Thursday, January 23, 2003

Appearance never equals reality - final part

“A pirate? On a ship?” gasped the boy.
“Yes. I know it sounds ghastly but I have refined now.”
“Oh! I’ll say.” The boy kept looking at him.
The old man lowered his face, raised his eyebrows, “you are free to leave me Dolan.”
There was a long silence. “Why did you tell me now?” asked the boy.
“I don’t know. I really don’t. I guess I will find out the answers along with you when we go to the hills tomorrow.”

That night the boy stayed awake. The cold wind did not help heal the wounds on his back. And in the mind every moment raised a hundred questions about the old man who had become a fatherly figure for him. Mind pondered whether to leave him or stay with him.

Late in the night the boy got up. He walked a few steps and turned to look at the old man. And after a while he turned around to leave.

“Goodbye Dolan. I will miss you,” said the old man in a soft voice.
“Err..umm.. I am not leaving. I just can’t seem to get any sleep”.

The old man didn’t say anything. After a while Dolan came and lied down next to him.

The sun was already up by the time Dolan woke up. He noticed that the old man had left. He got up and walked into the main roads of the town. The city was already abuzz with noise. Hunger pangs were competing with the wounds on his back. And suddenly he heard the familiar voice.

“Here have some bread. It’s been a while since we ate.” It was the old man.
“I thought you had left me.”
“Oh no. I won’t leave you; ever. I had gone to get something to eat.”
They both sat at the corner of the road and quietly ate their slice. There was an uneasy but forced calm between them.
“Are you ready to come with me to the hills?” asked the old man.
“I guess so. I have always trusted you and I always will.”
“Good. For our destiny’s about to change.”
“I don’t know why you say that, but I am willing to give it a try” a large smile splashed across the boy’s face.

Soon they were heading out of town. The old man walked in his customary steady pace while the boy would trot once a while to keep up with him. Much of the journey was covered in silence till they came to the bottom of the hills.

“Boy, from now on you have to go alone. I’m too old to climb this hill” said the old man.
“You want me to go alone? But... where? Why??”
“Listen to me boy and listen well. Follow the mud path till the end. When you get there, look around and you should find an old abandoned house, which I hope is still standing. Go inside that house and you will notice that the floor is tiled. Look for the fourth tile from the left and fourth tile from the top. You will notice that it is loose. Lift that tile and you will find something that can change our lives. Bring it to me.”
“Why don’t you come with me? We can travel slowly together.”
“No Dolan. From here on you go alone.”
The boy held the old man’s hand. “I’m afraid.”
“Go on. It will take you till the evening to do this errand. I shall wait here” assured the old man.

Dolan set out on his day adventure. The journey was tedious because the hill was steep though it did not appear so from far. He would stop to take rest once a while and look back to see if the old man was still there but after a while he was too far to make sure. And this made him walk faster towards the house that the old man had beckoned him to go. At some points he would hurry so much that he was literally jogging. Finally he came to the end of the mud road. He looked around to see if there was any old house but there weren’t any. Somehow the boy felt a sense of relief. He wanted to immediately turn back and be with the old man again. But somehow he checked his steps. He looked around again and further north in the dense trees he could see there was an old house which was barely standing.

With half a mind he started to walk towards it. The sun was hovering above him. The house had no doors and there were just gaps in places where windows should have been. The floors were tiled like the old man mentioned but many of them were missing. The boy searched for the exact tile the old man mentioned but that particular tile was also missing. He turned around realising the count might be from the other side. Fourth tile from the top, fourth tile from the left was intact yet wobbly. The boy tried to lift it but it was too heavy for him. So he squeezed a stick underneath it and put a stone to act as a lever.

The tile fell over. The boy looked into the hollow gullet. There lied a rotten wooden casket. Slowly but nervously he opened the casket, which was damp and covered with web. What he found left him flabbergasted. Rubies, gems, diamonds and stones worth several lives-earnings glimmered in the sunshine that sneaked in from the roof.

Dolan didn’t know what to do. He left the casket on the floor and ran out. He ran a few minutes down the road but stopped. He ran back to the house, picked up the casket and ran down the mud road again. And when his legs could no longer take the strain he would sit for a while catch his breath and briskly walk down. The sun was close to setting and he could see the long shadows of the trees stretching across the fields. He was happy. He would be with the old man soon.

When he reached the bottom he couldn’t find the old man. For a moment he checked himself to see he had not lost track. But he was sure that it was here that the old man said he would be waiting. Tears swelled in his eyes. He screamed for the old man but all he heard were distant echoes of his own voice. He ran further down the mud path but no matter which direction he turned all he found were reflections of the doubt within him – that the old man had left him for good.


Ten years went by. Dolan had become a strong, young gentleman. He was a proud owner of a fleet of ships that were bound for trade in distant parts of the world. He lived in a stately mansion and the word was that the King was going to announce him to be the collector.

Dolan stood looking outside his room window. Deep within he felt a sense of void. He had known the old man for only a few months but he knew that if it weren’t for him he would not be what he is. In the distance he saw an old man and a boy working in his garden and it bought him fond memories. And just as he was recalling his past the old man in the garden turned around.

Dolan’s eyes became watery. It was he. It was the same old man that had changed his fortunes. He jumped out of the window much to the surprise of the other workers. The old man stood beaming at Dolan.

Softly Dolan asked “Why? Why did you leave me all alone?”
“I didn’t. I have always been there for you. Its just that you didn’t know.”
Dolan hugged the old man. “Oh. I missed you so much. So very much.” He looked at him. “You haven’t changed. You are still the same charming person.”
“Dolan meet Bernard. He comes from a village nearby. He was lost just like you and he likes my company”. The little boy smiled at Dolan.
“Come with me both of you. You will no longer have to work hard. I shall take care of you.”
They all walked inside the manor.
“I can see that you have bought the manor that had once dishonoured you.”
“Oh yes. After the landlord died it didn’t take long for that young girl to squander her wealth” said Dolan.
They spent time and Dolan told the old man on all the adventures he has been through since he left him with the casket. The old man listened patiently and would often caution him with words of wisdom. And after a while there were a calm silence as cool air blew in from the windows.

“Dolan, I have to go” said the old man.
“But where? You are not going to leave me again?”
“I’m not leaving you Dolan. But my life is on the streets. Don’t stop me. And I am taking the boy with me as well.”
“But ...”
“No Dolan. This boy’s destiny, like how yours was, lies elsewhere. And I am going to help him find it.”

Dolan realised what the old man meant. With a heavy heart he gave a long hug to the old man. He took out the keys to the house and gave it to him. “Just to let you know, this house and along with all that is in it, is always yours. You are pleased to come and go whenever you choose.”

The old man pocketed the key and winked at him. He looked at the little boy and said, “Lets go Bernard. We have a lot of work to do.”

The little boy held on to the old man’s robe and walked. Half way down the hall he turned to look at Dolan.

“Don’t worry little one. You are in safe hands,” said Dolan reassuringly.

As they walked out Dolan realised that angels, elves and fairies are not storybook characters. Infact they were the people who live with and around us. They are the ones who stand by us through thick and thin and despite passage of time they will not forget us. They are the ones whose mere thought will always bring a wide smile.


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