Cannanore will soon become a big city, but right now, it is a small town, where people still prefer having their tea, coffee and meals from coffee houses that stinks of urine, sweat and smoke. This is not the only reason for naming it small.
Every city is like a human being. And like humans, cities have thoughts as well. Cannanore town is small is its thoughts too. Thoughts of a city are its streets. The streets in Cannanore city are quite narrow and thus I deduced my conclusion that it is indeed a small in city, small in size and small in mind.
In this small town, one evening, a coffee house was busy as a slaughter house. The slaughter house imagery partially owes its credit to the way people’s faces looked after their sojourn inside the houses for tea or meals and their puffed up pot bellies and partly it owed to the vast number of people flowing in and out.
A person in a wrinkled grey shirt walked faster towards the entrance. He placed the bill on the cashier’s table and paid the amount with changes. Without stopping there, he paced forward.
And old man suddenly came ahead from behind him and caught hold of his right hand. The man in grey shirt startled and looked back. Once he saw the old man, he dragged him forward and moved out of the coffee house to the footpath that bordered the main road and the coffee house.
“Leave me!” The man in grey shirt said. His voice was hoarse and eyes were staring at the old man.
“I know what you did there in the crowd. I saw you stealing that woman’s gold chain. Give it to me, or I will call the police,” Said the old man.
“No, YOU might have done it. I didn’t. I am not a thief,” the man said.
It was not a shout, but his voice was thick enough to convey the message that he was not an easy pass for anyone that came across.
The old man stared at the grey shirt man. His eyes were not particularly powerful in their physical appearance, but they were fearless.
“Didn’t you hear me? YOU might have done it! YOU…YOU… I didn’t. Now leave my hand.”
Still, stare in return.
“Leave…leave me,” and the grey shirt man started puling, and wriggling his hand free. But right then, the old man shouted again, his right hand, tight as glued to the hand of the grey shirt man, “I WILL CALL THE POLICE!”
The man in grey shirt stopped trying to wriggle away. It seemed impossible. The grip got harder and harder and more than the grip it was the old man’s staring eyes that did some harm; they were penetrating. Also the man in grey shirt had seen the people around them started noticing their struggle. Although at first it might have seemed a friendly meeting, now it was taking a violent turn.
“OK…OK…If I give it to you, will you leave me then? Old man?”
Even though the thief had addressed him, old man, he did not look above 60. His hair was full white, though. And that gave an impression that the epithet of the thief sounded apt.
“I was a teacher, now retired. It had been my job all my life to tell my students to take the path of truth and love. I won’t hand you over to the police, because I know they don’t know how to treat people like you. But I won’t leave you either. I would want a talk with you, alone. Agreed?”
“Double OK!” the thief said without a moment’s hesitation and gave the old teacher a chain of gold.
“Why do you put it in your pocket? Go and give it to that woman!” said the thief seeing the old man’s left hand going inside his pocket.
“That woman is my wife. She went to the nearest vegetable shop to purchase some goods, after the tea we had. She doesn’t even know that her chain is stolen. It was I who found it. Otherwise, you would have escaped with it,” the old teacher said.
“Ok. Then talk,” the thief said restless.
“What is your name? And why do you steal?”
“To feed my wife, who is very young and has not learnt any art to survive, yet. And oh, my name is Habeeb,” the man in grey shirt said.
“Why don’t you do any other work?”
“They ask for religion, cast and contacts and sometimes experience.”
“Don’t you have any of them?”
“Yes, I do have, but what I have, is not preferable in terms of acceptance.”
“What…what did you say?” the old teacher sneered at him. The words the thief said did not fit well coming from his mouth. They were words of the learnt… what I have, is not preferable in terms of acceptance.
“You trying to infuriate with those high words?” the old teacher was angry, this time.
“No, I did not! I am sorry, if it felt that way.” the thief said, that too sounded incongruous. He seemed a man of rough features and lack of any learning, but those words and now this sorry, all seemed out of the world with him.
“You don’t expect me to talk like this? I know. But do you realize now, what those people out there selling jobs might have barked at me with when they listened to what I had to say?” the thief said with a smile.
“Why don’t you find a better job and stop stealing other’s property?” sneering at the thief, the old man asked.
“What job do you mean?”
“Sell something, or try to get a government job. As a person with such wisdom, you sure will get one.”
“You see that orange seller there?”
“Can you tell me what profit means, for him?”
“The money he earns after selling his goods.”
“How does he earn it?”
“By selling oranges in prices that are higher than what he had bought them for.”
“What do the clerks in the government offices do in Cannanore right now, when it is just half past four in the evening and a lot of works can be done? Night is still hours away.”
“I know what makes you quiet, teacher,” the thief said. “Most people in government offices know nothing about the needs of the needy or what it means to be really hungry.”
“So?” the teacher asked; now calm.
“The orange seller tells everyone that his oranges are Rs: 40 a kilo when he had actually bought it for twenty. Do you know what that means?”
The old man tried to think it through. He felt his head reeling. There was a major crisis in front of him. At this moment, everything he had taught his students all his life supporting civilized life, against stealing or any other injustice, turned into a chaos. He covered his face with both his hands and wiped his face hard. Perhaps that had felt good. Opening his eyes, he said, “You are…” but before completing his words he realized that Habeeb, the thief in grey shirt, had vanished.