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The Cufflink

Short Story by Celin Jay

The old man stood under the lamp post, his eyes scanning the ground as he bent forward with the help of his cane. He paused thus for a couple of minutes to remove thick spectacles from beneath bushy white brows and clean the lens with the edge of a kerchief. He then resumed his search, poking and discarding objects with his cane and a slight shake of his head.

I was at the head of a queue at the usual time in the evening waiting for the bus to turn up. I had a sudden urge to abandon my coveted position and join the man in his search, but just then I heard the familiar honk behind me. Force of habit had me sprinting up the steps and occupying my customary seat beside the window. Still curious about the outcome of the little situation outside, I twisted my head out of the window and watched the old man searching frantically for God alone knew what. As the bus shuddered and waited for the rest of the passengers to board I saw a bespectacled young boy in a bright blue windcheater, lead the old man away by his hand. I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes as a gust of breeze hit my face and the little incident was summarily dismissed. That was about four months back.

I was at the bus stop today but it was later than my usual time and there was a sharp chill in the air. I pulled the hood of the sweater over my head and looked around to see a familiar figure trundle over the pavement. He paused at the centre of the golden circle of light beneath the lamp post, deeply lost in thought. I was momentarily distracted when someone from the shop nearby came to inform that the bus had been cancelled. The next one was expected after two hours. My first thought was to go back to the college library which was kept open till the witching hours on exam days. Instead, I walked over to the old man and asked, ‘Sir, may I help you find what you are looking for?’

I was about to repeat myself a little louder the next time when he looked up and stared at me for a couple of  seconds before opening his palm to reveal a tiny clover shaped gold cufflink ensconced in the folds of his withered skin.

‘I lost the other when I was waiting for the bus over here. My daughter gifted me these on my birthday and she’ll be upset if she comes to know of that.’ He said haltingly. Though I was more than a little puzzled at the frequency at which the old fellow was losing things, I sat down and prodded and turned the mud with a twig looking out for the missing cufflink.

A little later, the young boy I had seen leading the old man away about four months back, arrived and caught the arm of the stooping figure, crying indignantly, ‘Grandpa, you lost that thing five years back, you still can’t go on looking for it this way.’

His tone softened as he took in my perplexed expression

‘Thank you for offering to help Grandpa. You see he still hasn’t come to terms with his loss, years back.’

I abandoned the search and thrust my cold hands into the pockets as a gust of cold breeze lowered temperatures further.

‘The next bus is due at ten. Come home with us, you’ll be warm there,’ the boy offered.

I walked down with them to their house craving for some warmth to ease out the discomfort in my nose which was turning blue.

The house was modestly furnished, but very warm and I found myself returning to a state of normalcy. The small living room was peppered with photographs of foreign locales, of a young girl playing with a dog, a smart young man in army fatigues who bore scarce resemblance to the stooping old man before me with a slightly defeated air about him and other pictures which told their own stories of an era gone by.
‘That’s my mother when she was ten’ the grandson said, depositing a bowl of hot soup before me and pointing to a picture of the same young girl with an adult python wrapped casually about her frail shoulders.

‘She was my grandfather’s only child and he was heartbroken when she decided to stay back in South Africa to serve as full time volunteer with the Red Cross.’

He seated his grandfather comfortably in his reclining chair and placed a tray across the arms of the chair. He kept a bowl of soup in the middle of the tray and placed three pills beside the bowl. He pointed to another small picture in which the girl, now a young woman, had an infant bound close to her ‘kangaroo’ style with the help of a printed ‘capulana’.

‘That’s me” he said pointing to the cherub faced baby. “My mother found me unconscious under the debris of a building razed by fire. She adopted me when no one came forward to claim me and I would go to no one except her. She decided to bring me down here to live with Grandfather when I turned five because of her increasingly difficult schedule and dearth of good schools.’

I leaned back in my chair comfortably as the hot soup warmed my innards and listened to the boy’s words as the Grandfather dozed in his chair.‘I would visit her during vacations and accompany her as she administered first aid and distributed food, drinks, warm clothes, blankets, mosquito nets and medicines along with other volunteers in far flung areas braving dangerous conditions and driving ambulances single handedly for several kilometers in rough weather.

It was not always like that though, sometimes she simply had to hold their hands and listen to people relate their traumatic moments and their frustrations and the healing process would start.’

I couldn’t help, but notice the passion burning in his eyes as he continued talking softly.

‘Once she had successfully reunited an injured man with his old ailing mother when all possible means of communication were down. She did the shopping for the household, made visits to the hospital and kept everything together till the situation stabilized. The old lady gifted my mother a pair of gold cufflinks as a token of her gratitude.

These, she presented Grandpa on his seventy eighth birthday adding to his collection of cufflinks, though, I have rarely found him wearing any of them any time.’

‘It was time for mother to leave and we dressed up to reach her to the airport. She was insistent that Grandfather wear the little burnished ornaments in his sleeves and he agreed reluctantly. We returned home after the two hour drive from the airport and heard that my mother’s flight had crashed shortly after take off.’

Short story The Cufflink continued here........