The Birthday Gift
The Birthday Gift4 mins 18.7K 4 mins 18.7K
His throat was dry and he needed a drink. The day had been exceptionally hot, and as usual, he had been speaking for most part of it. He scanned his vicinity for an estimation of potential for one last round of business. The crowd was withering away. Except for a few families who were having a cheap dinner of burger and fries at Toby’s food truck and a few young couples fooling around near the lowly lit pier, the park was almost empty. Most of the vendors were already gone and the few that remained were packing up. The only other business which was still open was that of Charlie, the perennially drunk, homeless beggar. His misery and stench was up for sale, 24X7. There were no kids around. In absence of his target segment of consumers the story-teller decided to call it a day.
He emptied his hat cum cash register on the wooden bench which served as his daily business center for an accounting of the day’s revenue. Three dollars and three cents was his paltry income for the day. He strained his memory and confirmed to himself that it was his lowest collection of the month. Business had been slow anyway, but it went from bad to worse with the advent of the video games at the park. The kids now preferred to live through the same story of Mario and the Persian prince every time they visited the pier rather than just sit back and listen to the old but animated raconteur narrating his, mostly original, stories.
The story-teller was curious about drunken Charlie’s income for the day. He was quite certain that even Charlie’s wretchedness fetched more takers than his stories. He had already decided to hang up his story-telling boots soon and start afresh in order to survive. But after today’s disappointment he decided to expedite that decision to immediate effect. Though old, he was an exceptionally fit man. He knew some people who could help him try his luck as a construction worker. His talent and creativity were redundant in that profession, nonetheless it was good money.
Amidst all his thoughts he had failed to notice that the maintenance man had shut down the lights of the Ferris wheel. The park by the pier was quite dark now. It was a cloudy night, devoid of any kind of natural, nocturnal illumination. The row of dimly lit green lamps that ran along the border of the pier were still glowing. Their otherwise muted light shone bright in the relative darkness, like a sparkling emerald necklace. The story-teller had packed up his props which included a few masks, a megaphone, a whistle, a pair of finger cymbals and a damaru which was a hand held percussion instrument he had bought from an Indian mystic. As he was about to leave, a little girl came running up to him from the darkness of the wooded area of the park. The storyteller was taken aback by her abrupt emergence out of thin air. However, he reassured himself that he had not noticed her as he was lost in his own thoughts and she was not from the “world beyond” as he would often describe the abode of the unembodied in one of his countless recollections of supernatural experiences.
“Story-teller, I want a story.” said the little girl still breathing heavily. “Sorry, we are closed for the day. You can come back tomorrow.” he said smiling and started to walk away.
“It is my birthday and I want a story.” the girl pleaded. This stopped the old man in his stride. He wasn’t the kind of person who could ignore this genuine caprice of an innocent child for a story. He turned back and asked her in jest, “Do you have any money to pay me?”
The girl immediately fished into the pocket of her dungarees and fetched two ten cent coins. “This is all I have. My dad gave me twenty cents to get a Popsicle. I saved it to hear a story.” she said. Her voice reflected the embarrassment of not being able to offer more.
The story-teller reflected for a while that most of his life he had performed for a crowd of disengaged audience, most listening to him in absence of anything better to do and with no money to pay for his services. However, here stood a child who genuinely wanted his story as her birthday present. Moreover she was a paying customer. He decided this would be his last story and he would try to make it his best. He would retire on a high.
So he held the little girl’s hand and guided her to his stage, the wooden bench. They sat down leaning sideways on the backrest facing each other. The girl’s eyes were twinkling with anticipation.
The story-teller began in an unusually sanguine pitch, “Once upon a time in a faraway land…”