The temple was very crowded as it was a festival day. Long serpentine queues that extended to the main road moved slowly. Vendors were busy selling ground nuts, fruits and cool drinks to the tired devotees waiting in the queue. They were all decked in fine clothes and had bamboo plates in their hands with coconut, betel leaves, plantains, camphor and flowers. The children were making noise and playing around their parents legs.
Ratnam was watching vacantly at the people from a distance and was not interested in joining the queue. His immediate concern was to fill his stomach. He had not eaten anything since the previous day morning except for pieces from coconuts broken before Vinayak at the temple. He lost his small job two months back when he fell sick with jaundice. Except for five rupees in his pocket, nothing remained of the small amount paid as arrear wages. One hardly gets anything these days for five rupees and he did not want to spend his last possession on food. He hoped that prasad may be distributed at the temple or some devotees may feed the poor. He was waiting patiently and helplessly with hunger gnawing at the stomach. Luckily there was shade over the bench and he stretched himself. He found the pangs of hunger less in horizontal position and soon was asleep.
Suddenly he woke up with a start when someone tugged at his shirt. Involuntarily he felt for the five rupee note in his pocket. He turned when he heard a voice" mama (uncle) will you play with me?" It was from a little girl of five. She must be from well to do family as she had gold rings on her ears and a small chain. She had evidently strayed away from her parents.Worried he asked her “Where are your parents?”
“They are lost” she said so innocently, he could not but smile.
“Come on. Let us search for them again” he said
“No, my legs are paining. I have tried. They are not seen anywhere. I am thirsty” she said. On seeing an ice cream vendor, she wanted one ice candy. He got her one giving away the last five rupees to the vendor. The girl was sipping happily with a twinkle in her eyes watching the elephant sway its trunk.
“What is the name of your daddy? Do you know where you live?” he asked
“Here, see this” she pulled out a paper with the address from her pocket. Thank god, he thought, the parents at least had foresight if not care in safely escorting the child. The house was not far away, may be a kilometer away.
He took her in his arms and started walking towards the exit when he felt curious eyes looking at the well dressed child in the arms of shabbily clad man. He did not mind for his immediate concern was to entrust the kid at her home safely. He hailed an auto and gave him the address.
The driver suspiciously asked “Whose child is this?”
“The girl was lost in crowd and came to me crying. I found the address in her pocket. I thought of leaving her at her house. Being a girl child, it is not safe to leave her like that in the temple grounds” he replied
“You could have given her to police”
“True, that thought occurred. Since the address is there, I felt it is better to leave her in her house. If no one is there, we will leave her at the police station. I am glad you asked me”
The girl was safely entrusted to her grandmother with her parents away searching for her. The old woman asked him to wait but he declined.
Ratnam said to auto driver “I am sorry I have no money to pay you except this wristwatch, my sole possession, in lieu.”
“It is ok.You keep it with yourself. Can you drive a two wheeler? I can then find an auto for you to drive daily and earn your living” the driver replied
Two days later a policeman came to the auto driver in search of Ratnam telling that a reward was awaiting him at the girl’s house.