The warmth from the golden rays of the early morning sun was rejuvenating the souls, which were still hung over from the previous night’s slumber. The park was abuzz with multifarious activities – walking, jogging, laughter club, suryanamaskarams, and chatter of people.
“We have been coming here for decades, haven’t we, Shree?” Narasimham asked his wife Shreelakshmi.
“Almost four. I might have but you never missed a day’s walk,” Shree said.
“The nature of my work helped, too. Luckily, our shop is close to our house. Had I been in a job it might not have been possible,” Narasimham said.
“That shop supported and sustained us through thick and thin, didn’t it?”
“Yes, Shree, it certainly did.” Narasimham sighed.
“Here comes Mrs. Jain. She hasn’t lost even a single kilo. Say hello to her.”
‘I will, I will. You are always pushing me,’ Narasimham whispered. “Good morning, Mrs. Jain. How are you?” Narasimham greeted her.
“Good morning, sir. I am as heavy as I was a year ago when I started walking, on doctor’s advice; haven’t lost any weight.”
“Keep at it, madam, you are doing all right. Bye.”
“Look at the young fellows jogging and exercising. They are so health-conscious nowadays. I wonder, Shree, how our life would have been if we had children.”
“That’s the only sad part of our life. I’m sorry I couldn’t bear even one child. All the medical treatment, herbs, and predictions by soothsayers went waste.”
“Hey, Shree, don’t cry. I can’t bear it. I am sorry I raised the topic.”
“I mean it. I am to blame.”
“No, you are not. Come on, Shree, stop crying, please.”
“The shop has been our mainstay and lifeline, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, Shree, and we had some loyal customers, too, who didn’t shift their shopping to departmental stores and malls.”
“That’s because you are very honest in your business dealings; the prices, the quality, and the service. You even door-deliver groceries to them promptly.”
“Yes, that’s true, Shree. In the final analysis, honesty pays. After all, there is something more than mere profit; something called…what they call it nowadays…customer relations. We are genuinely friendly with all our customers. Our establishment exists because of them, doesn’t it?”
“True. Here is Mr. Menon. Why does he jog? He is so thin.”
“Good morning, Mr. Menon. How are you?”
“Good morning, Mr. Narasimham. Fine, I guess.”
“You look trim. I wonder why you jog at all.”
“Fitness, sir, fitness. OK, bye.”
“How could you forget? What has happened to your memory? You have grown old, dear. Don’t you remember what day is today?”
“Hmmm…I have grown old; you just said that, Shree.”
“Don’t tease me. I won’t talk to you.”
“Don’t say that. I’ll drop dead where I stand, Shree.”
“Hey, hey…I told you countless times not to talk of death and all.”
“Today is your birthday. You are eighty, dear! Happy birthday to you, young man.”
“Oh! I completely forgot. Thanks, Shree. What is there in a birthday? At this age it does not matter.”
“It does, to me, darling. I want you to be happy. Look, Kannan is here.”
“Hi, Kannan,” Narasimham greeted him.
Kannan and his friend were conversing animatedly while jogging on the jogging track.
“Hi, Kannan,” Narasimham greeted him.
“Good morning, uncle. How are you, sir?”
“Good morning. I am fine. How’s your father after the viral fever?”
“He is recovering fast.”
“Tell him I inquired about him. If you need any help don’t hesitate to ask.”
Narasimham smiled and continued to walk.
“A nice man. He owns a small grocery shop near our house. A good friend of my father’s; has been supplying groceries to us for decades; more like a family friend rather than a business relation,” Kannan said to his friend.
Kannan paused for a few moments.
“A wonderful couple, uncle and aunty were; always happy to help people. Sadly, they had no children.” Kannan sighed. “Poor man lost his wife four years ago. Now, he is all alone.”
They both turned and looked at the receding, lone figure of Narasimham.
…Shyam Sundar Bulusu