It was a Sunday morning. We had breakfast at one of the small places in Oddanchatram after the morning Church service. Post the “Saravana’s dosa-coffee” session, we had a long sunday all to ourselves. Free Sundays are definitely invaluable. So it was important to plan it well so as to incorporate enough time for sleep, laundry, the perfect shower, food and ofcourse the long conversations. So we were standing outside the restaurant, planning out our day meticulously. “Lets have lunch at Basecamp, as Esther is going to Umri”,Philip suggested and the rest of us agreed. Esther wanted to make Muskmelon juice…Dashi wanted to try Guava…Anyone viewing from outside would have felt we were making plans to bring forth a revolution.
It was then that he came to us. He would be around 12 years. Dressed in a shabby shirt and trousers, he extended his arms to us asking for money. He explained that he was hungry and had no food to eat. But he had this sly smile plastered on his face. And that was betraying him. We were not convinced that he was telling the truth. So, if you are hungry, come shall I buy you food?, I asked him.I was actually taunting him. If he was really hungry, he would have to take my offer, but if it was just for the money, what would he do?
He kept smiling away and said he will let me buy him food. I asked him what he wanted. He didn’t think too long( Again, the Saravana’s morning menu doesnt really provide that many options). I ordered for a plate of dosa. Since we had one more parcel to get, I decided to wait with him as he ate. I asked him where he lived and with whom. With his “paati”(grandmother) at a place of which the name I could not decipher.
“So what will your Paati have for breakfast?” I decided to continue the conversation in the broken Tamil I knew.
“She will go somewhere and have”, came the reply.
“I dont have parents. Your Tamil is pretty bad. Where are you from?”
“Kerala….Do you go to school?”
The reply was the same sheepish grin that came out in between the crunches on the crispy dosa.
By then my parcel was ready.
“Shall I order something for your Paati?”
“No. Its ok.”
“Do you need anything else?”
He thought for a second, “can I have a juice?”
I placed the order, paid and walked out.
My friends still hadn’t figured out the lunch menu yet. And as soon as I came out, we had another round of discussion and it was finalised. We girls were going to make Guava and muskmelon juice. Philip would get Biriyani. As we were about to leave, my little vagabond was also done with his breakfast and came out sipping a bottle of juice. He continued to smile and said thankyou before hopping away into the crowd.
I was confused. Did I just get cheated? I wondered as we bought some fresh Guavas. What was the whole purpose of this incident? I guess I will never know.
4 months later.
Esther would come back from Umri after her 3 months of deputation in few days time. I would leave ODC for good in two days. I was in 48 OP since morning and was really glad to take a break. I walked to the canteen with the image of the cup of “shakkara kammi, strong” tea awaiting me. And suddenly I saw him. He was sitting on the slope of the canteen. I was initially confused. Was he one of my patients? I searched though the folders of my brain and finally that trademark grin fell into place. It was my mystery vagabond. “Hello, oh so you work here?”, he asked me.
“Yes I do. What are you doing here?”
” I was simply sitting here”
“Come, shall I buy you something?”
” No no, not from the canteen”
“Why not, its ok, you come with me.”
He didn’t hesitate much.
“What do you want?Please order”
“Just a tea.”
“Are you sure?”
I ordered a tea for him and walked into the room for staff members to have mine. I didn’t expect him to be there when I walked out. And he was not to be seen. He had disappeared again. I still haven’t been able to understand this. Why did I run into him again? Was he part of some gang of thugs? Was this all well played out parts of some grand scheme? All the atrocities that you see in the television today can churn out different scenarios in your mind. I didn’t want to think more. Whatever it is, his trademark grin has been registered in my brain.