A Short Story The Errand [Archives:2002/48/Culture]

November 25 2002

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It was a hot summer afternoon. An old man stood on the pavement waiting to cross the road. There was an empty basket in his dark brown hand and a look of weariness on his pale face. His weak eyes strained as he fixed them upon the scene before him.
The street was filthy and crowded. A lonely trashcan stood empty on the far end corner and trash was accumulating next to it. Frustration was written on the pedestrians’ faces as they made their way through the crowd. Destitute beggars, in tattered dirty clothes, hung about the place with their hands stretched out and eyes imploring. Few passersby dared to look at them and realize what dreadful a destiny was begging in such sultry weather. As the traffic light turned red, vehicles came to a halt. The drivers got impatient. Some honked unnecessarily, while others shot anxious glances at their watches.
When the old man realized that it was safe to cross the road, he stepped forward. He moved at a very slow rate. Just when he was in the middle of the street, the light turned green. Horns were hooted and insults were shouted at the old man – he had jammed the road. He stood confused. And confusion made thinking difficult. At last a beggar helped him out.
Half way to the market he felt extremely exhausted. He saw a bench and walked up to it. Seated, he began to relax. Before him some children were playing football but his mind was too preoccupied with problems of his own to take any interest in the game. “I wonder if the salary would suffice,” he said to himself.
Then his thoughts wandered away – there were bills to pay…a son’s college expenses to meet…medicines to buy…the grocer’s debts to settle…. “But, no!” he muttered to himself, “The grocer is a nice man, he would wait till next month.” Then a gleam of hope came, opening new vistas, “If only that daughter of mine gets a job…”
Bump!! The ball struck his face throwing him out of his thoughts: “You filthy brats!” He shouted and quietened at once. The boys had already fled away.
By the time he reached the market his feet were weary. A foul smell wafted through the air. Flies buzzed over decaying bits and pieces of food. There was a mad rush all over the place – sellers were demanding attention and buyers were haggling over prices.
The old man approached a fisherman and in a croaked voice asked the price. Huh! It was too high. But he had just enough to buy his need. He put his hand in his shirt pocket. It was empty. For a moment, he felt dizzy. Everything revolved around him. He dropped his empty basket and delved his hands into his trousers pockets but they were empty, too. Everything now was blurred. A trail of questions followed. Had he dropped the money? Had he been robbed? That beggar… Just then a smile flashed over his face. And a sigh of relief escaped his lips. In his haste he had forgotten the money on the dining table at home.
He forgot all his tiredness, and with his empty basket hurried homewards.