Ten-Rupee Note: A Short Story


The child spoke softly as she clenched the ten-rupee note in her hand. It was perfect gratitude. Though her speech was imprecise, that dirty little child in tattered clothes communicated truth and dignity in a way that humbled the young man. He had gifted her with the money; she had gifted him with something more. 

She had a scar on her lower lip that impeded her speech. She had a second scar just below her left eye that caused her to blink and squint. Her cheek was stained with tears. Her smile was marked with pain.

The young man looked once then twice as he walked away through the parking lot. In those moments, the child's eyes were ablaze with joy and delight, though he could also see beyond the moment, beyond the light to a blinding darkness. 

Still, he was the one in need. 

The young man entered the post office with one simple task on his mind. The package needed to reach its destination in the UK by the end of the month. He had ten days. He had told his manager that it was possible. He could think of no reason why it couldn't be done. Yet if it didn't happen according to plan, someone would be gravely disappointed. It would probably mean his job. 

There were four people in line ahead of him, but the elderly lady behind the counter was in no rush. She smiled politely and attended to each customer with grace. It was, however, a strange grace. Her method of service seemed entirely inefficient. It was apparent that she was serving more than one person at a time. Instead of dealing with each customer from the beginning of their business to the end, she was keen to start serving the next one before she was finished with the previous. This meant that she was taking money from one person while giving stamps to a second and fielding a question from a third. It was a rather remarkable feat, but it left the young man feeling nervous about his important package. It seemed to him that the possibility of error on the lady's part would increase dramatically with the number of people that she was simultaneously serving.

The young man wasn't willing to take that kind of risk on this task. So he resolved to wait until those in front of him were completely finished before he would begin. He only hoped that no one would interfere from behind him. At the moment, he was still the last in line. 

The young man continued to observe the situation with great curiosity as the three men in front of him completed their business one by one. The lady had looked up at him twice while the others were still being served, as if to beckon him to put forth his request and join the muddle. But he only smirked and waited patiently, as if to say that unlike the others he would resist the temptation to begin prematurely. 

Then finally, as the customer in front of the young man finished, the lady smiled and gave him her full attention. With a sense of relief he placed the package on the counter and began to explain his request. But as he did so, he noticed the lady's eyes quickly wander over his left shoulder, and before he knew it another lady from behind him was interrupting him. 

“Is this the line for stamps?”

It was a simple question, but its stupidity appeared to amaze even the elderly lady behind the counter.

After re-focusing and clarifying his intention for the package, the young man turned his head and glared at the woman behind him. She hardly noticed. 

As the lady behind the counter began processing his request, the young man glanced back to notice another two customers enter the post office and approach the line. They took their place behind the lady looking for stamps. He made eye contact with each of them in an attempt to say, “Just wait your turn like a civilized human being.” 

When he turned back to the counter the elderly lady was asking for payment. As he opened his wallet, ready in his hand, one of the men from the back of the line leaned in and began an enquiry. But before three words fell from his mouth, the young man spoke out in a strong voice.

“Just wait your turn!”

There was a cold hush in the post office as the man returned to his place and waited. 

“Can you guarantee that the package will arrive within a week?”

“Yes, definitely 7-8 days,” the lady assured him.

“So, maybe more than a week?” 

“No, it will arrive within a week. The tracking number is on your receipt. You can check on the internet.”

“I don’t want to check it on the internet. I want to know that it will definitely arrive within a week.”

“Yes, yes. Don’t worry.”

“It will arrive,” this time the simple words of assurance came not from the lady in front of him but from the one behind him, and the words conveyed about as much confidence.

The young man rolled his eyes, and spoke out starkly, without turning around, “I’m not talking to you.”

“Sir, please,” the elderly lady spoke calmly.

The young man handed over his payment and entrusted the package into her hands. She smiled. He smiled in return. His smile was tainted.

Outside, the young man paid the parking attendant and waited for his change. But the attendant refused to give it, insisting that the man had exceeded the time period for the base rate. The man knew that he hadn't, so he stood his ground. He wasn't about to be cheated. He knew what was going on. It was a noble attempt on the part of the old man to take advantage of him. But the young man was stalwart, and knew that he would win if he persisted. The old man begged. The young man scowled.  

Eventually the old man pushed the change into the young man's hand and turned away. With contempt and clarity the young man spoke into the old man's back.  

“Thank you.”

As he turned to walk away, the young man looked down at the ten-rupee note in his clenched hand. He looked down again, this time into his heart where he saw glimpses of a blinding darkness.

No comments: