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Empty Coffers MAG
One day, on my way home from college, the bus broke down right in the middle of the road. Passengers started leaving the bus, but I was in no hurry, so I got out slowly and walked to the footpath. The afternoon sun was scorching; the mercury was at its peak for the day. On the right, thorny shrubs and weeds grew along the mud path. The weeds were bordered by a rough brick wall that had collapsed in some places. I switched to the right side in hope of some relief from the shade of the bushes.
As I walked, I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. I looked to my right and saw an old man, probably in his eighties, waving and signalling for food. He had a feeble smile – a forced smile that is only worn by someone who has been broken down by life. A smile one bears when he is forced to ask for alms or, in more honest terms, beg for a living.
He wore thick glasses and was clad in a white shirt and a traditional Indian dhoti. He looked battered and his clothes were dusty. He was sitting on the bricks in the little shade offered by the thorny bushes.
I smiled back and squinted in the sun to take a better look; he looked helpless. I walked toward him and he looked up and said in the local language, “I haven't eaten anything since day before yesterday evening. Please can you spare something to eat?” He was shivering with weakness and old age.
I replied, “I am sorry. I have nothing that you can eat. Would you like some money?” I knew he was not a beggar; he was just a poverty-stricken, uneducated farmer in a big city with confusing streets and English-speaking people.
He thought for a few seconds and replied, “Can you give me thirty rupees?” (Thirty Indian rupees equals 54 cents.)
I reached into my wallet and pulled out three ten-rupee notes and handed them to him. He joined his hands in a thankful gesture of Namaste as his eyes welled up.
I could not stand the look on his face; I bowed in reply and left. As I walked away I thought, There is not a single place to eat nearby, and he is too old, and more importantly too toothless, to chew an energy bar or anything like that.
As I reached a break in the barricade to cross onto the service road, I saw a coconut vendor in the shade of his makeshift hut. I asked him for the largest coconut he had. He said it would cost 15 rupees, five more than usual. I told him to hurry and put a clean straw in it.
The vendor reached for a large coconut, cut the top and made a hole with his small Indian version of a machete. I handed him the money and took the coconut. It was so big I had to hold it with both hands. I walked back to the old man and gave it to him. He smiled, a toothless smile of gratitude, a smile that said he was thankful.
He started drinking and I left. I got onto the next bus even though it was crowded. I did not care; I could not bear that smile. I returned home wondering if he got enough to live another day.
I didn't cry that day, but something inside me felt twisted and wrung out. Although I didn't cry, if there is something worth crying for, worth sobbing and heaving so hard that your insides hurt, worth weeping so much that your eyes run out of tears, it is the plight of that old man.
What is the meaning of all the riches in this world if they can't be of use to the right person at the right time? How rich are we then? And how do the so-called super-rich people sleep at night knowing the suffering that others face? F