I grew up in the old parts of the city. Back in nineties, there were not more than a couple of stationary shops in a locality where I stayed. ‘A K Traders’ is one I distinctly remember, one because I bought most my school-paraphernalia from there and second for its owner.
Its owner, ‘a man with grey hair resting on his forehead, usually wearing a half sleeves chequered shirt and thick glasses’ would rise from that dusty wooden stool as soon as he spotted a customer. My best friend Vedang and I were amongst his most regular ones. We’d been visiting the shop right since the time we were in 2nd grade.
“Hold that rupee coin carefully in your hand” an instruction my mother gave every time I tucked my shirt in my shorts and left for A K Traders to buy Apsara pencils. I never failed to notice how he always asked for money first even before making an attempt to move a muscle to remove pencils out of the box. Why did he maintain that fix order of ‘money first and then pencil’ an 8 year old kid always used to wonder.
Then there came 4th grade. I must have been 10 years old or so. Now Vedang, I and rest of my classmates were allowed to use Ink pens. And first time when I bought one from A K Traders, I was accompanied by my father. “Oh he’s a big boy now” he had said handing over the shiny black Camlin ink pen to him. I was surprised as to how he did so when my father had not even touched his wallet yet. He then offered a big smile to both of us as I left the shop with a newly bought Ink pen.
In fact he smiled at Vedang and me only when we were accompanied by our Parents. I had figured out quiet early that the reason was I did not have enough money at that moment to buy his smile. I decided that when I grow up and become a writer like my father, I will make him hand over the pen to me first and only then pay him for the same. I often felt sad at times when he asked me to go back home and return with money which I had forgotten to carry. Why couldn’t he just give me the pen and take the money later? Such a big shop he had. I was sure he could afford that.
By the time I went to 8th grade, few more stationary shops had opened up near my house. I noticed those shopkeepers offering me a smile although I had not even bought a pen or two from their shop. They must have thought I have money. Anyway I decided to buy stationary from those shops instead of A K Traders from the next time. I did. And soon I could see other kids in my locality following the suit. In a couple of years, I could see that A K Traders had started wearing a deserted look on its face. God had punished him for sending me back home so many times and not smiling at us. I knew it.
Few more years later, I could see him sitting outside the shop waiting for someone to buy things from him. He had grown old and moved slowly. He even smiled at me whenever I passed from there. Yes I had money in my pocket now. I wondered as to why our class teacher said, ‘Money cannot buy everything’. It had just bought me a smile. That day, in fact I learnt something from him that probably our teacher skipped teaching us – A smile can buy a lot of things.
Even today I see him sitting outside his shop, with a fading hope to see a customer for his shop. Now I wonder if he is even doing well financially and whether his kids look after him. After all we’re all good human beings at the end of the day. Now a day, whenever I visit that part of town; I make sure I buy a chocolate or something from his shop. He feels genuinely happy to see me after a long time and says “Oh you’re a big man now”.
And I simply ‘smile’. I think the 10 year old kid has forgiven him a long time back.