By- Ajay Patri
Another delay. I was getting tired of these delays. I had already missed my meeting and couldn’t wait to just get back home. I had been working without sleep for thirty two hours now and was desperate to get into my bed. I dragged myself to the cafe in the airport lounge, lugging my lone bag with me. I bought my sixth cup of coffee in the last three hours and walked around trying to find an empty place to sit. The place was crowded with grumpy people whose flights were delayed. Everyone looked tired and harried and sullen. I walked slowly; there was no hurry. I was stranded here for another two hours.
Then out of the blue I saw a strange sight. An empty place but it was the person sitting at the same table who presented a curious sight. There was a pair of boots on the table in front of the man. They were an old pair; there was no doubt about that, they looked like they had gone out of fashion ages ago. They were well maintained however, with not a speck of dust on them. They were of a smooth black complexion, with yellow stitching that made them look all the more prominent. I made a beeline for the table, attracted by the boots. The man sitting at the table saw me and motioned me to sit. I took his cue and took a seat opposite him.
He looked pretty old, around seventy at the least. His thinning grey hair contrasted with his dark beady eyes that seemed to be shining. He was wearing a white shirt with a woollen tartan sweater that seemed a few sizes too big for him. There was nothing on the table in front of him except the pair of boots and a cup of coffee.
I took a sip, waited for him to say something but he just sat there doing nothing, not even touching his coffee. Finally, the curiosity got the better of me and I volunteered.
Dumb question. Especially when I was staring at his boots when I asked it.
‘No. My flight leaves soon. Just biding the time.’ He gave me an enigmatic smile. His voice was crisp and clear.
‘Ah. Ok.’ A dumb reply from me, given that I was still looking at his boots.
‘You can just ask it, you know.’ His smile widened.
My face flushed. Lack of sleep makes you socially inept; I was experiencing it firsthand.
‘Well’, I chose my words carefully, ‘The sight of a pair of boots on the table is a bit surprising, I must say.’ I smiled back sheepishly.
‘Not any pair of boots, young man. These are some of the best boots ever invented by mankind. And some of the very first as well, you know.’
‘Oh.’ That still didn’t answer my question, I thought but kept quiet.
‘These are one of the very first Doc Martens ever to be sold. Back during the War. My old man paid a fortune for these.’
Now it was a little confusing. Which war was the old man referring to? And what did that have anything to do with keeping the boots on a table beside a cup of coffee in a crowded cafe of an even more crowded airport. Maybe he was just an eccentric old timer, something which I should have guessed when I saw him in the first place. Now I was stuck here, trying to comprehend what he was telling me, without much success. The man continued.
‘My father gave me these when I was twenty four years of age. They have been with me ever since, you know. Not many people appreciate fourteen-eye models of boots anymore. I have heard people say they are too big but they fail to see how magnificent they are. They are nearly a hundred years old, can you believe that?’
‘They are very well maintained, I must say.’ I nodded my head.
‘Aye, they are. Boots as fine as these are meant for walking around in. I have no intention of wasting them away by wearing them when I am just sitting around and doing nothing. What do you think?’
I was surprised at being asked to voice an opinion. He was looking at me inquiringly and I surmised it was not meant to be a rhetorical question. I wondered what exactly he wanted me to say. Keeping your boots on the table because you thought they were too good to be worn while just sitting seemed a rather stupid thing to do. But maybe he was not asking my opinion but merely asking me to endorse his view.
‘I honestly don’t know. I guess they are your boots aren’t they? So you are free to do as you please. It’s a free country, after all.’ I smiled, trying to gauge how convincing my reply was. He leaned back in his chair and sighed.
‘A free country indeed.’
An uncomfortable silence developed after this. I expected him to start speaking again but he seemed lost in thought and kept looking at the pair of boots on the table. I took a few tentative sips of my own coffee and observed the boots as well. They were magnificent, as he had said. Thick latex soles, smooth texture and the glinting yellow stitching all went towards making them look a seamless whole. A piece of art lying on the cold stainless steel table top in an airport that was filled with stainless steel objects. In a bizarre manner, I could see what he was trying to signify.
My thoughts were interrupted by the voice of an airport attendant who addressed the old man.
‘Sir, We got it fixed. We are really sorry for the inconvenience.’
I looked around to see what he was referring to and saw a gleaming stainless steel wheelchair.