Hariya was lying motionless on the road. Blood was dripping from his forehead and had spread itself into a small pond around him. His air supply was cut off by the herd of people who were witnessing their daily spectacle. His eyes were fading and his mind was slipping into oblivion. There was one last image that swept through his eyes. He saw his ailing mother in the hospital bed waiting for her son to return with money in time for her operation. He wanted to tell her that everything will be fine and life would be as before. He felt someone lift him and carry him somewhere. Then he saw the streets, the crowds, the lights, the shops, all moving against him at a frantic pace. He tried to look up and through the corner of his eye he saw the face of a man looking down at him with compassion.
It was Manilal’s last day. He had been waiting for this day for over a year. He had served this office as a loyal watchman for 10 years. He was very grateful to his master, Kamal Babu who had given him the job almost instantaneously. He had just returned after serving the Army (first British, then Indian) for 25 years, but still served his new master with the same dedication. He guarded the office like it was his own house. Everyone in the office was fond of him. He used to tell them tales of war and his fascinating adventures during lunch time. Often times, even Kamal Babu would listen in. The story everyone liked the most was that epic tale wherein Manilal’s father had made sure that their ancestral gold watch made its way to Manilal. His father was killed in battle but his friend had staged a heroic escape and had come all the way to give Manilal the ancestral watch. Manilal claimed that it was not his watch he got that day: it was his destiny that was handed over to him!
Manilal started with 25 rupees a month and had put most of it in his office provident fund. With his army savings, he had married off his only daughter to a post-master and she was leading a happy life in the neighboring village. Manilal intended to spend his retirement life peacefully with his wife Parul. He was planning to use part of his savings to get a sewing machine for her as she was very passionate about stitching and knitting. With the rest of his savings, he would go on a long pilgrimage trip with her. He had decided on the list of places they would visit, and even their exact order. With a heavy heart, he went into Kamal Babu’s room and delivered one last salute. Kamal Babu came to him and gave him a tight hug.
“Manilal... you have been a loyal and sincere watchman. And a wonderful friend to all of us. We will all miss you and your stories! Anyways... here is a reward for your hard work. Your provident fund money of 4000 rupees and an extra 1000 as a token of appreciation from our side! We will also give you a pension of 15 rupees per month.” His eyes were wet.
“I will miss you very much Sahib. This has been like my home. Thank you so much Sahib. You are very kind. I will come every month to see you all.” He bid goodbye to all his office friends and after one long final look at his chair, left the place and people, happy and sad, light and heavy. On his way back home, after every 5 paces, he stopped and felt his 5000 rupees with a sense of pride and excitement. His mind brooded over everything he was going to do with it and he would press the rewind button to relive his dream one last time again. Then his eyes fell on a kulfi vendor and he felt the sudden urge to indulge himself. He ordered 2 kulfis and took his time to savor them slowly. It was bliss!
Manilal had found a slip in Hariya’s shirt pocket which had a prescription for Nirmala and had the name
on it. Manilal
had immediately rushed Hariya to a rickshaw wala and had instructed him to get
to that hospital as soon as he can. Manilal had seen blood so many times in his
life and knew how to handle the situation. He slowly wiped all the blood from
Hariya’s face while constantly caressing the back of his head. He then browsed the contents of Hariya’s big
purse to see if he could find more details about the man. Suddenly his eyes lit
up as he saw lots of currency notes; 6000 rupees to be precise. Greed and his
own misfortune put an ugly thought in his mind and he vehemently tried to fight
it off. All the principles and virtues that had shaped his life so far seemed
to be at stake! Can he tell his wife that he was so engrossed in the divine
taste of a kulfi that he didn’t see or feel some crook cut his hand bag and
slip away with the small packet which had his lifetime savings? Or should he cash
in on this God given stroke of luck in the form of an injured helpless man? After
much deliberation, he took 5000 rupees from Hariya’s purse and slipped it into
his pocket. Grand
A train of thoughts and emotions were hustling inside Manilal. Should he leave before the man wakes up and finds out everything? Was he so stone-hearted that he will leave the man without even knowing whether he will live or not? The doctor came out to put an end to his agony. “You brought him in time. He is out of danger now. He has lost lot of blood. He is still unconscious. You can go in and take a look.”
“No doctor. I am happy he is alive. I should take leave now.” Manilal started walking away tentatively when the doctor stopped him. “You should at least see his old mother who would want to thank you for saving her son’s life!” Saying so, the doctor dragged him to another ward where Hariya’s mother was laying half-unconscious. On hearing that Manilal saved her son’s life, her face gave out an emotion of gratitude and she folded her hands in a gesture that half broke Manilal’s heart. He gave her an awkward smile and walked out with the doctor.
“Fate! It is a cruel animal. You see, Hariya went out to get the money for her operation. Now see what has happened. I hope she will last to see him one last time. Sometimes I hate my profession!” The doctor gave out a helpless sigh. Manilal’s conscience punctured his heart and his guilt stifled him.
“How much for her operation?” Manilal asked hesitantly. “7500 rupees!” The doctor looked at Manilal hopefully.
Manilal thought for a while. He handed over 6000 rupees to the doctor. “Take this money and start the operation. I will soon be back with the rest of the money!” The doctor’s face was choked with pride for this selfless man and he fled to make arrangements for the operation. Manilal looked at his ancestral watch. Having lost the earnings of his lifetime and soon to be deprived of his only prized possession, Manilal walked out of the hospital feeling richer and prouder than ever!
Hariya was born into a family that was replete with misery and poverty. His father had died early leaving Hariya and his mother with a lot of debt as heritage. Her mother worked in neighbors’ houses to make ends meet and sold her kidney to pay off the debt and send him to school. Hariya grew up to be an educated, knowledgeable yet unemployed youth. His mother’s hardships forced him to take up a job as a server in a hotel. Just when it looked like his mother could put her miseries behind and rest at home, her other kidney failed. Perched at the local tea shop, he had thought in vain about every single possible option to raise the money for his mother’s operation while puffing out 10 cigarettes in the process. That was when he saw Manilal come out of his office and noticed him stroke his bag every other minute as if he was guarding a fortune!
....A SHORT STORY BY RAJ!