Mithun Mukherjee hails from New Delhi, India. He has been writing fiction for as long as he can remember and often wonders if he can still make a writer out of himself. He has previously published Cold Feet, a collection of dark fiction short stores and Revenge, a novella. His shorts have been published in The Four Quarterly Literary Magazine (online), Morpheus Tales (UK), Crossed & Knotted (print) and the soon to be published Rudraksh (print). He writes from time to time at http://www.mithunmukherjee.in and answers e-mails at firstname.lastname@example.org .
“Please, for the love of God, give a young boy some alms! God has been merciful to you, share your blessings with the poor! I have a sister to look after, a mother who is sick and a wound which needs medicines!”
The young boy holds up a dirty hand wrapped in soiled bandages, looking into the tinted window of a car. His hair is matted, the color of ash. Streaks of dirt run like rivers on his face. He removes the support of his good hand, letting the bandaged arm drops down limply like a dead fish. Dangling it, he moves on to the next car. His feet make a grating noise, resulting in a few noses around him to wrinkle up in disgust.
“Fill the stomach of a hungry soul and the One Above shall look down upon you with kindness! I haven’t eaten in three days, my father will beat me up if I don’t get money! Have a heart, oh, please have a heart!”
The people in the car see moving lips that belong to a street urchin. They turn their faces and look the other way. The air conditioner helps block out the heat and poverty.
The light turns green and the cars are off. The boy comfortably wades through the speeding traffic and waits on the pavement. He spots a motorcycle rider cursing on the edge of the road. He has a flat.
“This way. Follow me.”
The man on the bike is wary at first but takes behind the beggar. There is not much to be afraid of in the broad daylight. He sweats profusely, drenching his shirt, acutely aware that the crease on his shirt isn’t going to hold anymore. A puncture shop comes into view.
“Can you please hurry it up? I have a meeting to go to,” he says, putting the motorcycle on the main stand. Fishing out his cellphone, he goes and settles on the pavement. The mechanic gets to work, tinkering with the spanner, taking the wheel off. He already knows that this will take at least half an hour. He might as well give up on the meeting and start deciding his course of action. He opens up Subway Surfer and immerses into the game. Two minutes later, he shuts it and wipes the sweat off his brow. It’s too hot to do anything other than wait.
The urchin hangs around, walking along the main road, keeping his eyes peeled for the next opportunity. A car ahead has grazed the bumper of another and both the drivers are quarelling. The traffic slows down, finally coming to a halt. He finds a rag and picks it up. Running to the best looking car of the lot, he wipes the bonnet furiously before going and knocking on the passenger side window.
“Oh angel of the troubled, kind-hearted soul, would you please be kind to a less privileged boy with a bad arm? God will give you many times worth your kindness and a beggar will be able to sleep peacefully at night!”
A woman rolls down the glass and drops a ten-rupee note before the car zooms away. The kid runs after the note and picks it up, pocketing it somewhere deep within the underpants, away from prying eyes. The man with the bike watches the scene and calls out to the boy. He trudges down reluctantly and stands in front of him. His eyes are shifty.
“Do you tell a different story to everyone you meet?” the man asks.
The boy shrugs his shoulders and looks elsewhere.
“Do you have parents?” he tries again. The boy is silent. The cellphone rings again.
“Hello? Yes sir, I was about to come and meet you today, but unfortunately I won’t be able to make it. My son is sick and I have to take him to the doctor. Let me call you back and reschedule. Yes, I will call you. Sorry for the inconvenience sir.”
“Why did you lie?” the urchin asks.
“Because they won’t believe the truth.”
“The tube is gone. You would need a replacement,” the mechanic tells him. The man surveys the limp rubber tube in his hand. The nozzle has broken clean off the tube. His years of experience tell him this can’t be repaired. There is no way to avoid the expense. He nods to the mechanic, giving him a go-ahead.
“Why won’t they believe the truth?” the urchin asks again.
“Because…because it sounds like an excuse” the man snorts, nodding to himself, reminiscing of older occasions. He signals at a tea shop to get him a cup of tea. He looks at the mechanic who raises a hand and gets back to work. The boy nods eagerly. He doubles the order.
The tea arrives.
“What do you do?” the urchin asks.
“You won’t understand,” the man smiles at him. The boy’s gaze is unwavering.
“Very well,” the man replies. “I sell insurance policies for two wheelers. Do you understand what an insurance policy is?”
The boy continues to stare blankly. The man shakes his head.
“An insurance policy is taken to make sure that if someone steals your two wheeler, then you get paid back to compensate the loss. Or if you have an accident, we help you with the repair.”
The boy nods to show that he follows. The man continues.
“The person has to pay for this policy. If nothing happens to the two wheeler, then we keep the money for free. But here’s the deal and I am telling you this because there is no fear of being found out. We don’t always pay the money; infact, we try to pay up as little as possible. Because I always manage to find a clause that will not require the company to pay them. And the more I do this, the more I earn”
The boy nods again and grows quiet. The next few moments pass by without words. The mechanic proceeds to replace the bad tube with a new one. He plucks at the tyre with a crowbar, taking the old one out. The new one goes in where the old was, the nozzle matched to the opening on the rim. The bolt goes up, holding it in place. Bit by bit, the crowbar pushes the tyre back into place on the rim. The job is done.
The tea over, they get up to bid their farewells. The mechanic comes up to claim his money and leaves three hundred rupees richer. The traffic jam has eased up by now, the vehicles moving smoothly again. The man gives one final look at the boy who is still standing next to him. “Here,” he says, giving the boy a hundred rupee note. “Get that arm of yours checked.” The boy nods for the final time. With that, the man gets on his bike and is gone.
The boy’s gaze follows him till he is out of sight. He turns back and follows the mechanic to his shack. The man is muscular. He picks up a paint tin, turns it over and sits on it to quickly catch a moment’s break before the next customer comes in. It’s a busy day and business will be good. He fishes out a biri from his pocket and lights it. The smoke curls up for a second before getting lost in the polluted air of the city.
He finishes it to find the boy still hanging around. He exhales loudly. “What do you want?” he asks, a little irritated.
“Where did you hide the tyre?” the boy asks.
“What tyre?” the mechanic replies defensively.
The boy waits.
The mechanic grunts, going behind the shack and retrieving the tube. He gives it a disgusted look and throws it in the corner of the shack.
The mechanic takes out a fifty rupee note and gave it to him. The boy takes it and walks away without a word.
The traffic is slowing down again. As the boy approaches a standing car, the man sitting inside turns toward him. He finds a bunch of dirty bandages staring at his face and his immediate impulse is to grab it. Surprisingly, it comes loose and stays in his hand.
The light turns green and the traffic moves again. The furious man throws the bandage and screams at the urchin running across the road.
“What is this!”
“Insurance!” he replies and disappears from sight.