The Bench looks so Vacant!
Many years back. It was middle of summer and the day was excessively hot. I returned home at about 8 AM having travelled overnight by train from Delhi. After lunch I was lying on the sofa and watching some interesting programme on the television. The Air conditioner was on and the room was very cool and comfortable.
I fell asleep and was awakened by a telephone call. As I picked up the receiver the line got disconnected. The phone rang again. This time I answered to the call promptly.
“Hello Kamalesh, I am Robert, sorry to disturb you, were you having a nap?”
“Well, your guess is correct. But don’t be apologetic; tell me what I can do for you. I can hear many voices in the background, where are you ?”
“Kamalesh I am right now in the city centre near Flamingo, the departmental store. I am in a very awkward situation. You see I have done a lot of shopping but didn’t bring with me enough cash, I have forgotten to bring my credit card too. Can you please come over here with Four thousand rupees cash, I shall return to you tomorrow morning.”
To be candid, had the person been some one else I don’t know what I would have done but I couldn’t think of turning down Robert's request or give any excuses because he was my close friend and he always stood by me whenever needed.
“O.K. don’t worry Robert, I will be there as fast as I can.”
‘‘Thanks Kamalesh, I knew you would.”
I quickly got myself ready, closed the front door, opened the garage but in spite of all my efforts failed to take the car out due to some starting problem. I phoned up my friend and explained to him about everything.
“Robert, I am afraid you have to wait for a while, I think I would have to walk to reach you because with all probability there would be no transport available, you know how things are on a Sunday especially at this time and that too in this hot weather, anyway I would be there, rest assured.”
“I feel so bad, you would have to walk all the way! I have spoilt your day.’’
“Shut up, will you? How could I take rest when you are in trouble my dear friend, please just wait for me.’’
I started to walk as fast as I could and I was sweating, couldn’t find any transport - be it a bus, taxi, auto rickshaw, cycle rickshaw or whatever and the road was deserted.
The city centre was about two kilometers away. The road being uneven at places made my journey very tedious. I reached the right turning of the road which indicated that still I had a kilometer to walk. There was a huge tree with a long bench for passers by to take rest under the shade.
I needed a rest very badly even for a few minutes and so I sat on the bench. An old man came from somewhere and sat there at one end.
‘Hello” I said with a smile.
There was no reply. He kept on staring at me.
I said Hello again but still there was no response. I looked at him and wondered why the hell he was staring at me, smiling and not saying a word ?
The man was thin and tall with long grey air and his eyes looked quite big. His appearance and the way he was staring at me, keeping a smiling face all the time, suddenly brought fear in me. Was he a ghost I wondered! I was and still I am a great believer of ghosts. I had heard that ghosts could appear in day time too!
I didn’t want to take any chances, jumped up from my seat and started to walk as fast as I could, occasionally running too. To my utmost horror, as I turned back, I could find the old man limping and trying to reach me as fast as he possibly could. He had something in his hand but I didn’t have any time to see what it was.
I ran for some time and hid behind a tree, I had to do this as my legs were aching and I needed a rest. Just a few minutes rest I had and then I started to run again knowing it’s no good playing hide and seek game with a ghost.
Just as I thought this, the man was there again and this time he came quite close to me. I ran fast, very fast and continued running without stop till I reached the highway. I stood there outside a small shop which was half open. I was panting.
The shopkeeper took out a chair, offered me a seat and asked me what was the matter, I told him in a nutshell what happened. By that time the gentleman was there, he had my money bag in his hand and this surprised me.
I searched my back pocket of my trousers; the money bag was not there, how could it go from my pocket to the old man I wondered.
After handing over the bag to me he communicated to the shopkeeper in sign language. I could somehow make out he was telling about the entire episode right from when I sat on the bench till we arrived here. The Shopkeeper laughed loudly and then came near me.
" I know the gentleman very well, what he said was that as you got up from the bench he found the money bag coming out from your back pocket and it fell on the road, he was running after you to give it back but you never stopped".
I was ashamed of myself for what I did and felt deeply grateful to the poor old man who took so much trouble to return my money bag. I patted his back and thanked him, he smiled. The shop keeper made him understand in sign language as to what I said.
Then he told me that the old gentleman was deaf and dumb and poor and that he lost his wife and daughter about two years back in a road accident near the tree where I sat. Since their death he has become mentally disbalanced. He could be seen on most days sitting there under the tree presumably hoping that his wife and daughter would return. He lived with his son in a nearby village. Poor man will have to walk back again all the way!
“Oh No, why should he? “ I said.
I bought some cold drink for the old man and then somehow managed a taxi from the highway to take him back to his village and paid the fare. I offered him some money, he was not willing to accept but I somehow put the money in his pocket at the end. I thanked him again, shook his hand and he smiled as he smiled before.
My friend was worried as I was so late to reach him. I told him about the whole incident as we returned together.
I still remember the gentleman with a lot of respect for his honesty, integrity and the kind gesture he exhibited. How fool I was to think him as ghost and what no !
I haven’t seen the gentleman again, went to meet him in the village one day. No one knew for sure where he could be. I was told that some of his relatives from far away had been to the village recently and the gentleman and his son left with them for good. Whenever I go to the city centre I stop for a while near that tree and sit on the bench hoping that the old man would return one day.
The bench under the tree looks so vacant without him!