The first time I saw him was about 20 years ago. He was probably younger than me by about 6 years or so. He was looking very dapper and handsome in the waiter's uniform, very young and sprightly, and looking alert as he took orders from the customers who had come to the bar for a drink and some food. I had gone along with some friends of mine to this quaint restaurant, chiefly because of the silence that the place afforded, leaving people to talk to themselves without the noise of conversation coming from the next tables. The place was rich without being glaringly opulent.
Walls were thickly padded to keep noises coming from outside and there was some soft music being played on the recorder which was filtering from the overhead ceiling. The overhead lights were not harsh but focussed on the tables, giving the entire place just enough light for people not to bump into each other, and appearing to give each table some privacy from the others. And the other reason was it was not very expensive, but rather affordable for the monthly salary that I earned at the News desk where I had been working for some time.
I liked the place so much that I started frequenting during my spare days (which were quite often) and whenever I had some comfortable money in my pocket. The liquor they served was decent and the food palatable.
Most of the afternoons when I went, the place was deserted and having very few customers. And George started serving me more often. Yes, that was the name of the young waiter.
We got started talking and as is my wont, I started asking him questions about him and how he got landed here in the first place.
It appears George, from Town X, about 500 miles away, was not able to complete his graduation due to his father's untimely death, could not get employed in any private company as jobs were quite scarce in those days, due to the country reeling under an economic recession immediately after the war.
His father's sudden death was tough on a family of 8 and it was not long before that the family had to face harsh times. Thankfully his uncles were very supportive of their sister and each one of them chipped in to keep it going. But it always was hand to mouth existence. And sometimes quite humiliating too, to be dependent on others for their daily existence.
Before long, unable to get any job, he packed his bags and set off to Y where his cousin lived and who promised him to place him in a job with a steady income.
It was quite tough for this young boy of 19 years to leave his mother and other siblings but having no other option but to bid a tearful goodbye, he set off in a passenger train which took him almost 40 hours to reach his destination.
His cousin worked in a quarry breaking boulders into small stones, which were later on transported to a nearby construction site and used in building roads, damaged during the war. The work was back-breaking, tedious, and very harsh. The pay wasn't much but kept the body from hunger.
It was really tough on young George who had dreamt of having a decent job and income and support his family back home. But he kept on trying different trades and finally landed this job as a waiter. The job had its own pluses. The owner gave two uniforms to wear each year and he was, for the first time decently dressed and looking very elegant in the waiter's uniform. He was allowed to have 3 meals a day along with the other staff in the kitchen and given space to sleep in the storeroom. The pay was decent and steady. He was allowed to keep the tips if any customer willingly leaves on the table.
He was quite content with this job and did it quite efficiently. The service He gave was quick. He had a good memory and remembered the drinks he served to his regulars.and before long, regulars would ask for him to serve on their table, leaving behind a hefty tip. He was able to send money every month and was happy that his siblings have started going to school and things have become more or less normal again back at home. His main ambition was his siblings should do well in their studies and take up white-collar jobs.
As my responsibilities increased at my workplace, I was transferred quite frequently. And over a period of 20 years, I did quite well in the literary world. My books were quite successful. I was quite sought after and various literary clubs invited me to talk.
Per chance I was back to the place after almost 20 years to deliver a talk in one of the social clubs. After the event was over I had the evening free for myself . I was supposed to catch the mid night flight.
Hiring a taxi I just went round to the places I frequently haunted as a cub reporter. Lot of changes happened and a few places I could not even recognize. I found myself going to the street, to the bar which was my refuge those days. Surprisingly, the place existed but it had lost its beauty. I went in and sat down.The place was unkempt and a stale smell permeated. The carpets were worn out. The padded walls were all gone. The windows were open to let the harsh light in as the focus lights were all gone. I was feeling sorry and was about to leave when a voice jerked me back to reality. I looked up to see an old bent waiter asking me what I would like to drink. I was shocked to see George standing over me. Time had been cruel to him. Tired lines creased his face and his voice was querulous. The energy and vitality was totally lost. His eyes had lost the sparkle. He looked like a old man of seventy. Obviously he did not remember me.
I was so shocked after seeing him that I ordered something. And not caring to drink, I paid the bill with a very hefty tip and walked out.
The face kept haunting me. I was wondering what happened to the George whom I had seen those many years ago, his spirit and dreams. I started to make enquiries about him thru some contacts.
It appears he was very happy in his waiters job and with the money he sent every month, his siblings were doing quite well. A sudden flood devastated their village and like many others, George lost his entire family. Soon after, he started drinking and going downhill. He did his job quite mechanically. The zest and hope was gone and he would have been thrown out of his job but for the fact that the owners could not get anyone to replace him at such low salary. In any case they themselves had seen better days.
It was really disheartening to hear all these and my heart went out for him. I may not be emotionally bonded to George but in those days, I had someone to talk to and who welcomed me with an open heart and a friendly smile whenever I happen to visit the bar. In an unfriendly and strange city, I was always eager to go there and listen to his friendly banter. Who knows, maybe he was also on the look out for my visits as he was also a stranger to the city.
I desperately wanted to do something lasting for him but due to my preoccupation with my work, i lost thought of him totally.
It was after a few months that I recollected about George. I made enquiries at a de-addiction centre and registered his name. The treatment cost was not much and I could easily afford the same. I was ruminating that after the rehabilitation, I can probably keep George in my place to maintain my bachelor's house. The house was big enough and almost I was out traveling for 7 to 8 months a year. I informed my contact to see and inform George. But it appeared to be too late. He had committed suicide by hanging in the storeroom a month ago.