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The unrelenting army of angry raindrops attacked the windows, sounding like stones being pelted at the sturdy panes of glass. The misty fog that had settled down well below on the ground obfuscated the entire view beyond. The periodic warning of the thunder shook the porcelain plates on the shelves to some extent. The weather froze the entire arena, painting a picture of a heavy downpour in the middle of winter. The aged windows, part of even older wooden walls, and elderly doors, altogether enclosed a family of three: a man, his wife, and their son. The dried bunch of brown roses in the vase owned a strong resemblance with their living, and, moreover, defined their existence with an untold expression of piercing agony. The elegantly-carved wooden clock adorned the wall. A bronze-embellished miniature statue of an aggrieved angel sat at the corner of the mantelpiece. Dusty cobwebs added beauty to its years. Ancient books of a bare count stood obliquely, in a posture depicting that they would fall flat the very moment. Spiders of all sorts had brought out their artistic talent throughout the length of the house, giving it the costume of an excavated museum. Giant waves of thoughts flooded his mind, as the man stood leaning against the wall of the living room, looking out the uncleaned windows. Obviously, he was struggling to hold back his overwhelming thoughts within the territories.
Solomon Maxwell, was a cobbler, by profession; a thinker, by instinct; a laborious worker, by habit; an eternal roof, as a husband; a caring, loving, responsible father; a coin of sour misfortune in the game of circumstances. His wife, Madison, was a portrait of penury. Yet, a smile she bore that lit the doomed sky; a smile that provoked hope even in the darkest of times. The affection with which they underwent the burdens of life, hand in hand, was like an immovable layer of rocks standing alone amidst the sea, patiently tolerating all the massive waves being thrown upon them. But, as steady with a firm heart as always. Together, they provided a so-called comfortable life for their son, Richard. The child waded through the river in the direction it flew. Nothing that the seedling could do of considerable help than to understand the situation of his family. Richard stood beside Abraham, quiet as a flame of fire, his eyes like that of a curious lion cub. Madison stormed in, soaked wet, clothes in her hand.
“The rain is heavy. You better not work today,” said she, gazing at Solomon, then laid the clothes on the chair nearby. Solomon turned away from the windows, solemnly.
“Yes. No business on a day like this,” came the reply, as he calmly turned to face the foggy outside once again.
“What if someone comes today, father?” questioned Richard, looking earnestly at Solomon, shivering. The fireplace was as cold as the moist twigs outside.
“Then, gentlemen would have to ride boats to get their boots mended. Look at the pour of rain,” smiling, he pointed towards the exterior, holding the little shoulder of Richard with one hand, and was reciprocated by an innocent grin in return. It was all what Solomon needed.
A few hours passed before the rains decided to cease. Solomon’s mind was fluctuating.
“The right moment to leave,” he resolved, at the end. Richard had been coughing painfully for the past one hour.
“Here, have some water,” said Madison, bringing a cup of water to his lips. Richard resisted her hand, protesting that he wanted it boiled.
“Let us boil it. For now, have this,” she said, quietly, offering her son with a loveable smile. Fate pursed her lips from uttering one word further.
Solomon unhooked his patched cloak that hung on the rusted hook on the wall.
“The umbrella,” he told himself, “where is it?” He rushed to the closet, and threw it open. The black umbrella was seated right before his eyes. He carefully pulled it out, mindful not to disturb the other things piled over it.
“Will be back, Madison. Take care of Richard. Take care of your health, will you not, little warrior?” asked he, kissing his son on his forehead. He quickly realized that it was burning.
“Yes, father. Come home soon,” replied Richard, and went into bouts of cough just as soon.
Solomon eyed him with pain. Every cough seemed to tug at his heart mercilessly. He stood rooted to the spot, looking at his sick son with unblinking eyes. Madison walked towards him.
“That is alright. A mild fever, that is all it is. Worry not, I will take care of him. You have to leave for work. The skies are still cloudy. It might rain any good time,” she urged him, holding his right arm.
The roads were wet. The trees seemed a bright, lush green all of a sudden, who had enjoyed the showers more than anyone could possibly have. But, colours appeared to be faded tones. The world failed to provide the poor with the cheerfulness they ought to be rightfully offered. Justice to one, is invidious to the other. But, injustice in the name of justice? Thoughts swam across his mind, and landed on Madison, Richard.
“What could I have done without her? The only soul that has stood by me to bear my burdens along with me, complaining not for even a moment,” he thought, raising his head, facing the clogged sky. “This is where it all ends. Where everything ends. A wealthy millionaire, you have everything surplus. The stage where many exploit you to get their incomplete lives filled to the brim, and get them overflowing. A penniless pauper, you stitch shoes, get rebuked by the rich, ineligible rakes, who possess absolutely nothing in life, save for coins and notes. None for help within reach. Society itself is a gamble. What have I given Madison? More misery every day. Hands that ought to wear silk gloves, get soaked washing clothes and stew pans all day. Richard. A boy who grows up a hermit, witnessing worldly treasures only in his dreams.” A sad smile crept into his face, as his boots splashed a puddle of stagnant water. What meaning the grave smile held, none could have ever guessed.
Drizzling was the place, when Solomon was crossing the Winterlight Inn, the best cauldron in the area. Little did he guess that he would meet someone he least wished to.
Oliver. Wearing the cheeky grin on his face all the time.
“Not now,” thought Solomon, struggling to pretend his best that he never noticed anyone. Unfortunately, situations nodded in the negative.
“Hello, Solomon! Has been a really long time, friend,” cried Oliver, rising up from the chair at the inn. He sprinted towards Solomon, like a kid returning home for Christmas, from a boarding school. Solomon quickly pencilled a dry smile on his face, as was decorum.
“Yes. You look glum, partner. Anything disturbs you? I guess not. Of course, wild whales fall at the feet of the mighty Solomon,” announced Oliver, followed by his usual tags of sarcastic laughter.
Solomon swallowed the crimson irony which Oliver had just killed him with.
“Illusionary roots of wealth gives indignity the upper hand,” Solomon muttered under his breath, looking away into the distance, leaving Oliver to wonder what he mumbled.
“I would love to buy you a coffee. But, at present, I am going under hard times. My dog, Colbert, you remember him? Yes, you should. Well, he is sick. He demands a huge expense from my pockets. Next time, friend. I promise you. Forgive me,” said Oliver.
“Never mind. A cup of coffee is no problem to me. I just had a steaming cup of hot coffee at home, before leaving. I think you should better return to the table, before your coffee in that cup turns cold. Besides, I should hurry,” saying this, Solomon turned his way.
“Meet you, Solomon,” Oliver yelled after him. Not turning back, Solomon casually lifted his left hand, throwing his token of farewell.
“This Oliver. Your dog is sick, eh? The dog has made you a pauper? What an act! Money defines the best of him, toady. He who had waited to borrow from me. Times have changed. So have humans. Still, eternity has never completely failed me. My loving family. In that case, I am the most fortunate,” smiled Solomon, with tear-filled eyes. He gazed at the blue mountains in the distance. They seemed to call out to him that there was a long way to go before jumping to baseless conclusions. The depth of the thought filled his lungs with a healthy pump of freshness. The dewy grass signified that hope was always to be found on land, whatever be the crisis.
At the workplace, Solomon initiated his routine by starting with the shoes of the toddlers. They brought back to him the days of early fatherhood. Of Richard. Of the times he took his son to the park, and taught him to waddle with his little feet, on the young grass. Of days he let Richard play with the children from affluent backgrounds. Of an era he could buy anything instantly to put a smile on the face of his heir. Of an age that presently seemed impossible. Dominated by memories, Solomon resumed sewing the torn stitch of the diminutive shoe, wondering in what sort of shoes Richard would tread on after his poor father.
At home, Madison stepped into the room with a Chinese white bowl of boiling soup, placed on a tray for support. She cautiously placed it at the edge of the bed, beside Richard, who was lying down after having coughed incessantly for a long time. She smiled through her blue eyes.
“Here, let me help you,” said she, helping him sit up on the bed. She gently cleared off the hair falling on his steaming forehead.
“Mother, when will I recover?” whimpered Richard, his voice trailing off.
“Soon, dear. I am here with you,” Madison said, looking at him with loving eyes. “The soup will make you feel better. Come, have some, my baby boy.”
She blew the hot vapour from the spoon of the soup, and fed him. Richard swallowed it. Just as soon, the poor, hungry thing asked for more. He finished up the bowl in no minute, and asked for a cup of water. After sipping a gulp of water, Richard said, “Mother, all the boys in our street have a rocking horse. They dress up like gauchos, and play horse-riding. Very interesting it is, you know, mother, with the loops and the cowboy hats. I want a rocking horse. Like Stefan’s. It has shiny red belts tied around its neck. It is huge, and it looks like a real baby horse.”
His eyes widened with the happiness of the memory.
“Baby horse? Ha! Ha! It is known as foal, not baby horse. It is enlivening to watch you speak again, Richard, my boy. Now, now, lie down. You need to take some rest,” said Madison, adjusting the bedding. She lifted the silver tray with the empty bowl, and the spoon, and turned to leave the bedroom.
“Mother, will you buy me a rocking horse?”
Madison stopped at the door. She hesitated before turning to face Richard. Eyes swollen, all she could utter was, “Sure.” She wasted no time in fleeing the place. Still, not able to flee from the situation at any cost.
A sharp knock at the front door.
A short pause.
More impatient knocking.
“Coming, coming,” announced Madison, as she stormed to get the door, though her soft voice would not be heard by anyone on the other side of the door. The door was opened. A short, stout man with an umbrella, had just raised his hand to knock again.
“Mrs Maxwell,” he sneered, “ Where is Solomon? That wretched maker of false promises. Never a keeper. Where is he? Where is that son of lies? Where are you, you coward?” cried the man, his face reddened with wrath.
“Better mind your words, respected sir. Mr Solomon is not home. It is indeed a disgrace to come shouting at a woman when the rightful owner of the family is not at home. If you wish to have a personal conversation with him, I kindly request you to present yourself at the right moment,” snapped back Madison, eyes glaring with rage. Richard had leapt out of bed due to the sudden outburst of loud voices and commotion, clutching his mother’s dress tautly.
“Eh?” retorted the man, frowning. “Such arrogance. Pay up your rent, and speak then. Only then, wife of Maxwell.”
“Money makes you speak today. Manners make us live every day. Not having paid the rent does not curb our dignity. Millionaire or billionaire, you still have no right to disrespect us.”
“Well, the sole reason I let you three go for this long was the fact that you have earned the reputation of a good family in the neighbourhood. In the society. But, I am beginning to doubt it. Three days. Three days. Tell that husband of yours, eh? Tell him that his countdown has already begun,” he yelled, as he closed the gate behind him. “Tell that Solomon that he has three days to decide his survival in my place.”
Madison crumbled down weeping piteously, closing the door.
“How much humiliation... Good Lord, how much humiliation do we have to tolerate further?” she sobbed, tears rolling down her cheeks in endless streams.
“Why us? Why us? Do you have to test our survival like this? Are you not contented with what you have so far given? Is that not enough?”
Richard was devastated. He tried his best to console her.
“Mother! Mother, don’t cry. Mother, please, don’t. Mother,” Richard swelled with tears. He cried, watching his mother weeping for a reason unknown to him. But, he did know that it was the man who was the cause for his mother’s tears.
Cupping his little fingers in her hands, Madison cried, “Take care of your father, Richard. Take good care of him. He has received all that he never deserved. He is such an unfortunate man. Look after him, will you?”
She wept pathetically, pressing her bosom with pain. She then earnestly peered into his innocent eyes, yearning for a word of hope. Richard curled his tiny arms around her neck, and spoke softly, “I will take utmost care of you and father. I promise, mother.” He cuddled into her arms.
Solomon set aside his leather shears for a split second of time. Totally unaware of what was happening at home, he fell upon the dreaded fact that the landlord would pay one of his untamed visits anytime then. Poor Solomon never imagined that the short man had already shattered his household minutes before. If the rent was not paid within any given deadlines, that would land his entire family on the streets, which is the least of all things he imagined. His unsteady mind was oscillating, when his golden memory dashed on his long-forgotten savings. Not that it was a panacea, of course, but, for the time, a pain-relieving medicine.
“Ah! I kept it there,” he said to himself, remembering where he kept it in the house. “How did I forget it? How could I be so forgetful? I have to buy medicines for Richard. Poor boy. No, no, today’s collections would do for that. The savings, really,” he laughed to himself, “How did I forget it?”
The clouds were planning for a catastrophic war again. Solomon thought it would be best to run home with the medicines for Richard. He headed straight for Mr Simon’s, the elderly chemist, who has been curing the diseases of at least three generations. He sat patiently on his wooden armchair, wearing his round-rimmed glasses, working his hands on magic, as is what seemed to the customers. When he noticed Solomon approaching his lonely store, he got up from his chair with much effort, and walked towards the counter, bearing a wide smile on his face, that flowed throughout the length of the wrinkles present. His grey eyes illumined like twinkling stars in the dark sky.
“Solomon! My lad! How are you, child? Where have you been all this time? Have no time to pay this old man a visit, eh?” Simon asked, his voice quivering with age and experience. Solomon laughed.
“I am sorry, Simon. You know what I am. What I am in the midst of. My sincere apologies, once again,” replied Solomon, with a solemn face.
It was beginning to drizzle at a faster rate.
“Ah! You take things way too seriously, eh? Of course, I know you very well, lad. Oh, oh, it is raining. You better... No, no, I forgot that. What brings you here? You look worn out. Tell me, what is the problem with you? Running a high temperature, eh?”
Solomon turned to look at the shabby drizzle of the rain.
“I have come here for Richard. The rains have given him a perfect cold.”
“Poor lad,” sighed Simon. “Wait. I have just the thing for him. Let me get you an instant cure,” saying this, Simon walked shakily up to the dusty racks of containers, mumbling to himself with great zeal and enthusiasm. He brought back a silver-coated cylindrical box.
“Besides, severe coughing as well. He nearly coughed his throat off this morning,” added Solomon.
“Yes, yes. Everything. This is the cure for everything of that kind,” said he, emptying a tiny bowl of the enigmatic powder into a little, green silk pouch. He then tied its mouth with a thick twine. Solomon was quickly awestruck by the speed with which the old man performed his sincere work. His agile fingers worked feverishly to finish its spectacular performance. He held out the silk pouch to his customer.
“How much does it cost, Simon?” queried Solomon, digging deep into his pockets for the money that has to be given.
“What sort of a question do you ask me, Solomon? It costs nothing. Take it,” stated Simon, not looking at Solomon’s face.
“Would you not get it if it was from your father?”
Interpreting Simon’s steely resolve, Solomon received it, emitting words of silence.
“There! That is good,” Simon said.
“Thank you, Simon.”
“You are welcome anytime, son,” said he, smiling with care. “Everything in life is an illusion, lad. Now, why am I wasting your time? That is terribly wrong of me. Better hurry. Make Richard swallow the medicine. Mind you, it is quite bitter. Add some water. Now, run home. Go, go.”
Solomon hastily spread his umbrella, and walked into the rain. He was breaking his head to decipher what Simon could have meant by quoting that everything in life is an illusion. Obviously, as he himself very well knew, he was referring to worldly treasures. It was quite some time before he slowly realised that his umbrella was dominated by holes.
“Even my umbrella?” Solomon laughed, as he sped homeward.
It was late noon. Madison sat in the wooden chair, her head leaning against one side of the chair for support, tears dripping from her eyes every now and then. Richard sat at her knees, resting his head on her lap. Madison gently kept stroking his fine, blonde hair. Richard raised his head.
“When will father come home?”
He laid down his head again. Still, he was not convinced. Something pricked him from the inside.
“Father could start a big store, so he could earn much more,” suggested the little mind, trying his best to paste into the situation.
“Never worry about that, sweet bird. We will take care of those,” she whispered, tearfully.
Silence prevailed for the next few minutes.
On hearing his name being called, Richard lifted his head like a little kitten, looking at his mother’s face.
“Don’t tell father what happened today, will you?”
“Why not, mother?”
“Trust me. I will talk about this to him later. Understood, Richard?”
Just then, there was a sharp knock at the door. Madison quickly wiped off the tears from her face. Richard fled to get the door, saying, “That should be father.”
It was, of course, none other than Solomon.
“Father! You are finally home!” cried Richard, running into his open arms, hugging him tight, refusing to ease down. Madison smiled. She perceived an inner strength creep into her.
“How long has it been since we parted? Four decades, huh? Oh, Richard, you greet me like I return from a war,” said Solomon, holding his son to his chest, cuddling him like a doll.
“Well, it does seem like a war,” his tone fell. Solomon flashed a look at Madison. Her smile vanished instantly, as she lowered her eyes, swallowing hard. Enough signs to show that a hurricane had caused a calamity; left a scar. He silently stood up, produced the little silk pouch from the pocket of his outer coat, and dictated instructions to Madison. He then carefully folded the umbrella.
Richard was busy meddling with the sealed wooden box at one corner of the house. He was resolved to find out what that thing held.
Solomon took cautious steps towards his wife. “What happened?”
The tone of his voice pierced right through her fragile heart, making it beat out of control. She could survive this no longer. She fell weeping into his arms. Solomon sighed heavily. He spoke softly into her ears, “That is alright. Tell me, what did he say?”
Madison raised her tear-stricken face in astonishment; dumbstruck.
“All what I presumed. Tender hearts speak out. Now, enough of this. I was going to have you listen about the savings,” said Solomon, no trace of disturbance on his face.
In the meantime, Richard was lost into a world of his own, screened by curiosity.
“Feed him the medicine,” said Solomon, eyes fixed on his son.
Rains danced on the ground to the rhythmic notes of the falling raindrops. Solomon occupied his usual position near the windows, as he stood staring at the outer world.
“Father?” came a voice, as sweet as nectar. Solomon immediately turned in its direction.
“There you are, you little mouse. How do you feel now?”
“Loads better, father.”
Solomon lifted him in his arms.
“Richard, listen to me. This is important. You know, it is always essential to help people. People of all sorts, irrespective of any differences. You understand? But, when that someone does not come in for service when you are in need of a hand to lift you out from the dreadful pit, forget it. Rather than awaiting the hand, build yourself a ladder to climb out. It is a selfish, greedy world out there. Nobody wishes to help. Learn to help yourself. I have helped a lot of people, even saved a family from a life-threatening crisis. We can never expect them to remember our feats today. You should have the heart to lend your hand at that instant, and that, is what matters. Money, is like the rain,” he continued, “It falls like from heaven. And, dries up in no minute. An illusion. Like a distant mirage. You feel like it is there. It appears entrancing. Dancing before your eyes like vigorous flames of fire. But, no, it never existed. This is what wealth gives you. What lasts forever, is our family, and the love we have for each other. It is the strongest weapon that ever existed. Together we battle. Till the end.”
“Till the end,” echoed Richard. Madison laughed, quite proudly, standing beside them.
“Father, there are holes in the umbrella.”
“A few holes in proximity help you cope up with what comes in an enormous form of the same kind. The holes in the umbrella inform me that it is raining outside, and, I would understand it, even if I had been a blind, or a deaf man. They do help you.”
Richard squealed in delight.
The rain had stopped.