Thursday, February 03, 2011

Glowing Embers - Part 1

He was waiting for her. This is when she'd usually pass by. Where is she?
Before he could complete the thought, she appeared. Walking in a hurry, shoving her books into her bag; even as she was adjusting her dupatta over her shoulders. She looked very impatient and angry, as if something was wrong. She was taking long strides; probably to reach the bus stop. Maybe she's late and that's getting her all worked up. As she took out her purse to take the bus fare, the coins tumbled out and rolled in all directions possible. She let out a loud grunt and bent down to pick up the change. He ran towards her. He deftly picked up all the coins and handed over. "Thanks" she muttered; silently relieved yet staring at him. After all, why is an ishthri boy so eager to help?

He just turned around and walked back to his ironing cart. He took out his antique cast-iron ishthri, loaded it with glowing charcoal pieces and was back to work in no time. She had, in the meanwhile, moved on to catch her bus to college.
It had been just a month since he had come to this part of the neighbourhood. The ishthri workers had realigned their ‘territories’. And fate had him relocate to this part of the neighbourhood; closer to the main road and the bus stop. He had joined as an ‘apprentice’ to Muthusami a few months back. But he had learnt the trade soon. In no time, people were asking for him to iron their clothes. Muthusami was happy in any case; he stepped back for a while and let him take over his booth. And for a homeless boy, he was relieved to have a mentor who was more like a father; and his wife, who was like his mother. There was nothing much to complain about. He hadn’t figured out what to do with his life. And what he was doing didn’t seem bad for now.

His day would begin by taking the rounds of his area. Some households had fixed days for washing and ironing. He would promptly visit those as scheduled. As for the others, it was mostly on need basis. He was thankful for the booming economy. Given that many people in his area were employed, including women, he would get at least 200 pieces per day. He was the man putting out the wrinkles from their busy lives.

It was one such day, that she caught his fancy. Among all the people leaving for work, school or college from the colony, he noticed her. But why exactly did he notice her?  It was hard to say. She was just another face in the crowd, slightly plump and with a long plait of hair. There was nothing spectacular about her looks; and yet she was pretty in ways he couldn’t describe. She seemed to be in a world of her own. She always went and came alone, hardly spoke to anyone around. At most, she’d give a faint smile to people she recognized. She always walked in a hurry, as if she was running late. And she was strictly punctual. He’d always catch her at 8 am sharp, when he’d begin his work. She would be walking hurriedly to the bus stop, and he’d be setting up shop for the day. Today, she was late. But he had helped her collect the change. He smiled at the thought.

 To be continued >>

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