It was the perfect weather for an excursion and Rajith was accompanying his friends to a nearby hill station. He had picked all but the last hiker. The car pulled outside Amitesh's house and Rajith honked twice to signal their arrival. Within a minute, they received a text message from Amitesh. He would join them as soon as he packed his hiking shoes. The group in the car were bubbling with excitement for the trip ahead and cursing Amitesh for holding them up. A few metres on the other side of the road, Rajith spotted a couple holding hands and struggling to cross the road. The old man wore a muffler round his neck and leaned on his walking stick. The woman, just a little younger walked with a slight limp and wore thick glasses. Rajith looked away and gnawed his teeth with discomfort. He quickly raised the car windows and hoped he hadn't been spotted. Slowly, guilt and a wave of memories started overpowering him and he hoped his discomfort was not visible to the rest of the group.
One day, sixteen years ago, when Rajith was just eight, his caretaker bolted him in the house and fled. After waking up from his afternoon siesta and finding no soul around, Rajith bawled until his neighbours Shekhar uncle and Madhavi aunty, who lived across in their NRI son's house rescued him. They looked after him till his parents got back from their day's work. Rajith's parents were very furious with the caretaker and also grateful to uncle and aunty. This happened to be their first encounter with the neighbours. For months, Rajith's parents had been avoiding all the neighbours fearing loss of privacy.
That night, Rajith's mother, Sarala Devi hatched a master plan. She questioned her husband why not leave young Rajith under the care of the neighbours? They looked after him so well and didn't seem to have many visitors or go out a lot. Her husband deferred the decision to next morning and went off to bed. In the morning, Sarala tried in vain to get her husband's approval as he was engrossed in the business paper. While leaving for work, she cursed her husband's indecisiveness and walked over to Shekhar uncle's house. She handed them a box of sweets and thanked them for the previous day's favour. Shekhar Thatha (as Rajith fondly addressed), reluctantly accepted the gift as he and his wife were diabetic. As Sarala was leaving, she put on a very embarrassed expression and requested if they could take care of Rajith after he was back from school till they arranged a caretaker. She promised it wouldn't take more than a couple of days.
After a few days, she went over to their house and informed them with a gloomy face that she was quitting her job to look after her son as she couldn't arrange a good caretaker. Shekhar uncle and Madhavi aunty were taken aback but did not utter a word. As she was leaving, she asked them for a last favour to look after Rajith till she put in her resignation. Later, during their night meal, Madhavi aunty convinced her husband to request Sarala to reconsider as they would love to look after Rajith. He came as a whiff of fresh air in their mundane retired life. When Rajith's mother heard the news, she jumped with joy and profusely thanked the couple for their gesture. She wished to know if they had any expectations but was surprised to know they had none.
Rajith literally lived at Shekhar Thatha's house for 6 years. He loved Madhavi Nanamma's evening snacks and would go to the playground accompanied by Thatha. These, as Rajith later recollected in his class 10 year book were the golden years of his life.
As Rajith grew up, he frequently dropped in to enquire about their well being and stayed back till dinner discussing a lot of topics, even some he was scared to breach with his parents. One day, as he got back from school after giving his last class 10 exam, the watchman informed him that Shekhar uncle and his wife had vacated their apartment. This left Rajith distraught but time healed his pain, until this day.
Today, his mind was torn between the hike with friends and being with Shekhar Thatha and Madhavi Nanamma. He kept running his fingers over the steering wheel and grimacing when Amitesh rushed into the car and followed it up with apologies to avoid angry stares and curses. The group prompted Rajith to rev the car to life and start off on the hike of a lifetime. Rajith obeyed but his face was pale and emotionless, as if under a trance. His thoughts and soul were now on the opposite side of the road helping Thatha and Nanamma cross the road and reliving the golden years of his life. It was his time to be their "Guardian Angel".
All work and no play...
As the sun gleamed through the news paper plastered window, he regained his senses but shifted his position and tried to get back to sleep. Ten minutes later, he was awake but struggling to get off the bed. He felt a lump in his throat, eyes burning and his back …read more