There he used to stand, along the side of the road, with his crooked little peanut cart. Everyday I used to see a glimpse of him on my way to school. He was old and withered, with sad, melancholy, hollow eyes and a tuft of white hair on his head. He used to stand at a not-so-busy area, usually bereft of people. I often wondered why. Maybe he didn’t like the din and bustle of people. May be the noises of the traffic, all that commotion made him uncomfortable. Or maybe he didn’t like competition with the gaudy carts of the chaat-wallahs.
Seeing him stand there, all alone, in rags with a few gunny bags filled with some shrivelled peanuts, with no customers stopping by him made me sad.. my heart reached out to him. I don’t know what was so special about him but he was the only poor fellow who affected me this much. How can life be so unfair to some people? Everyday on my way, I used to look at him, he was always there. Standing alone, in the same colthes, at the same spot, staring at nothing. Maybe he remembered his past, a halcyon, or maybe it was tragic. Often my sister and I would buy his peanuts. Although they were not always good, in fact they were never good and mom always used to say “Why do you girls buy such bad-quality peanuts? Who is going to have them?” and they would often go into the dustbin. But I never felt bad for the wastage because I always felt I helped the pitiable peanut seller. We were amongst his handful of customers.
As the days went by he grew older and weaker. During the winters, he would sit inside his cart, which was no bigger than the usual ice-cream cart, with an old blanket around him. The sight made my heart burn, even in the icy-cold weather. Why didn’t somebody help him? Where was his family? Did they just leave him stranded alone like that? To struggle through life at such an age? Or maybe his folks were not alive anymore. He had no home, no one. His cart was his only means to survive..his life. One chilly evening, my sister and I were returning home, he was there at his usual place. I decided to buy some peanuts from him. I went up to him and asked for peanuts worth rupees 5. He began to take them out languidly and fill them in a paper bag. He had grotesque bruises and his skin was burnt. Maybe his family and home were destroyed in a fire accident? His hands were shaking, I felt a strong urge to help him. I took out a 50 rupee note and gave it to him. I wanted him to keep the whole of it. I started moving away towards my sister. When I looked back, he stared at the note and then at me, wondering what to do. Maybe he was thinking of returning the money, but I didn’t give him a chance. He kept the note carefully in his wooden box. He probably got paper notes rarely because his box was full of coins. The note stood proudly amongst them. He closed the lid and looked at me with a note of ‘Thenks’ in his eyes. He seemed grateful.
During the summer vacations, as school closed, I stopped going to school and did not get to see him again. Ever. His cart was still there with a lock on it. But there was no sign of him. Subsequently, his cart was gone too.
Maybe he died, im glad he did. What life was he leading anyway? Death is a lot better than leading a life of misery and pain. If there is a heaven up there, im sure he has a bigger and better peanut business, and hes doing good there!