It was early evening when I decided to walk at the park near my house. I stepped out wearing a simple t-shirt and a pair of jeans that was crying for a wash. It had been a while since I did that. Wash & Walk.
I heard the familiar sounds of the horse-cart that picked and dropped school kids. The guy who managed the cart was a friend of mine. That’s coz I used to take the same cart to go to school back in the time when I was in school. He stopped the cart got down and smiled at me. His face all wrinkled now. Years of drinking had made his breath smell like the cheap Monitor whiskey that he drank all the time. He moved closer to me. He was hunching now and he walked slowly. I smiled and waved at him. The kids sitting in the cart were noisy, as all kids were in the evening, all geared up to reach home and play. The old man asked about me, what I was doing, about how my parents were and told me that his health had been pretty bad lately. I remembered his son. A little boy who used to drop milk packets in every house at 5 in the morning. He worked hard and went to school upon insistence from my parents. The old man then told me that he would come by my house later since it was holiday season for the kids. I smiled and continued to walk. I knew why he wanted to come home.
The park was pretty crowded that evening. The weather was nice. The sun setting slowly behind the distant mountains that enveloped the area like a bowl. The sky was orange. It was glowing. An old couple with their walking stick were walking slowly on the path that surrounds the park. Stopping and smiling at friendly faces that they have seen over the years. A bunch of kids were playing cricket. With red bricks lined up one on top of the other leaning like the tower of Pisa as the wicket. I smiled. Thought to myself, some things just never change.
The lady who sold flowers was sitting by herself near the park gate. That was her spot. She must have been in her mid 30’s when I saw her first. She was dark, plump with a huge bosom. A friendly smile always lit up her face. There she was sitting & arranging the flowers from the sheet on the floor. I used to enjoy watching her fingers work magic on those flowers. Tiny buds when touched by her would blossom into fine garlands. The way she used to call out to customers. Her smile. The sweat was dripping from her forehead like pearls. She would take her saree and wipe the sweat. She saw me walking past and called out to me. I smiled and walked towards her. She was more than happy to see me. I had not been home for a while now. I went and stood next to her. She beckoned me to sit down and screamed to a little boy in the next stall to get a bottle of ‘Color’ for me. They never called it a cool drink or a soft drink. It was always Color and they liked to call it that. She started asking me about work. She wanted to know how much money I was making. That was a common thing with people like her. They wouldn’t understand if I told them that I was making advertisements or I was aspiring to make a movie. But they always want to know how much money I was making. Strangely any amount that I tell them makes them happy. She was telling me that I had lost a lot of weight and that I need to take care of my health. And the one question that she would always ask me, if I was married or when I’m planning to. I spent some time chatting with her and decided to continue with my walk. She wished me well and asked me to drop by anytime to pick up flowers for my girlfriend or my wife when I get married. Promising her that I would surely get all the flowers for my wedding from her I moved away.
The sun by now had almost sunk behind the mountains and it was beginning to get dark. The kids who were playing cricket had all left. I stopped by the tea shop to have a chai and a smoke. A loud film song greeted me when I entered the chai shop. The owner must be in his late 60’s was a man with a lot of words all the time. I used to get very annoyed back in my school days when I stopped at his stall. If someone asks him the time, he would end up giving a lecture and talking for hours. Such was his personality. When he saw me walk in and ask for a chai, his face lit up. I could see him push a couple of people standing near the cash counter and walk towards me. He knew me very well. But I guess his age got the better of him when he couldn’t remember my name. I could see it in his face that he was trying real hard to remember my name. How could he not remember? After all, it was my friends and I who gave him the maximum business. He barked at his assistant to make that chai a special one and add a couple of biscuits along with it. I smiled and told him that it was not needed. But he insisted I have one at least. I lit my cigarette. His face shrunk. I think he took it upon himself to ensure that I stay clean all my life and my action disappointed him. He did well to hide it. He shook his head in a way that made me realize that he was not happy with me smoking. I squinted my eye indicating that I needed one pretty bad, but am not really a smoker. It didn’t work though. He started smiling again when I stubbed the cigarette and tasted his special chai. After twenty minutes of telling him where I was living and what my job was like and yes, how much I was earning, I offered to pay for the tea and smoke. But he refused and told me that I was his guest and he thanked me for coming back to his stall after all these years.
I began my slow trudge back home. I began thinking. Who were these people? They are not family. They were not people I saw everyday. But they are such a huge part of my life. I enjoy talking to people, I enjoy meeting new people. But it’s people like this that makes life such a joy. They don’t expect anything, they mean well and they pray for you. They want all good things to happen to you, more than their kith and kin. They are wonderful human beings. I think about all these people who occupy a special place in my life. I think about them all the time.
The old man with the horse cart, the flower lady, the chai shop owner, the dabbahwallah who brought my lunch box to school everyday, the bus conductor who worked in the route that I took to go to college for three years, the waiter at the coffee shop that I visit frequently, the bartender from my favorite pub, the guy at the juice shop, the shopkeeper across the street from my house, and many more who I have known over the years.
I reached home and saw my mom talking to the man who brought the groceries to my house everyday. She was smiling and talking to him about me. I stood there smiling.