Image Credit – sarayu P on Pexels.com

“How old are you,” asked the old, bearded man to a young boy roaming alone in the market.

The boy taken aback by this unexpected inquiry stretched his eyebrows; he was scanning the marketplace, his eyes especially stuck on the hot jalebis, when this sudden question popped out of nowhere.

“ummmm, aaaaaa,” he hesitated, using the fillers to prepare his response while mentally calculating when he was born and how many years have passed since.

“92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99,” he continued in his head as a smile finally occupied his innocent face.

“8,” he replied before adding,

“And I will be 9 very soon.”

“Great, but you look much younger,” the man replied, dampening the boy’s excitement.

“Not a day older than 6,” he added and enjoyed gazing at the confused expressions on his demure face keen to portray much more experience than it actually had of this world.

“But I will be nine very soon,” he persisted, speaking a little louder, the emphatic voice meant to prove and support his earlier statement about his age.

The man nodded his head with a subtle smile, aware of what the child was trying to do, while he enjoyed his little game with the youngster.

“Great, nine is pretty old, huh,” he remarked, with subtle mocking sarcasm.

“Yes, and I will hit it in a few months,” the child replied unaware of what the man was doing with him.

“In August, I will be nine,” he added, still counting something on his little fingers.

“I saw you staring at the sweets.”

The child taken aback took some quick breaths before looking down and then turning his eyes around the market, he didn’t answer the question though.

“That shop is owned by my brother, a cousin, if you like sweets, I can get you some.”

The boy remained quiet, ruminating on the offer.  He put his hands inside the pocket and felt the number of coins he had up there. 

It held two 50 paise and one, 1 rupee coin, which he had saved after walking back home, instead of taking a rickshaw.

“I got the money,” he replied hesitatingly.

“How much?”

He retrieved the coins from his pocket to place them on his palms and showed them to the man.

The man stared at the 3 coins, then looked up at the child’s face, which was now beaming with pride. 

With a large smile now plastered all over his face, he began speaking again.  “This looks enough to get you the jalebis and maybe even a few candies.”

The man’s reply brought an immediate loud sparkle in the child’s eyes as he stared at him ready to run towards the shop now.

“Let me accompany you and help you get some discount,” he offered, as the child responded with a vigorous nod of his head.

“Give the young man some jalebis and this chocolate,” he asked, while blinking his eyes and staring at the owner who was almost as old as him.

“Do you have the money,” the shop owner asked, his eyes now staring at the tiny palms of the child holding the three coins.

“Yes,” he replied and placed the three coins on the counter in front of him.

The old man accompanying the child quietly placed a five-rupee coin along with what was already placed by the little one, while ensuring the child doesn’t see it.

The shop owner realized what the old man did, smiled, and dragged the money onto his palms, while offering a poker face to the child, who was still staring at the sweets, and the old man, alternately.

“Here it is,” the shop owner announced, handing over the brown paper bag with four large jalebis and a bar of chocolate in his hands.

The child’s face broke into a large smile; the fresh aroma of the sweets engulfed his senses as he thought about how he would share the treat with his little sister.

Happy and feeling lucky to have got much more than he expected, he thought of leaving the place immediately, lest the shop owner changes his mind.

“Thank you,” he shouted out aloud, after passing a quick glance towards the shop owner and the old man, before running towards the road and slowly disappearing in the crowd.

“Do you know him,” asked the shop owner.

The old man nodded his head.

“Maybe,” he replied.

“We all are connected after all,” he replied philosophically and ended his sentence with a smile.

The shop owner nodded as another customer walked inside and asked for 5 kgs of sweets.

“Are they fresh?”

The customer wanted to confirm.

“As fresh as this,” the shop owner replied, pulling out a freshly fried jalebi from the sugar syrup.

“There is a function at home,” the customer clarified.

“Don’t worry, people will now remember your function because of these jalebis,” the shop owner replied with confidence as the old man began walking out of the shop.

“Here, at least take a bite,” the shop owner offered.

The old man turned around, smiled, and waved his hand.

His eyes were still searching for the little boy in that small market.

“Maybe I will see him tomorrow,” he thought.

“He lost his son when he was 8,” the shop owner, remarked, while weighing the jalebis for the customer, who casually nodded his head, least interested in the story.

The shop owner, though, involuntarily paused for a moment, the picture of the young boy and the old man, suddenly flashed in his mind as he glanced at the old man. 

He was now walking on the long empty road, leading back home.


6 thoughts on “Jalebi

  1. A very beautiful story, Deepak. The wanting for what will never be can often be put to kind and good use. The boy may have walked away with the sweets but the old man received the greatest gift – sweet satisfaction and fulfillment. Well written!

    Liked by 1 person

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