His Last Winter
His Last Winter
Winter signs were there everywhere for one to see and feel. Air was thick and hanging with dust and other pollutants, especially in the mornings and late evenings. Two-wheeler riders were wearing their jackets and sweaters to keep themselves warm against the cold winds when they sped along the streets. Even pedestrians at least some of them fearing they might catch a cold took to covering themselves in hoodies, shawls, and sweaters. If you were to walk early in the morning you would notice even street dogs were huddled up against each other to keep themselves warm. Instinctively they also knew thermodynamics it seems. Unfortunately, there were very few trees left on the streets. One could not say how the trees respond to the onset of winter. Whatever trees were left the birds returned home to perch on the branches as the light faded quickly in the evenings. The usual five o’clock looked as if it was already past six pm.
In a little corner by the shop that was locked lay an old man huddled in his blanket. One could not say by his looks how old he could be. His facial skin looked very withered and full of creases. Maybe the creases were the sign of age and the beatings life had given him. Trees have rings and botanists could make out their age by the number of the rings. Can a humanist do likewise tell the old man’s age?
The old man shuffled uneasily. His hunger pangs were literally killing him. He didn’t remember when he ate last. His memory has been fading of late rather quickly. Was it due to Alzheimer he thought, vaguely? He was not a beggar but became one due to circumstances. He was a postgraduate and a social worker.
The old man felt that he cannot survive the hunger pangs anymore. It already made him weak and dizzy. He dragged himself to the bakery and tea stall and parked himself by the side. The very effort had drained him of what little strength he had and his eyes shut in the weariness. He heard the voice of a little girl and her mother’s reprimand. He just managed to open his eyes and met the little girl’s gaze. He saw kindness rather than the disgustful looks that he was used to from passers-by.
The girl was pleading with her mother to get her some bun butter jam that the bakery was known for. They were its regular customer. The vendor quickly warmed up some bun in the micro-oven and cut it horizontally with a long knife expertly. Applied some butter on one side and followed it up with jam on the other side. He smiled at the little girl and offered her.
The girl greedily took it to her mouth to have a bite when she glanced at the old man and saw the famished look. She took a few steps and offered the bun to him. She went back and asked for one more. Her mother looked at her and following her glance looked at the old man too. Tears welled up in her eyes.
The old man reminded her of her own father who was seriously afflicted by Alzheimer's. She was taken care of until recently. But when the disease worsened, she couldn’t manage him anymore. In consultation with her brother who was in the US, they admitted their dad into a specialized home for such patients. She would visit him once or twice a week. She would talk to him about her daily chores, her daughter, her husband, and at times about her brother in the US. He would hardly recognize any of her talks. On rare occasions, he would smile. But the doctors doubted if the smile had anything to do with his understanding.
She ordered some tea and passed the cup to the old man. The old man smiled at her and waved his hand as if giving his blessing to her. Then mother and daughter left in her two-wheeler.
The old man looked at them leave. He took a sip of tea and felt some energy returning to him. He slowly ate the bun savoring each and every bite followed by a sip of tea. He closed his eyes once he finished eating. He too remembered his daughter now. His granddaughter must have been of similar age as the girl who gave him the bun. His memory was clouded and he could not think clearly about them. He slept due to exhaustion instantly. That night he passed away.
A constable arrived at the scene when telephoned by a passerby. He was shocked when he discovered he knew the person to be the social worker who started a school for orphans in the locality. He is the one who studied in the school. His eyes were flooded with tears and he arranged for the body to be taken to the mortuary. He dialed his classmate who was now a journalist and narrated the incident and asked him to write an obituary. The journalist put out a touching obituary in the paper.
When his daughter read the obituary, she started wailing. Her husband took pity on her and said she can go to the condolence meeting. But for her husband and in-laws, she would have continued taking care of her father.
The obituary described how against all odds the social worker had started the school for orphans. However, the site was found to be an encroached one as the real estate agent had cheated the social worker. The school got demolished and the social worker went into depression. His daughter’s marriage made him financially broke further and the incessant demand by the daughter’s in-laws compounded the problem. How he finally died as destitute. But in the fitness of things his ex-students had decided to give him a decent burial and a condolence meeting has been organized.
There was a decent gathering. People who had gathered were gnawed by guilt for they had long forgotten the old man’s plight. To make amends they decided to institute a student scholarship in his name and promised to raise some funds. The old man’s son-in-law overcame guilt and remorse and promised his wife not to harass her anymore. He told his parents as well. At least by his death, the old man could assure some peace and well-being for his daughter.