It wasn’t a usual day for Shyam; it was a long day, long and tiring. He had a little argument with his manager over the reports which he had been sending since last 7 years. His manager thought that reports were not accurate and on the other hand he could bet his life upon the authenticity of the reports. The argument ended in no man’s land without any result or outcome but the heat inside Shyam’s brain was still so much that one could roast a ‘turkey’ on his head. He knew that the manager understood that the reports were correct but how his manager could have stepped down in a heated argument with a subordinate. So, in order to satisfy the ego, his manager advised him to recheck all of the reports again, as a precaution. Hence, after checking all of the reports Shyam headed towards his house late in night, as late as 12:30 am.
“I just don’t believe this Radha, that knucklehead compelled me to stay late in office today. I am in this service for almost 10 years and this dick-head had not even completed 2 years…MBA…bullshit.”
“Calm down. Reach home and I will do ‘chumpy’ of your head. It will help you feel better.” A rather soothing voice of her wife poured in his ears.
“I want the same…but I am not getting any conveyance…not even a single rickshaw, no auto…nothing. I am on foot, so it will be a bit late.”
“Ok…don’t worry…just keep your calm.”
Shyam was a 32 years old man. His resume had only one firm and one service and that was to make accounts for other people, who were no big entrepreneurs but common shopkeepers and wholesale dealers. He had been doing well so far. His customers were happy and it had also helped his firm to get some loyal customers. His family was small which had his wife Radha and two kids. His income was enough to earn them bread and butter. He was able to send the kids to a rather good school and was also capable to give her wife occasional small gifts which were enough to make her go blabber about it to everyone she could meet in her small neighborhood. The life neither was entirely rewarding for him nor a complete bane. It was just going ok.
He walked as fast as he could towards his house which was 2 kms away from his office building. Suddenly he saw something moving in the dim visibility of the street light. It was black and small, more like an animal. May be it was a cat. But this cat went straight across the road which wasn’t a good omen. Shyam stood watching the cat and thinking for a while. The eyes of the cat were glittering in the dark. And her voice was spooky. She sat on the corner of the road licking her body with passion. The thought popped into Shyam’s mind that maybe that was a signal, right there. Perhaps all those horror stories were right. Cats were the minions of the demon world and maybe this one was trying to indicate something horrible to him. The cat saw him and with her tail sticking straight up, she ran and vanished in the small bushes.
“Fuck” said Shyam to himself, “This bloody cat had crossed my road…oh…for god’s sake, I am not afraid.”
He shook his head and once again started moving quickly on his way to his home. He could not remember when it was the last time when he was awake this late. His head felt heavy. The street lights were hurting his eyes. He looked up, carefully shading his eyes with his palms, the light seemed far above him, almost like light from a shooting star. It didn’t leave him with a good feeling.
He again saw a black shadow in a distance. But this time it was big…gigantic…almost thrice of his own size. He felt his heart throbbing and pounding with his chest. It was moving very slowly. Was it a monster or some troll? He fumbled in his pockets, struggling to recollect and clear the distorted picture he could see from his eyes. One thing was clear, it was big.
He assembled all his courage and moved ahead to see what exactly was it. His heart was beating hard and was trying to pump the blood as fast as it could. His legs seem heavy as if he had worn iron shoes. After a few steps the picture got a bit more cleared. Well fortunately, it was not a monster, troll or a ghost. It was a poor and old ‘Jhoolawala’ with his big wooden wheel. He was struggling to push the wheel but the movement was very less compared to his efforts. Shyam rushed towards him.
“Should I help you?”
“No, son…it is ok. I am quite capable of it.”
“Doesn’t seem so, why you are doing it anyway…it is too big for you. And it’s already too late in night.”
“It is my bread and butter. I am coming from a distant colony park, usually I am home much early but today business was good. So I stayed there for a bit late.”
Shyam realized that the old man was also going his way. So he decided to walk along with him and give a bit help. He looked at the ‘jhoola’, it was an old wooden ‘Jhoola’ shaped as a wheel. With all the color papers and plastic birds hanging all around it. He was already feeling nostalgic about it.
“How much you earned today?” Shyam asked him with a grin on his face.
“Well, just now you said that you had a good day in business, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I had a good day for business but I have got nothing left. So, if you have any idea of plundering, I am afraid that you will get nothing.”
“Do, I look like a thief? Anyways, how come you earned good but have nothing…did you drank or gamble with them.”
“It was unfortunate. But as you have asked me so listen, I was thrashed and looted by a car owner.”
“Why would a car owner pillage an old man like you?” For Shyam the conversation was becoming more interesting.
The old man looked at Shyam. His one eye was almost closed and a bloody patch was clearly visible there. As if he was hit by something there. He had tears in his eyes.
“After a long period of time I had a good day in business today. I thought of giving my wife a sari with that money…she had been wearing same old sari for almost 4 years now. But poor men like us don’t have the liberty to do anything of that sort. I accidently rubbed a car on the way coming back to house. Its paint came off. The fault was mine…I was so excited that I didn’t notice it until I was hauled back by the car owner. He abused me and when I tried to offer some money he thrashed me like an animal and took everything I had.”
Shyam walked quietly with the old man. He was looking down on the road, perhaps trying to find the answers of the questions the old man never asked.
“I don’t have kids.” The old man continued. “But still I chose to make little children happy. I could have opened a tea-stall but…Children make me happy, their chanting and voices make me forget my poverty and my age. I know that someday I will die and there will be nobody to look after my dead body. There will be no funeral. My body would be eaten by wild animals and maggots. All I wanted was some respect.”
Shyam was somehow not able to raise his head. He stopped, the world seemed unfair. He felt an instant compulsion to take out his wallet and give all the money to the old man, but he didn’t. It was the fare of his bus for tomorrow and perhaps cost of a packet of cigarette without which he could not work at all.
‘Human is one of the most selfish being ever lived on the planet earth. He thinks his small needs are bigger than everything else of another person. Value of his single drag of a weed can be more than someone’s empty stomach. Nevertheless, selfishness is a fantastic way to be miserable’.
Shyam took out his wallet and looked up. But the old man was not there. He was long gone. Shyam felt pity and wretched. He walked with a heavy heart towards his home.
Next day, Shyam decided to walk to his office and save the bus fare. He thought that he would give the money to the old man if he accidently meets him somewhere. He could not stop thinking about the poor old man and his tough life. He had dealt with accounts of some people who invest in loss knowingly. As they just want to show some loss in order to hide their otherwise unpredictable income. He saw car owners and felt angry upon each of them. He wished he could know more about the car owner that old man described and beat him to his death.
Suddenly he saw the ‘Jhoola’ resting near a shop. He quickly went there; it was the similar ‘Jhoola’ with color papers. He stood there and started looking for the old man.
“Hey…what do you want?” Somebody shouted from inside the shop.
“Where is the ‘jhoolawala’?
“You can’t meet him.”
“Because he died two months ago…he was beaten to death by some car-owner. Poor man, his body was thrown away by Municipal Corporation. His wife also died couple of days after him. What a tragedy!”
Shyam stood still with shock and despair. All of a sudden he felt a shiver inside his spines. The old man he met last night was the ghost of the ‘Jhoolawala’.