On a solitary walk in the park, met this old man, panting after a long hard run. He was taking heavy laboured breaths that, being asthmatic myself, I was all too familiar with. I asked if he needed medical help; he made a sign of the thumb that indicated water. I didn’t have any of that.

I helped him sit on the nearby bench and ran to get it from the shop outside the park. The vendor of the shoddy shop gave me a no-nonsense look when I told him that I had no money but an old man’s life depended on the water. He wouldn’t budge. So, I had to deal with it in a way that was rather inappropriate.

When my begging didn’t move him, I yelled and hurled abuses. When he asked me to leave, I was in no mood to agree. I just grabbed the bottle and ran. I don’t know what made me act like a thieving prick but I guess the man’s crutches lying leaning against the counter gave me courage.

When I returned, the oldie had left. After 3 quarters of my jog, when I left the park contemplating in my head as to what was the best way to go back to the shop and pay for the water without being reprimanded for what I’d done, I saw the baldy across the street, seated under a wooden shed, the top of which read – ‘Readers’ Corner. Only Senior Citizens Allowed.’ When I approached him, he seemed perfectly fine now. Besides, he seemed rather occupied scribbling in a pocket diary.

“Water?” I offered him the bottle. He looked up at me. With that look on his bony face, he might as well be looking at an alien with fangs and horns. “Nice way to earn money,” he scoffed. “Don’t you think we’d carry our own if we needed any?” He finished. I now had three scornful mouths uttering offences about how the system tries to rob old retirees. I was taken aback. The baldy showed no recognition of me.

“You sure weren’t carrying any some time back when you were struggling with your breathing.” I scanned his face for recognition. “I don’t know what you’re talking about and do you mind leaving me alone?” Aghast at the ingratitude and the scathing words, I turned to leave and in entered a young lady. She looked strikingly similar to the baldy, for she too had a bony face and a long sharp nose.

“Dad, let’s go home. We’ve been looking for you all over.” She said. I found this turn of event interesting. What did she mean – looking all over? The man seemed less convinced to leave. He gave her a long stare. I was expecting another burst of churlish behaviour and was curious to see how the woman takes it. The lady must have sensed my presence and feeling irritated, she moved closer to him and held out the screen of her phone for him to see.

The old man’s phone sprung to life; the good old Nokia ringtone filled the awkward silence between them. One look at his phone and then at her’s and he broke into a smile I could never conceive him to be capable of. She weaved her arm with his, as they prepared to leave. When she brushed past me, she whispered, “I am sorry for your trouble. You see, he has a hard time remembering things.”

~~~~~
Asha Seth