The Bald and the Smile

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31/10/2016 by Siddiqui Fayesal

I live in another part of the city now. The age between 3 and 19 was spent at an apartment in the northern part of the city. Relatively speaking, of course, because although I’m more south to that place, I’m still just at a 20-minute walk from it. It wasn’t much of a “moving places” scenario frankly.

But move I did. I had lived at the old place for the most part of my childhood. 16 years. I began my nursery from there; did my schooling and most of my college too. 16 years is a rather large time frame.

As I write this, a lot of stuff is coming back to me, and I can let myself be taken in and let the current take me to nostalgia. But I won’t. Although I love to write about those times when I went to school and grew up, I actually have a reason to write this one that is different than mere harking back to yonder.

I went back to the older house last week, we had never sold that place, and probably (hopefully) never will, and I walked past the shops smiling to myself, peering inside and wondering if the guys would remember me or not. Not being a very talkative fellow, I knew I wouldn’t actually stop by and speak to any of them unless I was called out by a smiling face peering out looking out for a fragment of memory floating by without saying a hi. But, and this was my rationalization, I was happy that I remembered each and every face that I saw sitting by the cash boxes barking orders to their employees. Nothing made me sad; everything made me feel nice that it’s all the same despite 11 years not much had changed.

Yes, there were a few newer shops. Like the barber’s shop at the corner of the street was replaced by another bakery. I wonder why another bakery was needed when there was a Parsi bakery at the next building as well as another one across the street. This new bakery was newer and shinier like a jeweler’s (I wonder why) and it was white instead of beige and brown like the other two. And it was run by a Muslim. There’s always a difference between a Parsi’s bakery and any other bakery. It’s just not the same.

Apart from the bakery, there was new mithai store opened where there was a store that sold something that I never found out. Imagine, living almost in the line of sight of a store and never really taking an effort to know!

There was a stationery store that I frequented when I had to make projects for my class or when I needed a refill or whatever. It wasn’t always there. It had opened when I was around 12 or something. I remember because I used to go to another place a little way off and curse myself because it was around 5 minutes away. This one opened and it was just half a minute away and I couldn’t’ve been happier! The other store’s owner was a bit of a grouch and always made a commentary if I asked for something cheaper or when I didn’t have enough change. The new fellow was a balding young man, in his 30s perhaps, with an inherently smiling face. I remember that the store was small but new and clean with the fresh smell of paint assaulting me when I visited it the first time.

I must’ve bought 100s of A4 sized printing paper (we used to call it bond paper) for my school needs.

Last week, as I walked by, I noticed that he still sold stationery in the small cubicle like store; he was still balding and he still smiled.

He wasn’t young anymore, though.

I had graduated from my higher studies and tried my hands in doing Chartered Accountancy finally settling down on doing law and working with dad in our own consultancy firm. Life had changed for me. Big time. I had changed from the meek, docile and shy fat kid into a larger, stronger (still on the heavier side) and a more vocal young man. I was sad that my life had moved at an alarming rate and I had become something that I wasn’t when I was a kid. I’ve got a good life, no matter how much I whine, I know that and I will hopefully keep doing better.

What I was feeling terrible about was that the guy had merely aged. His store didn’t smell of paint anymore. His store wasn’t shiny and new anymore. I am sure he hadn’t intended this stagnation. Maybe I’m seeing it from a very negative angle, but who decides that they’ll spend the rest of their life selling stationery?

I so wanted to go and say a hello and talk about the times, but I kind of just floated by. My evening ruined and mood blackened because I thought that it was unfair. Maybe I was projecting my failures upon that guy. Maybe I’m just seeing him and putting my own self into it, fearing it.

I haven’t decided what it was, to be honest. But it did have an effect on me. The kind that really walks with you and keeps you company till you wrench them from their very soul and pour it out of you so that you can be whole again.

The oppressive sadness was upon me and I couldn’t simply shake it off.

It so happened that dad was walking along with me. I gave him a sly side glance and saw him walk with his head high and a tiny natural smile on his face. My whole perception of the evening changed.

My father was still Law studying when he married my mother. He worked at many places trying to get by. I’ve heard enough stories that tell me what kind of a life he had lead and brought him to this stage in life. From staring at the first street lamps in awe for hours at a time that was put up in his small town in Jalalpur, Uttar Pradesh, to building a small practice employing 7 full time associates and graduates. Right from working as a battery tester for Geep to learning to maintain books of accounts, it all flashed by.

I understood what made a man keep doing what he does to attain something in life. The best part is that it’s just something that life throws at you, and you fiercely face it with vengeance.

I ran back to the store owner and said a hi instead of  merely floating by. The balding man smiled the radiant smile that teachers reserve for students and masters for their wards.

The store and the balding smiling man became the saviour I was looking for…

Siddiqui F.

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