I came home one evening and rang the bell to our apartment. Sudhi opened the door and smiled at me. Even before he could ask me how my day was, I told him, “I don’t want to be the one to go first.” He just stood there shocked out of his wits, not knowing what had hit him.
It was a very busy day in office, as usual. I was buried nose deep in work. It was only Wednesday and the weekend was nowhere in sight. I heard someone come into my cubicle. I didn’t want to deal with yet another cranky customer. I looked up with a tad bit of irritation. I saw an old man in his late sixties, standing before me. He was at least 6 feet tall. He was dressed in a light blue, long sleeved shirt and dark brown slacks. He had a full head of salt and pepper hair which was neatly combed back. He was slightly hunched over, possibly from old age. His light brown eyes held a twinkle in them when he smiled. I could see that he must have been a very good looking man in his youth. He smiled at me and wished me good morning. He had a very charming smile and I found myself smiling back at him despite all my previous irritation. He sat down in front of me and started talking to me in perfect English. He told me that he had been doing a quite few rounds of our office to get a small work done. I got the details from him and told him that I would get it done.
While I was pulling up the data to see what had gone wrong, he asked me, “I have never you seen you here before. Did you get transferred to this branch recently?” I told him, “I just got transferred to this office a few months back. Are you working, sir?” He told me, “I used to work in the Navy. I have retired now and moved back here.” I asked him, “You must have been to a lot of places then as part of your work.” With a rueful smile on his lips, he said, “Oh yes! I have travelled the world along with my wife. I used to be away at the sea for the most part of my career and she used to join me at times.” I found myself smiling at that and thinking how wonderful that must have been. By then, I had figured out what had gone wrong with his account. I told him that he just needed to sign a form and I would get it rectified in a day. He took the form from me and I went back to fixing the issue with his account. I looked up a little while later and saw that he was struggling to sign the form. His fingers were badly shaking. He was not even able to hold the pen properly. He looked at me with this helpless smile on his face and said, “I take these medicines in the morning. This is one of the side effects. It goes away after some time.” I told him gently, “I’ll keep these forms aside. You can sign it when you come in the next time. I’ll get your work done in the meanwhile.” He gave me a thankful look and said, “I would come back in a few days to get the passbook updated. I will sign this form then for sure.” I told him, “You can sign it any time you come to the branch. No hurry at all. Why don’t you take internet banking? Then you don’t have to come down to the branch to access your account statement.” He looked at me with sad smile and said, “My wife used to look after all these things. I used to be away most of the time. She took care of everything. I never had to bother about bank accounts or paying the bills or filing the tax return or managing our finances. She did all of that. She passed away a year back. I’m still learning how to do these things. I’m taking things one at a time. I just use the internet to check my mail. Maybe I can take the internet banking later. Is that ok?”
I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there and watched this wonderful, charming old man come apart in front of my eyes. His eyes didn’t have that twinkle now. He was looking at something in the distance and his eyes had this sad, wistful look in them. I didn’t trust myself to speak then. I had this huge lump in my throat. My vision was getting blurry with the tears welling up in them. I looked at the proud man sitting in front of me and I realized that I didn’t want him to see my tears. He would mistake it to be pity. So I blinked back my tears, put on my brightest smile and nodded. He smiled back at me, shook my hands and went away.
I couldn’t take him out of my head all day. My thoughts went back to him even while coming back home. I didn’t even open my book in the local that day. There was only one thing going on in my head. When the door opened, it stumbled off my lips, “I don’t want to be the one to go first.”