All about a Penny
by Lakshmi Menon
Years back, when he left his little village packing his brilliant academic credentials, Vinod had full faith in his uncle getting him a job in Mumbai. Though he had wasted a lot of money for sending innumerable applications and attending interviews nobody came forward to take the risk of appointing an inexperienced young boy. He spent about six months with the slogan "Apply, apply and no reply". He had knocked at several doors, but none were opened to him. At last, he decided to say goodbye to his dream city.
Suddenly there came a surprise to him in the form of a mail. The day he was leaving Mumbai he got a letter half an hour before his departure, which had carried a message asking him to meet the Manager of a private company where he had attended an interview three months ago. He was very happy that at last his prayers were answered. Before issuing the appointment order for the post of a Billing Clerk, the Manager did not forget to throw his last question at him.
"You're a fresher. How can we entrust you with responsible duties?"
"Don't worry, sir. I will discharge my duties to the best satisfaction of my superiors." He managed to say the sentence which he had already repeated several times in the last few months.
Finally, the rough spoken Manager had a soft spoken heart to appoint the inexperienced boy.
His uncle used to give him the exact change for his bus fare, not a single penny extra, because the uncle believed that young boys will go astray if they had extra money in their pockets.
One evening, precisely the tenth day of his appointment, Vinod was returning home from his office in the bus. He took out the coins from the pocket to pay for his ticket, and to his surprise he found only 98 paise, instead of one rupee. He did not know how to face the conductor with the insufficient bus fare. He was sure that the conductor would abuse him profusely in front of the public, for not handing him sufficient money for the ticket. Having dressed up as a 'gentleman' who will believe his sympathetic story? The passengers may call him a liar. Thinking of the consequences, he gathered courage to face him and cursed the hole of his shirt pocket which was responsible for the loss of his two paise.
It was in the third bus stop of his adventurous journey that he was demanded by the conductor to buy a ticket. He called out in silence the names of all Gods for his momentary help. At last Goddess Saraswathi appeared on his tongue. He deliberately told the conductor the name of some other bus stop through which that bus wouldn't pass. The conductor was annoyed and asked him to get out and fetch another bus. Without accepting the ticket, he got down and waited for another bus.
Within minutes another fully packed bus arrived and took him. Since the conductor was in the front and it was already late he took his own sweet time to issue tickets to the passengers of the backside door.
But this young man could not escape for a long time. He was asked for ticket after the second bus stop. Vinod was clever enough to use his old trick here too, remembering the proverb - "Necessity has no law."
"Before getting in, why don't you silly fellow see the bus number properly? Now the driver will stop the bus after some time only. You can get down there." Shouting at him, the conductor moved to the next person. He was extremely happy for having covered a long distance without any ticket. When he got down from the bus, he heard someone sympathizing him in Marathi.
"Poor boy! He has to go back all the way to get his bus now. He doesn't even know the language". Some one else helped him by telling the number of the bus, which would take him to his destination. He thanked him whole heartedly for his kind gesture on him and walked away, with a painful smile.
By this time he had already covered three-fourth of his total distance, leaving only a walkable distance. When another bus came he wanted to get in for which he knew he had sufficient money. Vinod got into the bus, but his humiliated mind did not allow him to take a ticket at this last moment. He consoled himself for becoming a liar and decided to have a complete free journey on that account.
He had a terrible shock when he saw the ticket checker waiting at the entrance, where he was supposed to get down. He showed the folded ticket which was used by him in the morning and disappeared from the crowd as quickly as possible.
On the way, he satisfied himself by dropping the entire 98 paise to the blind man's plate, sitting under the tree. As he walked to his uncle's house quietly the grateful smile of the old man with his yellow stained teeth when he touched and felt the fortune of the many coins he received at the end of the day, danced in his mind, which brought a small smile on the young boy's face too!