He came. And he went. Just like that.
I met him for the first time on the day I had an exam. He had come to drive me to college. He ended up doing a lot more.
I generally tend not to notice things before an exam. With him, it was different. Something about the way he said hello, about the way he smiled, something, everything about him struck a chord within me, maybe moved me. It was at once both bizarre and beautiful.
He was quite old, probably in his fifties. His hair a combination of white and grey. He drove in a strange way, his back bent, hands firmly on the steering. A complete antithesis of what you would call a relaxed posture. In contrast with his body posture, his face was relaxed, the smile still there. That smile.
I couldn’t help observing all of it. I was just so fascinated by him.
In the area around my college, there was a lot of traffic. Knowing that I’ve got an exam, instead of getting stuck, he simply took another route.
I asked him which route we were taking. Not out of curiosity, but because I wanted make conversation with him. I had to.
During that conversation, as he was telling me all about the new route, his smile became wider. Seeing that, my smile became wider.
When we reached college, I told him that I’ll be back in the evening. I felt like saying more. I didn’t. He wished me luck.
On the way back, he was still smiling. There was just one short conversation, about the route once again.
When we reached home, I asked him how much money was due for his day’s work. It was his response that touched me, that hit me the hardest.
He told me to give him however much I felt he deserved. Here was a man who had to give half the money he earned to the agency for which he works. Here was a man who had no stable income to support his family. And he didn’t ask for the amount he was technically due. He asked for the amount his service for the day deserved.
Pretty emotional by this time, I gave him more than what his actual due was. At this time, the look on his eyes was beyond amazing. He looked so happy, it was unbelievable.
In that one moment, I realised that six hundred rupees could mean so much. But, I knew it was not because the money that he was smiling. It was because someone thought he deserved more than what he was due. I wish he knew I thought he deserved a hell of a lot more than what life had given him. I just wish.
That day, he taught me that one doesn’t need money to be happy, that one doesn’t need money or position to impact someone. He taught me that no matter how tough our lives are, it’s always possible to smile, and to make others around us smile. Much more, much better than any moral lesson or story ever can, ever will.
As he walked back, I smiled for I knew he would be coming the next day as well. The arrangement had been made for two days. I had another day to observe him, to learn from him.
The next day was pretty much the same as the one before. Just a bit more conversation. At one stage, I told him that I have not seen anyone who knows as many routes as he does. At that moment, he gleamed with pride. And then, as if he realised his pride was too evident, he tried to say, with a sense of modesty that anyone who drives for 15 odd years would have the same knowledge of routes. I knew he was lying. He knew that I knew he was lying. Small details. Intricacies.
While the day was quite similar to the one before, it was the night that was different. As I paid him, he smiled the same smile from the previous night. But, this time, I didn’t feel the same way. For, I knew he won’t come the next day. Or any day after that.
There was a strong sense of sadness I felt in that moment. The one that makes you go weak in the knees, the entire body. The heart.
While handing me the keys, he smiled and bid goodbye. As he walked back, in a hurried, mechanical manner, I went outside my house to take one look at him, to take one last look at him.
I may never see him again. But I will always remember him. For the world, he will just be a driver. For me, he will always be a teacher. My most unlikely teacher.
He came. And he went. Just like that.
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