“And this?”, Joe asked with a thick voice .

“That will be fifty, sir”, the man behind the glass counter said with an exhausted expression, adjusting the golden rimmed spectacles perched on his nose. He kept his eyes trailed on Joe, waiting for him to leave.

“Come on buddy! This can’t be worth that much…” he exclaimed pointing at the clay doll display in front. The beauty was kept in an ornate cage of rosy glass, beneath which was inscribed the name “Leah”. She had a small Asian face, as pink as a rose, thin red painted lips and thick lashes. She wore a shimmering crimson gown with patterns of translucent silver stars spread artistically along her dress and a pretty golden bow tied at her waist with its ends trailing down to the glass floor.

“Yes, well”, the man said, not giving his words much thought and beckoned at someone behind Joe and called out in an exasperated voice, “Will you please escort this man out? He won’t be making any purchases.”

“Yes, sir.” answered the voice of a female.

“Geez, I can leave on my own!” Joe shook off the hands of the woman who had appeared behind him, pulling him to the door .

 Stepping out into the sun, Joe sighed loudly. He stuffed his hand down the pocket of his dusty brown coat and pulled out a tiny string pouch. Drawing the string out he put his fingers in and started rattling the few coins which were inside. After some painful seconds of consideration, he strung the pouch shut and put it back with a grim expression.

He was just about to step down the sun-whitened stone staircase when a woman walking along the street in front, caught his eye. She was a middle aged woman of heavy built wearing a loose flowery apron and a yellow bandana, which could barely tie her messy caramel shaded hair together. She held her baby to her bosom, cooing to him every now and then in a soothing voice. This scene made Joe’s eyes water out of nowhere as his mind slipped into reminiscing, about the day when his daughter was born.

It was the heavily clouded morning of the ninth day of November six years ago, as he remembered. He was seated in the shabby waiting room of the local hospital, sweating out of anxiety and impatience .He would get up from his uncomfortable seat every few seconds to peer through the window of the surgery room only to be greeted by the sight of thick, green drapes, every single time but he didn’t stop.

After what seemed like an eternity a doctor clad in a white coat had came out of the room, making Joe almost fall off his chair in hurry .The doctor was beaming and had announced ,” Congratulations on a beautiful baby girl !”

These words had not even properly registered in his brain when gleaming tears seeped through his eyes and rolled down his cheek. A second later he began laughing and smiling through the tears .He didn’t know how to react. A baby, HIS baby girl was finally here. Just then a nurse exited the room, carrying her out. A tiny bundle of blankets. He carefully slipped his hands underneath his baby , as if afraid of breaking her just by touching .Her small face was as pink as a rose, looking peaceful as she slept . Sensations of electricity shot up and down his body as he pulled her even closer to his heart, if that were possible. He began to gently swing his body, softly humming a lullaby he didn’t know he knew.

Joe dried his eyes with the coarse fabric of his coat and set off down the street, occasionally glancing left and right, searching.  It was the ninth day of November again and his girl was awaiting a present.

The street lights began lighting up as dusk gathered in the background. The side of the street was lined with shops selling beautiful things he couldn’t afford. He walked on and on, past all the glitz, daring not to look. Fuzzy teddy bears, baskets of glass beads, bouquets of lilies and meowing kittens, all were trying to lure him but he couldn’t give in.

He finally stopped by a stall which was studded with gems and jewels of every color imaginable. Amber colored pendants and glass bangles which looked fiery in the dying rays of the sun, hung from every corner of the shop. Joe pointed gruffly at a silver chain kept on a black plate. With it was hanging a pendant of a blue bird which was taking flight. Glistening silver wings arched and its sharp beak in a smile, it seemed real enough to be able to fly off, beyond the horizon any second.

The woman behind the canvas was shuffling around with boxes. She wore a simple brown dress and almost every inch of her body was covered with charms and talismans. When she straightened up again, she saw Joe gazing dreamily at the silver chain, with a smug smile, already picturing the priceless reaction of his child.

He remembered the day when his baby girl had first taken flight. He had proudly watched his daughter take hold of the side of the bed and raise herself upright bit by bit. At first she fell, then she stumbled but after minutes of trying she stood up and somehow wobbled to her father who was kneeling on the floor with an expectant face and open arms. He had picked her up and swung her in the air with a laugh, feeling the same jolts of pleasure course through his veins. Her ringing giggles were all he could hear.

Somewhere in his heart he couldn’t find the will to ask for its price so he resigned. Leaving the twinkling and sparkling store behind he walked on to reach the very end of the market where on either sides he saw rolling lush fields of a darkling green color as the sun was almost gone now, dipping underneath the houses, spilling like a yolk.

 He slowed down by a small tented stall where an elderly woman was decorating the front of her shop with flowers. Stems of daffodils, red roses and lavenders mixed a sweet intoxicating scent into the air. He trudged up her to her.

“How much would one rose be?”

“These are not for sale, boy. All of them are to be hung in the chapel in the main square. The duke is getting married this Sunday. Though I am not quite sure his bride-to-be is fit for a man like him. She looks catty, I said, but no one listens to me now do they? I said-”

She stopped when she heard Joe’s whimpers as he sobbed into the sleeve of his coat. She arched her brow in confusion but light dawned on her face soon after.

“It’s her birthday, isn’t it?”

“Y-yes. I won’t be able to give her anything, though, because I can’t afford to. I end up disappointing her, so many times.”

The woman spent a moment thinking before diving underneath the table and hobbling around, searching. She finally brought something out in her hand, not before knocking her head on the edge of the table, muttering a curse and setting her bun of graying hair astray. With a sad smile she held out a small rose twig towards Joe. The twig was deep brown in color with two fresh, green leaves growing and a pinkish bud pushing its tip out from underneath one.

“You could gift her this.”

Several seconds pass as Joe straightens up, rubs his face quite dry and raw with his sleeve and looks at the twig with wide eyes. Finally, his lips burst open in a watery smile.

“Yes! She would love this! Won’t she Jeanie?”

“She certainly would.” Jeanie chuckled as her eyes glistened ever so slightly.

 “Thanks Jean… I’ll go home now”

Jean sighed sadly saying, “Joey, that is not your home”

He smiled ruefully, “You know home is wherever she is”

He walked towards an enclosed field with the twig grasped tightly in his hand and unclasped the rusted iron gate and he walked into the graveyard, as he had done so many times before and as he will do so many times more.

He could have found his way around the web work of stones with his eyes closed.  So within minutes he stopped before a stone and knelt down, no longer crying but smiling.

“Hey, love! Its dad”

The rustle of the dead leaves on the ground and the distant singing of birds came as a reply.

 He dug through the moist mud with his hands and carefully planted the twig in front of the epitaph built in gray stone, now adorned with moss. After several minutes of him simply sitting there and gazing at the sky, where the brilliant orange was now dramatically meeting the dark, he stood up.

Before turning around he knelt down again to press a light kiss onto the tombstone’s edge as if kissing the forehead of his daughter, who was long gone. Mixed into the oblivion, into the starry infinite which was slowly taking over the sky.

Joe left, walking past the tombstone, on which was inscribed the name, “Leah”.

The End.

By Riya Das.


August 07, 2019 16:21

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