I was having a bad day. All kinds of weird and nasty stuff were spiraling through the cobwebs in my mind, making the neurons go where I did not want them to go. At the end of the day, I decided to go for a ride, to clear my mind. I also had a craving for pizza.
Where I live, Domino’s is one of the few places that does business until 11’ at night. I left on my thunderbird, and just as I was turning an intersection, a car jumped me, and needless to say, an ugly road rage incident followed. I continued my journey, but my already shaken nerves were standing on the edge.
Once I got there, I ordered a pizza and went out to light up a cigarette. I’m in the process of quitting. I don’t know why I said that. What happened in the intersection kept running over and over in my head. I’d used a few choice expletives that I am not proud of having used. But I was not satisfied. I started plotting an elaborate plan to seek revenge (It did not occur to me that I did not know who they were or how I was going to find them). And then I saw a civic drive down the road. It was the same make as the one I got into the tiff with. I stared through the windshield, trying to figure of if they were the offending parties. The car passed through, but I had had enough.
I went back into the restaurant, and began contemplating on how the situation would have gone differently, had I been driving a Hummer, instead of a gyro on two wheels. I could have just mowed them down, like so many ants.
I was so agitated I did not notice the little boy who’d come into the shop, perched in his father’s hands. I stared at him. He stared back. He wasn’t afraid. He was in his father’s arms. It was absurd, and I relaxed and smiled at him. He silently contemplated my smile for a few moments, weighing the pros and cons of smiling back. Finally satisfied, he smiled. It was a beatific smile, telling me – “relax jerk, you are not the ruler of the world. Let it go already. You are still in one piece arent’ you?” I think that’s what the smile meant. He could have been thinking about a baboon he once saw (We have a zoo here).
I felt calm. My hands stopped shaking, and I took a deep breath. He was right. I was still breathing through my nose, and no harm had been done.
The father placed an order and was getting ready to leave. I looked up at the kid. He had already lost interest in me, and was busy with his next muse. I felt like this was something I could write about. However, I needed that kid’s photo to complete the picture. On an impulse, I rushed out of the shop to find them, but the father had already got in his car and driven away. May be he’d asked for the food to be delivered to his home. I went back to the restaurant, and after collecting my thoughts, and my order, left the shop dejected. I’d completely forgotten about the ‘incident’. Now I was thinking about the kid and his smile. And what I would write. And why it would be incomplete. That’s when the car turned back into the parking lot.
I went up to the father and introduced myself, and asked if I could take a picture of him holding the kid. He was wary at first. He must have thought I was crazy. But then I overcame his objections with my striking personality. Not really. I ended up giving him my phone number and email-id, and also showed him my driving license and Voters Identity Card and Pan card. I can’t blame the man though. I’m grateful he even allowed me to take the photo in the first place. I’d forgotten to bring my phone along, and so I took the photo in the father’s phone. He assured me that he’d mail me the photo soon. He didn’t.
The roads were completely deserted on the ride back. It was just me and the high beam and the bad roads, with the pizza giving me company. Left to my own devices, I thought about the kid, and what was going through his mind. He had no cobwebs yet. As far as he was concerned, the only job in the whole world was to smile at strangers in the middle of the night, and tell them its’ all right. Everything was going to be just fine.
I got home and forgot all about the incident by the next morning. This was a few days ago. Today, I was checking my mail, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the father had sent the photo after all.
The kid’s name is Ethan, and the guy holding him is his suspicious father, Binu Alapatt. I didn’t have to try hard to get him to smile. I did not even ask him to.
He just did. And it was beautiful…