Vijay had lost his job in a travel agency three months back and he was yet to get a new one. He had spent all his meager savings and was practically starving. The rent for his room was in arrears and he was afraid of a notice to vacate. The day time he roamed around various offices seeking for any job. His evenings were spent in the local big temple ostensibly to pray but actually hoping for some prasad that would fill his stomach He got something or the other many days.
That day was a festival day and the temple was heavily crowded. Nothing was available to eat and his stomach was gnawing with hunger. He felt his pocket and he had just 10 rupees in coins but he did not want to spend it. He went near the place where the coconuts were broken to propitiate god. He was shy of competing with poor urchins in ragged clothes to pick up the broken pieces. There was a virtual scramble but he was content to pick whatever fell near his feet. When he got three big slices he was relieved that the day’s dinner was taken care of. Someone had given him a plantain.
As he was walking away from the crowd, he saw a young girl of six from affluent family standing alone and crying. He went near her and asked her “Why are you crying? Where are your parents?”
“They are lost and not seen. I want to join them”
“Let us wait for some time. They may come in search of you. Have this coconut piece.”
“No, I don’t want it. I am thirsty. Can you get me that ice candy?”
He felt pity for that girl and unhesitatingly parted with his last ten rupees and fetched her a candy.
As she was happily sucking it, Vijay asked her whether she knew her house. She picked a slip of paper from her pocket and gave him. The parents had the foresight to leave it there. The place was just couple of kilometers away.
“Can I leave you in your house?” he asked. She happily nodded
Vijay was afraid to take the young girl with him what with news papers screaming daily of rapes of young kids. When he approached an elderly auto driver, he looked askance at Vijay in his soiled and crumpled dress with a well-to-do girl. Vijay understood his genuine suspicion and explained the circumstances and his aversion to leave the child alone or with a policeman especially when he had her address.
“Are you looking for a reward?”asked the auto driver.
“Not at all. It is just compassion and fear that girl may come to harm if she were to fall in ruthless hands.”
The auto driver agreed and within next five minutes they were at her house. The door was opened by the girl’s grandmother. Her parents were still trying to trace her. Vijay explained her how she found her and the auto driver corroborated.
“Grandma, this uncle gave me candy” she said with joy
This shocked the old lady and her suspicions about his intention returned again.
Vijay saw the change in her expression and said “The girl said she was very thirsty and I had only ten rupees and that is all that I could buy”
The old lady took the addresses of both Vijay and auto driver before they left
When Vijay came out of the house, he took out his old watch from his wrist and said to the auto driver “This is all I have. Please do not mind accepting it in lieu of fare”
The driver said “Hop in. I will drop at your place. You don’t have to give me anything. I am proud of you”
As the auto reached Vijay’s place, the driver thrust 100 rupees in his pocket and said as he sped away “Return it when you can”