Hanging up my Boots
I would be gone before the clock tower would boom the completion of the hour, leaving the room to the ants and the termites. I surveyed the last remnants that lay derelict in the room – the castaways of the sojourn. Few sheets of papers – mostly hurriedly scribbled reminders of many a day, a pair of worn out Adidas shoes, and a couple of coat-hangers. These were the only things that I, despite my best efforts to be dispassionately decisive, was able discard as useless. Packing had been a painful exercise. Whenever I was faced with the situation of having to discard a particular object, I would really find myself at the horns of dilemma. I would immediately begin to nauseate myself with all the memories associated with the objects. And finally decide that I couldn’t do without it at all! Beneficiaries of these spasmodic moments of indecision were, among others, two rusted razors, bills of the cafeteria, movie stubs, railway tickets, key-chains, bottle caps, and even rupee coins and parchments that I had received from a special few! At the end of the packing ordeal, my heart had allowed me to leave behind only the aforesaid things. I surveyed the remnants one last time and was satisfied with the execution of my packing skills.
“Sir, when are you leaving the place?” It was the local sweeper. A gaunt person of average physical stature, he seemed to me the only and ubiquitous sweeper in the place. He seldom spoke a pleonastic syllable; in fact, if it occurred to him that a mere waggle of the head or a gesticulation of the hand would suffice, he exercised that option straightaway. I saw him idle as many times as I saw him speak. In fact, in that God-forsaken place where people cared only for the small money that they got in return for their work (actually the lack of it) and looked for more avenues to fleece the docile, I thought he was one of the few that worked punctiliously, bothering little about rewards.
“Sir, if you don’t have any use for them…” he was indicating the shoes that lay below the table. The shoes, which I had construed, at one point of time, as my ‘lucky shoes’. Faced with a painful decision to make, my eyes, by now tinted with some gratuitous nostalgia, scrutinised the pair once more. The neglected shoes lay tattered. Bereft of shape and torn at the toes. On a normal day, the first allegory to strike my mind would have been a dead monster – grotesque and mutilated in the battle; one that looks to have died after bellowing heart-rending cries – mouth open and tongue hanging out. But, as I told you, the lenses of my eyes were wearing a different tint today: one with shades of painful reminiscences and remorse. Every time I had worn the shoes for a cricket match, I had never returned to the pavilion without making at least a fifty. The only failure was, of course, the first match that I had played with them on. A first-ball duck. But good beginnings seldom end well. And miserable starts actually shape up quite well towards the end. The tale of the shoes was also in conformity with my self-constructed lemma. After the first blob, I never saw any more. Anyway, by now the shoes were now almost a part of me, after having been with me through my triumphs and tribulations for the whole of three and a half years. Every pore of the shoes now reeked of my sweat, my blood. Regardless of whether they had served me well or whether they had brought me good fortune, they had been a part and parcel of my lone stay through all these days. They were invaluable memorabilia in the most celebrated museum – my heart.
I shook myself out of this strangulating sentimental reverie. I felt quite ashamed of myself for three full seconds. When one departs from a system that one has been a part of for sometime, one really struggles to force oneself out of the inertia that the system has carried one into. In fact ounces of that inertia remain with you as lingering memories and habits. Even the most trivial things inflate themselves to gargantuan proportions and begin to bother you acutely. On a normal day, I would have disposed of these things without so much a second thought. But today, in a few seconds, I had crumbled like a house of cards. Shit. I felt abjectly disgusted with myself. One has to commend the verity of the universal truth that the retrospect view of things, in fact, sanctifies the whole canvas – the good patches and even the not so good. During parting we tend to retain with us only an Elysian view of things. All the unsavoury incidents and thoughts take a backseat. Even if they don’t, one looks at them in kinder light and approaches them with much more leniency. These are, without doubts, moments of weaknesses of the human mind and must be avoided as much as possible. I was not going to make a jackass of myself. I was not going to succumb to momentary pangs of insanity and bury all semblances of common sense.
There was nothing for me to feel heavy about, I assured myself as I saw him turn into the corner. I had done a good thing. After all, to me, the shoes were unusable, mere artefacts, mere glasses showcasing the yesterday; to him they were the currency for a meal tomorrow. In fact, I had noticed a momentary glint of anticipation and contentment in his eyes. I was doing the right thing, the humane thing. I would give him the other things too: more inanimate prisoners of my wildest caprices. I called out to him and began emptying the other things from my bag. I would dispose of them to him. After all, he was desperate for the stuff that henceforth will only be relegated to desuetude as mere adornments at some corner of my room. Even as he appeared within eyeshot, my eyes glimpsed at my shoes in his left hand.
… My shoes. My inanimate co-passengers in a stretch of my cruise that was touted to be my best. What if they were all mine. What if they had brought me luck. What if they had lived though with me for the past three and a half years. What if they reeked of me. What if they had been witnesses to my transformation from a diffident nobody to a confident and self-assured leader of men. What if they were my only floodgates to the portals of my golden years – my youth. What if they carried away a chunk of me…
I ran up to him, grabbed the shoes from his sinewy hand and instead slid a fifty-rupee note into the now empty right palm as some sort of compensation and ran back to my room clutching dearly to my shoes. In no position to match his stare and offer an explanation for my preposterous behaviour, I ran into my room, shutting myself in. The door closed on his shocked face that wore a gape, even as he stood paralysed by my inexplicable act of insanity …