treating him to a few delicacies.The kid deserved a good birthday,at least.But now,they were close to broke.Maybe Ramlal would lend them some money to last the week.Earlier,the thought of asking for monetary help from neighbors would have been an anathema to the old man,but now,basic necessities had upstaged pride.The child continued his banter about how wonderful the fair was and gleefully recounted how he won himself a blue teddy bear by throwing hoops.The businessman glanced at the teddy bear clutched tightly in the boy’s hands.His heart gave another mighty tug as memories flooded through him.He never had time for his little boy.All his time was spent in the office,creating meaningless presentations he did not believe in to impress people he did not care about.Money does strange things to people,and in his case,it made him completely deaf and blind to his family.True,he had a hefty bank balance,almost as fat as his waist circumference but he no longer recognized his wife and son.They were simply persona non grata.He had everything,yet nothing.The old man and his grandson had nothing,yet they were richer than he ever would be.
* * * * * * *
The bus stopped.The girl and the musicians got down.A sudden bout of coughing engulfed the old man and left him gasping for breath as he recovered.The child,just about to drink the last of water from his bottle,stopped and handed it over to his grandfather.The old man drank the water and patted the child on his head,who promptly leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.Their eyes met,a smile of contentment reached their hearts.The bus stopped once more.The two got up slowly and went up to the door.As an afterthought,the child turned to the businessman and waved with his little brown arm and got off the bus.
A warm glow,unlike anything the businessman had ever felt before,slowly made its way from his heart to his face.A beatific smile lit his face as he suddenly understood what he had to do.An old man and a little boy on a bus had taught him one of life’s most important lessons in a matter of forty minutes,something that years of therapy had failed to do.As he leaned on his arm,letting the cool night air breeze by,he felt a dead weight fall off his chest.The bus jerked to a stop.As he got down,the businessman had made a decision.He walked towards his house with a light step and a light heart.