He left from office and started walking towards home. It was a long walk. He used to have a bicycle, but had to sell it two years back when his wife fell ill. She could not survive. Now sometimes he laughs at himself thinking “at least I could have saved the bicycle.” Now he avoids the road and takes a shortcut through fields. Apart from saving time, it also helped him avoid temptation of stopping at the tea shop on the road and save five rupees, four for a cup of tea and one for a beedi (tobacco rolled in tendu leaf). He has neither time nor means to get into such indulgence. He used to enjoy the walk when he started, looking at the fields, birds etc. But now he just walks mindlessly.
He had been saving for last two years to buy another bicycle. With one less mouth to feed, he had hoped to save the money faster, but he had underestimated the expenses, which were growing much faster in comparison to his growing children. He calculated in his mind, seven hundred rupees for school fees, eight hundred rupees for grocery and nine hundred for rent. That leaves around hundred rupees from his monthly salary. He should have saved something for contingency also, but in his salary any expenses apart from above three is contingency.
Today he would not be able to take the shortcut. He has been thinking about this since morning. He will have to buy shoes for his son today. He kept staring at the shop for a long time before entering it. It has been a long time since he has entered any shop except for the grocery shop around the corner. The shopkeeper gave him suspecting looks. He wanted to ask for the cheapest shoes available, but decided against it. A salesman approached him. He asked for canvas shoes. The salesman looked at him head to toe before coming back with a pair of shoes. It has been sometime since he had held anything new in his hands. He mustered up his courage and asked for price. “Six hundred rupees” the salesman said. His heart sank. This was way more than he had planned for. Against his self-respect, he requested for a cheaper pair. The salesman understood and came back with the cheapest pair. “Four hundred rupees” the salesman said and this time he did not offer him to hold the shoes. He wanted to ask for a discount but decided otherwise because he wanted this anguish to end. He quickly calculated. These shoes meant that he will have to walk through the fields for four more months. He paid, collected the shoes and hurried out of the shop.
Now that the bicycle was at least four months away, he stopped at the tea shop today. He relished the tea and the beedi while it lasted. He observed the passers-by. It was much like his life, which had stopped while everything else was moving fast. It was now getting dark. He slowly walked towards the house.
He smiled when he handed over the shoes to his son. His son looked at him, first without feelings and then with exasperation and repulsion. “How many times I have told you Dad?” his son said. It was as if somebody had jolted him out of a dream. “It was twenty five years back. How many times will you buy these shoes for me? Did you forget to take your meds?” his son shouted. He did not say anything, just quietly walked out of the room. His son kept the shoes along with fifty odd other identical pairs.