She stood at the bus stop with her mother. She was currently on the use-the-public-transport-and-save-Earth mission whenever I can mood. So, when she had to go to the city with her ma, she had enthusiastically exclaimed how she wanted to take a bus and not her two wheeler. Just as they got near to the bus stop, they saw an elderly man in very modest clothing. With ruffled hair, a more ruffled beard that seemed to hide the origin, curling all the way to the end and meeting his hair, he wore a vest that seemed to have more openings than necessary. His khaki shorts were really short exposing his bare, dry and scaly legs. As soon as they got into the “bus stop area”, he stretched out his hand for alms.
Every time she saw someone with out-stretched hands, her heart wailed. Yes. She one of your it-is-her-types-who-encourage-beggary girl. No matter how hard she tried to get herself out of that habit following reprimands from friends and relatives, she just couldn’t.
But her mother knew and understood what she was going through that very instant. Before she could cast one of those longing looks at her ma, her ma had already given him a one rupee coin. She was not satisfied. Far from it. She kept looking at him. Her attention was drawn to his ankle where she noticed that he had a really deep wound on his left and it was out there. Bare. She swallowed hard unable to get her emotion out at seeing such a bare bloody wound that seemed to go right into the flesh. She was witnessing something so dreadful that she stared at it in disbelief. For long. Very long.
Unable to hold herself any longer, she impulsively took out a couple of notes and walked upto him. Handing over the money she asked him to get the dressing for the wound done right away.
He looked up at at her very gratefully as though she had been the only one who had even noticed his existence. His eyes shone with gratitude and he smiled so big that he seemed to forget he had any trouble or any difficulties. All the while profusely thanking her, he kept saying that she had done him a big favour. Overcome with an emotion so strong, she gently muttered that he should get the wound treated as soon as possible.
He looked up and and vocalized gratefully. He probably cannot speak, she thought. She gestured to tell him what he must do and went back to where her ma was standing, all the while looking at him and his wound. He stayed there for a few minutes and then walked to a small shop nearby that had a huge bunch of bananas and li’l munchies in those huge glass jars.
She was touched. She knew he wanted to buy himself something to eat. How long had it been since he had a plateful? A stomachful? She kept watching him. The shopkeeper saw her staring at the man so hard and long and gave her a weird look.
The man doodled in front of the shop for a while and then she could see him trying to communicate with the shopkeeper, the shopkeeper bringing out something from what seemed like a box, the man waiting to collect something from the shopkeeper. As the shopkeeper was packing something below the table, she presumed that he was wrapping some chaklis or nippats, the savoury snacks.
And then, she saw it – A whole mega-pack of Ganesha beedis, the cheap cigarettes. She was shocked. For some weird reason, she suddenly felt that she had wronged him. How many times had her friends told her not give alms? That, she must not encourage this.
It was never about the money. It was not even the smoking-causes-lung-cancer-and-air-pollution thoughts or why was he spoiling his health thought that was on her mind. It was something beyond that. As he sat by the bus stop, lighting one beedi after the other, she didn’t feel angry with him. She was apalled by his resilience. Was he so accustomed to his wound that he felt no pain? Did all the smoking give him some form of relief? Was he not hungry at all? Would it not have been better if she had actually bought him something to eat? What ensued in less than half hour set her thinking for long now.
Her mother who was watching all this sighed.
She continued to think till the bus came and beyond. As she turned to see him one last time, she smiled to herself. He had just burnt her alms.