I see him almost daily near the bus stop where my office cab drops me. He’s an old man, very old, who’s body seems weak enough to carry the tattered clothing that hangs carelessly from his thin shoulders. A pair of black-rimmed thick spectacles sit on his nose and he always seems to be concentrating hard on things from behind them.
He walks slowly but aimlessly, carrying a tray-like thing, which hangs from his neck, onto his tummy. On the tray, there are packets of peanuts, popcorns, and other munchies. Along with these items, a few coins lie in a corner of the tray, signifying his daily earnings. One can actually count those coins, like I did once, unknowingly. They were nine bucks.
I deliberately stood at the bus stop the other day, waiting for him to come. He did, after a couple of minutes, again walking aimlessly, and concentrating hard. He looked quite tired and I wanted him to sit for a while at the bus stop. He slowed down a bit and stopped near the juice shop. I was constantly looking at him, his clothes, his spectacles, and his hands. His hands and his face looked so similar; dark and wrinkled, with the green veins trying to pop out of the skin. My brows twisted as I thought of something and then they eased as I saw him coming towards the bus stop.
He climbed up the step of the stop, slowly and concentrating hard on it, and supporting the tray that was almost bending his neck. I was watching. He then removed the tray of munchies, placed it on the floor, and sat down. He looked like a sine curve, with his hands resting on the two crests, his knees. I kept looking at him and he kept looking in the opposite direction, not concentrating anymore. He was looking at something, which wasn’t there. Or was he waiting for someone who’s wasn’t going to come? I couldn’t figure it out. I stood like that, watching him, for about an hour. He kept sitting like that, motionless and aimless, still waiting for someone who’s not going to come, or looking at something that wasn’t there. I moved a step forward towards him. May be someone’s going to come and add another couple of bucks to the six bucks that I’d counted while I was standing.
"Dada, can I have a packet of peanuts please?", I asked him as I moved in the direction where he was looking, to catch his attention. He looked up, adjusted his spectacles, squinted a bit, picked up a packet of peanuts from his tray, and gave it to me. I looked at his hands again, which were trembling a bit. I took the packet and touched his hand slightly; a touch that said, "Thank you!".
I fished out four bucks from my wallet and handed it over to him. "Two bucks only", he said in bengali, returning two bucks to me. "Keep it Dada", I said and bent down to pick up another packet of peanuts from his tray. As I moved back up, I gave him a smile. I got a faint smile in return. It seemed as if his lips were trying hard enough to draw a smile on his face; seemed as if it’s been ages that they did so. I moved a bit away and rested my back on one of the poles of the bus stop.
As I stood there, popping the peanuts in, I watched him keep the four bucks along with the other six. I watched him as he counted them till ten. He looked content and then he looked here and there for some time. He was neither concentrating nor he was looking in to the oblivion. It was just a content look and I was happy watching him.
After some time, he collected the ten bucks and tied them properly in a piece of cloth, which looked like a handkerchief. He stood up as he slipped the money in his pocket. His legs were shaking a bit; legs that were too weak to carry his body and the tattered clothing. He lifted the tray, put it around his neck, and started moving. I stood up straight, adjusted my bag, and watched him leaving.
I watched him cross the road, adjusting the tray on his tummy, adjusting his spectacles, and drifting away slowly from my sight. I watched him till the time he crossed and I lost his sight. I kept watching the invisible trails that he’d left behind.
Is he going home? Does he have a wife at home who’d cook dinner for him? Or would he buy food for himself? Does he have children? No, if he had children, then they wouldn’t have let him go out like this. Or may be he has but they don’t stay with him. Does he have someone to talk to? Someone who’d make tea for him? Would he have enough money to buy a new pair of clothes for himself? How long would he continue like this? How long? I wondered.