I had no dreams to be big, though sometimes I felt, I could at least buy a bicycle when I grew up, to tread on the beaten path by many a person. But today, I have so much with me, I can share some for the needy who is not so bountiful in life as I am.
I worked in a bountiful junk store, that had rusted items for sale and all hard toil and a breaking back could only get me a meager pay and some sidekicks from the grumbling keeper.
One day, a disheveled guy came in, counting his coins, looking for an axe. It was he who introduced me to small time savings. Little did i know that day, when he stepped in as a fatherly figure, he would teach me to save for and sustain in difficult times in his own classic way. He would come now and then to the store, looking for odd things, and sometimes with a bag of rice, hanging on his shoulder, when one day, I thought of trailing him and followed him at a distance by the pine forest, to find that he lived alone in a make to do hut.
With a few books, that I had read from the junk store, he resembled a person like Robinson Crusoe. He would put a pot, scour some rice with his palm, and watch it disappear into a rumbling pot that sounded like a hot spring. He would eat the meager stuff with gusto, stretch himself for a while, and then wander out in the woods for firewood and what things, only time could guess on his return. He resembled a Goliath laden with firewood and fruits when he used to come back from those outings.
He had a strong body, now worn out with age as were his boots. I wondered who he was, living a lonely life and away from society. What could have caused him to be in such a state with a heap of clothes, and hanging wrinkles around his neck. Sometimes, I took him to be a Rip Van Winkle, when he stretched himself near his dwelling. A kerchief wound over his neck, he would look all around, as if someone might follow him. What was that he feared, thieves or ghosts? my little mind would always wonder those days.
Was he a pirate lost and shipwrecked and had come to the coast, and could he have some treasure hidden like the fugitive Joaquin Murrieta of the California gold? Always, he carried a small purse, tied to his worn out belt with wooden twigs. He would count it like a bead string, now and then, and with a smile, and sometimes a sigh he would tie it and look around with fear and sometimes at me, who was lost in gazing at him, whenever he made such visits to the store.
In spite of all this, at the store, he would ask me how much had I saved, for the future was bleak with scavengers and vultures bound to take your treasure and casting you away like rusted junk. He would address me as, “Son, how much have you saved today?”, to which I would reply something like 50 cents. But he had no time to listen to my replies or enquiry, as he got lost as soon as it seemed, he looked sane. For a week, in spite of my busy schedule, I noticed his absence one day, and went searching for him at his house near the woods of pine. He was not to be seen there. Fearing the worst, I searched for him at some distance in the thick woods, but fear got the better of me, and I had to beat a hasty retreat back.
The next day, I happened to take my shop owner to a nearby medical camp to help him tide over his fever that had got aggravated. When we were leaving after getting the medicine, I saw our man, on one of the hospital beds. I rushed in and inquired of him, but as always, he looked lost, and was murmuring something. I could not stay there for long, since my owner was calling me, and had to rush to assist him on the way back home. In the evening, I rushed back to the camp, where i saw the doctor and asked him, what was it, that caused my hero to seek medical attention. The doctor looked grave, and said that it was too late to save him, since he was dying of some condition, that i could not understand at that time. I went up to his bed, where he was lying, with his hand on his shillings bag, which was shaking on his shivering. The doctor came and stood beside him and said. He is truly a remarkable person, never cries in pain, in spite of the pain he feels, and always has a smile before he gets lost in his own world. He even paid me for my services from his meager store of coins in his bag. Somehow, I couldn’t take it and gave it back to him, fearing that he would lose his life, on losing his precious treasure.
Every day for the next few weeks, I used to visit him in the evening, and became good friends with the doctor. Every day, when I was at his bed, he used to ask me with a smile, “Son, how much have you saved today?”. To show him my daily savings, I would take the coins with me and show it to him, thinking that would help him to distract himself from the pain. One day, as per the doctor, my fatherly figure had spent all his savings in his bag to buy sweets to distribute it among the sick in that camp. I was moved as was the doctor, for to us, during this period, his bag had become significant, something larger than life, and this act of his meant, he was giving away his life. Fighting back tears, I left him quite late in the night, and was terrified by the darkness on the way back to my shed next to the store.
That was the last day, I heard him asking me about my savings, for the next day, the doctor gave me the sad news and asked me, if I wanted to see him for a last time. I declined the offer, since I wanted him to be seen asking his usual question , “Son, how much have you saved today?”.