Wednesday, September 03, 2008

THE RAG PICKER - A SHORT STORY


THE RAG PICKER

He was wearing large shoes, making strange sounds, while walking. He was looking sort of funny and pathetic at the same time. His torn shorts, which was once a trouser, and a shirt that was two sizes smaller then his already thin body were dirty and stinking. His de-shelved hair, full of dust was black but now looked gray. He was hardly ten or eleven, but the body constitution was not more then seven year old, but maturity in his eyes was of an eleven-year-old. His big nostrils were filled with mucus, and the flies were flying on his face. Occasionally he was trying to ward them off. A big bag was carefully slung on his shoulder, and in the dirtiest surroundings he was picking some knick-knacks and putting them into his bag. It was filth everywhere, but he was least effective of it. Singing carelessly in the most childish voice, he was aloof of his surroundings.

    The broken pencils, plastic objects, pieces of cloth, bright papers, everything was going into that bag. Sometimes his eyes shined to see the things, which were beyond his expectation. Like right now he saw a toy car, with three wheels. He picked that, looked carefully at that, smiled, showing his yellow uneven teeth, and started making sounds of the car. Zooom…he was trying to push it on the ground, but it was full of garbage. The car was in his hands and now he was trying to make it fly! He was so engrossed in it that he forgot about the bag. He carelessly dropped it on the ground and turned his full attention to the toy. He was making crashing sounds, Bong..bong. Laughing, getting concerned at the imaginary accidents. He was transformed to some other world.

    He couldn’t see the other boy, who slowly came and took his bag. While running he fell with a thud and it grabbed his attention. He dropped his car and ran towards him. He started beating him with his legs and fists. The thief was trying to get up but he was not letting him. Both were of the same age, and were shouting abuses at each other. Both were bleeding from the nose but were least bothered about it. The thief was one of his rivals, who was not supposed to come into his territory. The boy was wiping his nose time to time on his sleeve, but blood didn’t stop. After two minutes the thief gave up, and ran away. He was standing like a hero, forgetting about his bag and the car. Then, he took care of his nose. The shirtsleeve was already stained but again he wiped it, now with some concern, but the bleeding didn’t stop. He ran to the nearest tap and started washing his face and head. There was no blood in it now, except the dirt, which was coming out of his head and face. All his clothes and shoes were wet, but he was feeling better now. Somewhat satisfied he picked his bag and started looking for the car. It was lying there, he picked it up and instead of putting it into the bag, kept it in his hands, and was gone to some other place.

    The bag on the ground, and the car in his hands, he again started picking the things from the garbage. Something caught his fancy. It was shinning so brightly in the garbage. He cautiously looked around and picked that up. It was an earring, a small, round stud, and smaller then a pea. Gold? Was that gold? He was looking at it in fascination. All the shine of that gold, was shifted to his face, it was glowing. His eyes were wide with amazement. He was sure of his luck today. Indeed, it was a gold earring. Someone must have thrown it in the garbage by mistake. He put that car into that ragbag and forgot everything about it. Now, his full attention was on that gold stud. He carefully held it in his hands and went away.

    He was staying in a Juggi nearby with his mother, who was working as a domestic servant in nearby flats. But because of her ill health she was always out of work and lying most of the time at her home. When he reached home, he saw his mother lying on the floor, sleeping as usual. He looked for the food, but couldn’t find anything. Some Dal-Bhaat was there in a plastic bag. He opened it and started eating. Mother must have brought it from some house. It was nice to eat food once in a while. Most of the time they slept without it.

    He was thinking that after selling this gold he would buy some rice and flour, potatoes, Dal, may be some vegetable too! He wanted a pair of shoes, shinning and with laces. And if some money were left he would buy something for his mother too. He remembered when last time, his mother went to the doctor he advised her to take medicines regularly, but she couldn’t afford that. Now he’ll buy those medicines for her. He finished that stale Dal-Bhaat with relish. He was so happy. It was time to go again to collect the garbage, but he felt rich. So he didn’t go. He was dreaming whole day about the things he was going to buy. The stud was in his hands and he kept looking at it. He didn’t want to tell his mother about this, so when she got up, he hides it in his clothes. Tomorrow he will go to some jeweler and sell it off. He had no idea how much money he was going to get for this.

Next day he got up had a bath after twenty days. Wore his best clothes, which were dirty of course but not stinking. He dressed himself and saw in the broken mirror. His hair was standing like dry grass. She wished that he had some oil to put into his hair, but there was none, so he took some water and tried to set them. Satisfied at last, he left home. He decided that he wouldn’t go to the nearest market, so he kept on walking and reached the far away bazaar. After looking for a while he saw a small jeweler shop. The shopkeeper was a big, fat fellow, cunning sort of a person. The boy went inside. The shopkeeper gave him a scornful look. There were some silver ornaments and coins lying around. He was in the process of cleaning them. Seeing somebody, who was not a customer, made him irritated. 

‘What do you want, scoundrel? Get out of here.’ He was shouting at him. The terrified boy went to him and showed the gold stud. The shopkeeper gave him a surprised look. He took the stud and started looking at it. His cunning face was looking ugly as it showed the greed. He was sure that it was gold, but pretended otherwise. He saw it with the magnifying glass then looked at him.

‘Are you mad? You think this is gold?’ he gave him dirty looks. The boy’s face was ashen. He lost his tongue.

‘ B.. u..t I think this is gold,’ he stammered.

‘You rascal, get out of the shop. Don’t waste my time.’ He pointed his finger towards the door.

‘Give me back, that stud.’ He tried to be brave. The shopkeeper turned and took out a ten-rupee note, and threw it on his face. 

‘Get out now, I’m feeling pity on you; that’s why I’m giving you this money. Out!’ he tried to get up to push him out. 

The boy was on the verge of tears. With face down and broken heart he came out of the shop. He knew he was cheated, but could do nothing. He was full of hatred for that fat ugly fellow.

The moment boy left the shop, the shopkeeper looked at the stud again and smiled. This will easily fetch him one thousand rupees. It was a very auspicious day for him indeed. He kept that stud at the feet of Goddess Lakshmi, and burned some incense sticks. He picked the bell and started singing in the praise of the Goddess.

The boy wiped his face, with his shirtsleeve. He was angered but controlled himself. He took something out of his pocket. It was a shining silver coin, which he picked when the shopkeeper turned to take out the ten-rupee note, which he threw on his face. It was a moment of decision, and in a flash he did that. A bright, sunny smile came to his face. Now, he’s going to give this coin to his mother. Let her deal with it. He looked at his ten-rupee note and ran to the shop to buy rice and potatoes, his shoes making the funny noise.  

1 comment:

Naval Langa said...

To Ms. Promilla

If the narration is a pinhole camera and the words are the rays of light falling on the screen inside of it, the picture perfect would be The Rag Picker : the protagonist boy of a short story written by you. Your narrative technique is painterly accurate and the precision nothing less than of a camera.

Naval Langa