Subha Manoj

While I Was Away

The Jacket And The Hat

The sun was slowly peeking through the light grey clouds. It seemed as if the weather was on a mission. The sun and the cloud were its weapons. Together, they seemed innocent and calm. That was the evilness of it all. Brutality is at its best when it wears a veil of calmness. The weather was doing its trick. People wiped the continuous drool of sweat as they waited at the bus stop. Dogs took cover near wet drains sleeping, licking themselves intermittently. Children threw tantrums asking for ice-cream and juice. Municipality workers chatted consistently about the sultry evening, unmindful about the pile of dirt lying here and there. 

There was only one person in this anguished crowd who was blissful, or was he? Well, he only knows. He sat just outside the juice and tea shop on the footpath. He had his cozy set-up perfectly built for his sake. He sat on a mucky brown cloth with multiple layers. Each layer dirtier and darker. Was it dark because of filth or dried liquids or owing to the colour of the fabric, no one knew. He wore a black pant torn at precarious places, a t-shirt which was clearly atleast three sizes bigger and no shoes. His beard looked like a bunch of coconut fibre: jagged, long and rough. His hair was messy like a wild nest.  He religiously scratched it, rubbed his fingers clean, and finally dipped the nasty looking nails in a bowl of water before wiping it off on his pants. But this was not the weird part of his personality. He wore a jacket and a hat! This part of his attire was enough for the passersby to give him a second look , shake their heads in pity and walk away. 

‘Mad! Either the heat has made him mad, or his madness has increased the heat. When people want to peel off their clothes in this weather, look at this man. Wearing a jacket and a hat!’

‘The municipality should pick up these brutes and put them in some hospital.’

‘What a stink!’ 

All sorts of comments cropped up, but our man was oblivious. He randomly flashed a smile at passing pedestrians and customers of the shop. Yellow, broken, stained teeth showed its glory to all, and when he did this, the world squirmed further. It seemed to make him powerful, if not happy.

If someone would look into his eyes, they would find an ocean of secrets, a past life of meaning perhaps and of course an undying hunger and pain. The hungry knows the meaning of hunger and the value of a morsel of food. Every time someone crossed his path, his hands went up, and his face morphed into pity. Some would throw a coin and some would buy a biscuit or a banana or a cup of tea from the shop. The speed with which people bought these eatables decreased when they had to give it to him. They didn’t know how to keep it near him, they wanted to ensure as much distance as they could. So some would bend in a funny manner and keep it far yet close to him. Some would ask the tea shop boy to give it to the himand the boy would walk up to him and say, ‘Oye’ and keep it on his mat. Somehow the biscuits, snacks, bananas disappeared just as they were served to him, in a flash. The tea, he would gulp as quickly as he could. 

It was soon dark. People became lesser on the road and the shop shutters came screaming down, with keys rattling and doing their jobs. Shopkeepers started their scooters and bikes to go back to their homes. Amongst all this, a figure appeared from the drain, walking on all fours. It shook his head multiple numbers of times and opened its mouth wide to let out a yawn. Then the figure walked towards our man. He held his hands out and welcomed it. The dog made himself comfortable on his lap. He stroked him with a love unseen and mutual understanding unfelt by others. 

The dirty and the dirtier. 

The man, then removed his hat and kept it in front of him. He kept the bowl of water as well. Then he thrust his hands in his jacket pockets. One by one, the banana, biscuits and snacks found their way into the hat. The table was set for dinner. The dog and his master started their dinner. They took quiet turns to eat from the hat and drink from the bowl.  The jacket and hat had served its purpose. 

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