Saturday, November 22, 2003

T h e F o u r t h L a n e

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T h e F o u r t h L a n e

"Mommy, I want it"

"What ?"


"What ? ? ... Stop bugging and speak out"

"The toy"

"Shut up and get ready for school"

"But you promised to get it to me. Yesterday.."

"Listen, you little rascal. I would be happy to get it for you. But I told you. I dont have time. And they dont sell that thing anymore besides in that god forsaken shop. Why dont you just pick up something on the internet ?"

The old man turned uneasily over his bed, his sleep disturbed.

"And I have asked your grandad to pick it up. And here the lazy boy, he wouldn't leave the bed even for the sake of the pot. Now can you please shut up if that's making my life easy."

There was something about his daughter that sharply reminded him of his wife. The old lady had been dead for 5 years then, but he was still reminded of her, especially when in times like this.

He was brought back from the seniors' home. That was two months ago, when his daughter divorced her husband. It was an unhappy marriage, the third one in a row. But this was unlike her mother, he mused. Her mother had only one unhappy marriage.

He got up. And walked towards the little girl.

"Look darling, go to school. This evening, I promise I'll take you there"

So that evening, the old man walked out the house. This was after a long time, may be after two months, maybe even longer, he couldn't say. He was losing his memory.

They lived in a high rise building, on the sixth floor. His room overlooked the busy seventh avenue. And beyond into the far, he could faintly see the uptown. But he never had the occasion to walk outside.

The toy-shop was in the fourth lane, and it was a fair enough walk. He was not very sure if he could do that with ease. But he had the company of the little girl, and that kept him happy.

"Hmm.. darling. Do the little girls play with toys even now ? "

Whenever the grandpa asked her a question, the little girl always got confused. Her answer was always simple. But she got confused before she could answer.

"Yes grandpa"

"But how did you see that thing in the first place ? "

"Oh ! I found it with one of my friends after the school. She wouldn't give me. The bitch. But I found where she got it from ", the little girl giggled.

And where did she get it from ? The Old Buxons Toy Shop. That was an ancient establishment on the Fourth Lane. He heard about it, but he'd never been there. In fact, he never had anything to do with toys.

And rather, he never had anything to do with the Fourth Lane. Crossing the Fourth Lane, that never crossed his mind ! The solicitors' office that he used to work, that was not on the Fourth Lane. And his wife or his parents, they never lived on the Fourth Lane. And the occasional pub that he used to go to, that was not on the Fourth Lane.

Finally, they arrived at the place. The little girl led him inside.

With importance, she walked to the manager and spoke something. And the old man was pleasantly smiling, watching her.

"Oh, Young lady !! We do not keep that stuff anymore. I think the last one was sold out years ago. We are sorry "

"No sir. I believe somebody made a purchase just few weeks back. Please check again"

The old man was smiling.

One of the employees was overhearing the conversation, and he barged in, chuckling.

"Well dear ! You are right. There are some of them, lying here. But hidden somewhere. We do not know where to find them though.. Hmm.. But you can do one thing, you can make a call to the old lady who works here. She knows, but she comes only occasionally"

So the old man dialed up a number and waited.

"Hello. Who is speaking ?"

It was an odd voice, one that you find very rarely amongst people - one which has lots of happiness blended into it, and hearing which makes you smile even before you could notice.

"Well.. Here my grand-daughter is looking for a toy.. Thank you.. Yes she would be delighted ... Yes, it is so nice of you... I know.. these children.. Yes I will hand this over to Bob"

And then Bob was back with the toy in a few minutes. The old man picked up the phone again.

"Sir, I would have been happy to fetch it myself... Oh no. It is a pleasure.. I would love to see the darling.. It's so nice of you to walk all the way for this... Yes, say my Hi to her... Have a nice evening"

"Yes Ma'm. You are such a dear.. Have a good night"

And then, the tired old man and the delighted little girl came back home, both smiling.

The old man retired into his room, but something was not right. Yes, his closet was missing. With impotent anger and deep hurt, he walked into the main room.

"Right old boy. I had to empty that out. You dont need that stupid box anymore."

"But dear, all my dearest things are in there."

"Yes ! But stop sulking. Your past is as good as it is lying inside that trash"

So the old man walked to the trash, and picked up those totally unworthy things from his totally unworthy past ... that old notebook of law, that slightly broken baseball bat, that small wooden flute which he never learned how to play, and some random little things. And this old black coat which he wore till its own old age got it into the closet.

Instinctively, he felt inside its pockets. Nothing ! But inside the breast pocket, there was an envelope. It was dated forty years back. "These little things.. they just lie inside the breast pockets.", the old man chuckled. Then he found it was still sealed.

Startled, he opened it up.

"Dear young man
Yeah ! I am the little red haired girl on the commuter train, that you were so desperately trying to flirt with !! Yes, I still have that stupid caricature of mine that you drew. So what do you say about coffee this evening ? At the corner on the Fourth Lane ?"