Will he meet his little one?
|It was recess. The school corridor was crowded with noisy teenagers. Some were chatting about the movie on show at the cinema. A couple of boys in a corner discussed loudly about the latest Metallica album. One group was crowded around a guy showing off his ipod. A bunch of short skirted girls oohed and aahed at their friend’s new hairstyle. Two other boys were fighting in a corner.
The old man had been standing their for the last five minutes, watching, puzzled. His face was a mass of wrinkles, a testimony to his troubles in life.His clothes were rather shabby, his shoes worn and cracked. The trousers fell an inch too short for him. A bouquet of red roses looked terribly out of place in his trembling hands.
“Excuse me, could you tell me where Anya is?” his voice rose barely above a whisper.
The girl whom this was addressed to gave him a degrading look and continued her own way with a huff.
Suddenly, someone shoved him from behind. The bouquet fell from his hands. He turned around to find a boy of about fifteen trying to hide his sniggers.
“Sorry, old man!” was all that he could manage before disappearing into the crowd. The old man looked back. The bunch of red roses lay squashed on the ground, trampled by a horde of careless teenagers. He bent down and examined them, sighed, and started picking them up.
“Excuse me, May I help you?”
The old man looked up to see a pleasant looking lady. Gathering up the remnants of his bouquet, he stood up, not without some difficulty. The old age home had failed to provide comfort for his ailing back.
“Yes please. Could you tell me where Anya is?” his voice cracked as he spoke.
“Err.., I’m sorry. Is she a student? I don’t know any student by that name. Which class?”
The old man shook his head sadly.
“You don’t know? Don’t worry, let me show you to our Principal’s office.”
The principal was a well set man of about fifty.
“Good morning, my good sir! How can I help you?” He smiled pleasantly at his guest .
“I want to meet Anya. Its her birthday today. I brought her some flowers.” He held up the crumpled mass before him.
“Oh! It seems damaged. How did that happen?”
“I fell down in the corridor. Where is Anya?”
It seemed the old man was very eager to meet the girl.
“Do you know which class she is in?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, any idea how old she is?”
“Maybe I can tell you that. She was born to my Sonali nine years back.”
The watery eyes shone as the old man said this. It had been five years since he had last met his daughter Sonali. She had not come to visit him even once after that. The last time he had tried visiting his granddaughter three years back, Sonali had refused him blankly.
“Hmm. Nine years. That puts her in class four. Let me check.”
The principal clicked away on his computer.
“What did you say her name is again?”
The principal paused in his typing. He slowly looked around at the troubled old face in front of him. The sad old eyes were gleaming with anticipation of meeting his granddaughter.
Anya Chaturvedi has been dead for two years. She died in a car accident while coming to school.” The principal’s voice was hushed.
The silence that followed was almost painful. Except for the puzzled look in his eyes, the old man’s face showed no change in expression. Nor did he move, even a bit. He stared at the Principal with his sad puzzled eyes for what seemed like days. His old age hid the shock on his face behind his mass of wrinkles.
Slowly, he got up and silently shuffled out of the room, forgetting the flowers. Back in the office, the principal sat quietly in his chair. He glanced at the red roses left on his table. Though they looked trampled, they still offered a sweet smell. A note attached to them read: “Happy Birthday, my dear Anya”
The old man could be seen shuffling through the corridor, a dazed man. The principal stared after the receding figure for a long time, feeling strangely helpless. At last, he closed his eyes, clasped his hands together and muttered.
“O God. Though art strange!”