The Aging of Smiles – Part 1
The same old, paint-less cart that I had bought 20 years ago from a warehouse is right in front of me, with eatables of various kinds packed in multicolored wrappings, and with writings of different types, which I know for sure would have been intriguing and interesting if I were able to read them.
In 20 years, nothing has changed except my stable hands shaking, my black hair going grey, and my face all wrinkled and tanned from the sunlight of the past score years. I have been selling the same snacks at the same spot to the rows of kids coming and going. I have developed a special relationship with them too, and not seeing a whole batch of kids outside the school each year is inwardly quite painful for me.
Today, I stand here with all my things ready before the kids pack up, but my vision is too blurry due to the clock of this ever-going life and age. My legs hurt a bit, but I have to keep my strength up for the next 2 hours to sell as many things as I can to make ends meet. That’s what life means, at least for me; an endless road of struggle to which I have started to get addicted–the same struggle that I inherited from my father and him from his father.
It is 1:30 pm now, and the same three clangs of the bell sound that I have been hearing for the past 20 years which signaled the cheerfully conversing kids to rush out of the school premises towards their vans after stopping for a few moments buying stuff from me as there is no canteen or shop nearby.
I have seen more faces, and I remember more faces than anyone in the school itself. I hear the first clang, obscured by the honking of the cars and bikes passing by. The second and third clang nearly overlapping today was followed by loud voices of children and their thumping rhythmic footsteps.
Now comes the hard part; all the children surrounding me and my cart, their hands picking up stuff everywhere from the cart. I don’t even truly realize if the money they are giving is what the true cost must be, my mind too tired to calculate and my voice and body powerless to control the crowd. All I can hope is that everyone present here is the true depiction of what education is…
Today, I see many new faces indicating the beginning of the new term. The first wave had very new bright faces, and the other waves of children had lesser new faces. I was hoping to see many faces today, but now I see that many faces I might not be able to see. This feeling is not expressible, knowing someone I will not be able to see while many new children I will see. I would be seeing some of them for the next ten years (if my body and time give me some more hours in this monotonous wheel of life).
And today, my eyes though are too blurred, I see a man, not in his uniform, but a dress too fancy. In him, I don’t know how, but I see a kid I had seen ten years ago last time and 20 years ago the first time. I don’t know as I cannot see anything too well.
Perhaps, it was a signal of my intuition or my subconsciousness profiling his way of walking, talking, and laughing. My mind is happy to see him, but my body too busy to express it, and to see a small child next to him is adding more glee to it. By the apparent similarities I could sense between the two, they sure had the bond of a father and his child, for I too am a father after all.
This is the beauty of what I do, which has been forcing me for the past 20 years to muster up enough strength, despite all the hardships and difficulties, to come to the same spot and sell the same things.
Though I know my failing body will not let me do this anymore soon, I still want the best I can make of my last years here. And maybe if I am lucky, I will be able to see these children I saw today for the last time ten years from now. But I can do nothing but hope.
My ears hear scores of voices simultaneously—greetings, demands, rebukes. But I hear a voice too powerful to dominate all other frequencies, the voice of my son, a seven-year-old, short haze-colored hair with light brown eyes, pulling my sleeve down as if to say something.
But I look at him and then all the kids and bags surrounding me, what a contradiction that we humans have created between us. All I see in him is a handsome kid wearing a bright uniform with a heavy bag, pulling my sleeve, seeking my attention to tell me about everything that happened today on his first day.
But I shake my head to see a child too innocent, with eyes conversing a thousand feelings and clothes a little dirty, wanting to go away from this scorching heat. I only wish to fulfill all his and mine wishes and break these shackles of ignorance and poverty.
Photo credits: Raghavendra Kamath.
Graphics: Areeba Ali.