Pai’s restaurant on the highway was always crowded with all tables occupied. Many keep standing for the tables to get vacant. The business was always brisk. Krishna Pai, the owner, who was sitting by the cash counter, noticed the 12 year old boy standing outside for a long time. He didn’t appear to have been drawn from poor family though there was a tired and hungry look. He never spoke to or approached any one. Curious to know why he was there, he asked a bearer to bring him in. Pai never forgot his boyhood days in humble circumstances and growing up to this level from working in a tea shop under a kindly Nair.
“I have seen you are standing outside for nearly three hours. Are you waiting for someone? Have you taken any food since morning?” Pai asked
“No Sir, I am not waiting for anyone. I don’t know where to go”
“Where is your house? Have you run away from there or what? “
The boy did not answer and tears trickled from his eyes.
“OK, take your food first and you can tell me later leisurely” Pai said and asked a bearer to take the boy inside and serve him a meal. After about 30 minutes, the bearer brought the boy before Pai. He took him to the office room and after much prodding he ferreted out boy’s circumstances.
Hari had lost his mother when he was seven and his father took another wife. His dad was a side kick to a second rung political leader doing all his dirty jobs. He had bad company and was always involved in scuffles, intimidation and extortion and was a hatchet man to the leader. Mostly under the influence of liquor, he was prone to fits of temper. The step mother did not take kindly to the boy. He was not allowed to attend school regularly and when his dad came home late at night she got him beaten on some pretext or the other. When his dad started kidnapping young kids for ransom and treated them badly, Hari protested. This enraged him and he beat the boy blue and had him locked in barn for three days. He was afraid to kick the boy out of the house as he knew the secrets.At the first opportunity, the boy escaped from his home. Some kindly truck driver on the highway dropped him near the restaurant.
“If you are willing, you can work here. You will get food and accommodation. If you roam around, you will fall in bad company. If you work hard and sincerely you can progress in life. Are you interested?”
When he nodded his head in affirmative, Pai told him in strict tone “If I find you dishonest or doing something hanky panky,I will throw you out mercilessly. Do remember that”
The boy was assigned two tables and he learnt his work fast. Being young he was energetic and nimble in service, he won the praise of the supervisor very soon. The customers who visited the hotel often spoke in praise of his speedy service and courteous behavior.Pai was happy but did not openly express his feelings.
It was one crowded day when the hotel was jam packed and lots of customers were standing waiting for vacant tables, Pai heard some commotion from one of the tables. There was a family of ten members on two tables waiting for 20 minutes for the bearer to appear. They lost the patience and started shouting. The supervisor rushed. They were Hari’s tables and the boy was not to be seen. The supervisor asked other bearers to take care of these tables and started searching for Hari.This had never happened. It was not his wont to leave the place of work without prior permission. Pai tasked some men to search for the boy.
After an hour when those unruly customers had left in their Innova vehicles, the boy was traced in the lumber room and brought before a concerned and angry Pai.
“You ungrateful wretch, you have shown your true trait. Why did you disappear? That was dereliction of duty at the busiest hour. You brought a bad name by the distasteful scene the customers created. I had warned you at the beginning. You are not wanted any more here. Pack your things and get lost” shouted Pai.
The boy stood dumb but sobbing inconsolably. This infuriated Pai further spoke angrily”Are you dumb? Why did you vanish when customers were there without telling the supervisor? Tell the reason and get lost”
When the boy remained quiet, Pai lost his temper and slapped the boy. It was then he spoke.”That was my dad with my step mom and his evil associates. If they had seen me, they would have taken me away and even killed me. There was no time to tell anyone. I was scared. You are my living God. I would not dream of doing anything to displease you. It was my fear of being caught by them”. He fell at Pai’s feet and clasped them tightly.
Pai instantly lifted the boy and hugged him tightly. He gently rubbed the boy’s cheek even as he remembered his humble roots and said wiping his own eyes “I was a fool in hastily judging you. That was rude of me. I feel sorry. I understand now your disappearance. I would have done the same thing.”