The Gift

By-Shashank Reddy

Birthday. It is her birthday. The thought exploded in the man’s head as he walked slowly down the rain sodden street. A gift. Need to get a gift. He looked around at the steel shutters and iron barricades of what in a few hours would become glittering shops selling ribbons, balloons, bananas and food of all colours, size and taste. But for now, they were just steel shutters and iron barricades, wet with racing drops of water and warming themselves in the first rays of the early morning sun.

The man had stayed awake throughout the night. Not with any special work or due to a bout of insomnia. He just stayed awake. On a whim. The walk had started with a craving for some early breakfast. And then it went on for over an hour, its primary aim forgotten. The man kept walking, remembering how mornings looked. He passed by a bunch of carnations that lay on the road, crushed to death by some unknown vehicle. That is what reminded him. The Carnations. The birthday. And the need to get a gift.

The steel shutters and iron barricades stayed shut. Too early, he thought. Too early. Or too late. Should have been with her last night, at the stroke of midnight. Given her a gift. Instead, he did what? Lay on his bed and decide not to sleep. He can give her a gift now though.

The man kept walking in the general direction of her place. His head moving ever so slowly from right to left as he surveyed the town that seemed to spring up all around him. Life was just beginning to stir itself from the heady embrace of sleep. He moved slowly. He needed time. A bird flew overhead. Maybe a songbird would make a good gift? No point, he reminded himself. And songbirds did not exist in this part of the world.

Hoardings the size of his house began springing up all around him, enticing him to buy a phone, a car, a trip to Tunisia and a yearly savings account (highest interest rates guaranteed). All useless. Her place was coming closer.. A right, a left, a right and a left again. On the second right, he passed by a beautiful garden lovingly maintained by a tramp, who was currently asleep under a yellow rose bush, did a double take and came back to the garden. Flowers. What does a girl like more than flowers? Diamonds. But he could not buy diamonds. He could not even buy the flowers. Steal, the thought raced through his mind. Steal. But the tramp…steal…lovingly….steal….asleep….steal….moral…steal. He decided not to steal. Gently, he approached the tramp. Gently, he woke him up. The price for a flower, preferably a carnation? The tramp looked at him with pity. The price? The tramp shook his head. No price. Free. The man nodded, took of his watch and while dropping it in the tramp’s hand picked up a single carnation and walked away. The tramp went back to sleep.

Her place. As usual, her friends are all around her. He always got irritated with her friends and with her ability to change her friends circle at the drop of a hat. Though, to her credit, she had stuck with the present crop for a long time. He gently moved past them and stood at her feet. A sheepish apology. He gently placed the carnation on the dirt that had become a part of her, looked around at the thousands of stones that spread uniformly in every direction and sat down to talk to her. He knew she’d listen.

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