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Sunday, April 7, 2013
The Red Ball
The ball was almost as big as the two year old trying to tame it. It was red, with Mickey and friends painted on its shiny surface.
A few paces away, the child’s grandmother kept a watchful eye. The dusk was growing deeper. The sea was a safe distance away but could not be ignored. Her charge was precious and the fickle waves had to be continuously watched.
Suddenly, the child kicked the ball hard and it went tumbling towards the quietly murmuring sea. The child rushed after it but the grandmother caught him before he had taken a few steps.
“Let it go”, she murmured soothingly. “I will get you another one.”
The duo turned away from the sea and walked back towards home.
The sea seemed to look after them beseechingly, as slow rumbles churned in its belly.
The next evening, there was no child and no grandmother watching over him on that shore. The sky was serene and awash with the colours of the sunset. But the sea still roared threateningly, though the temper was now simmering.
Had the ball, that shiny red globe, come back, it would not have ever found its playmate. The sea and the earth in a devastating show of strength, anger and plain whimsy, had wiped the life from the small hamlet, leaving behind the wrecked fossils of those who had once lived.
The fisherman waited patiently. He had not yet given up hope, though he was more than aware of the slowly undulating sea. He had heard from the village headman how the earth had moved under the sea, causing really big killer waves that had destroyed entire villages and a few towns. It was only a few weeks ago. This had happened in a land across the sea but that was the reason why his own hut had also trembled.
The sun was slowly sinking. Now his own hopes began to dim. His was really a hand-to-mouth existence. He had only two children and a wife to support, unlike his father who had eleven kids and three wives. Still, he was struggling to make ends meet. He had not touched his wife in a long time, afraid of another mouth to feed.
He began to draw up his woefully light net. No point staying any longer. He had spent all his life on the sea or near it. He thought he had seen the worst storms but now he was more afraid of it than ever and did not like to stay out here, alone.
He steered his boat homewards. Something red flashed by him. He wanted to ignore it but he did not. Who knew, maybe it was a mysterious good luck charm. It happened often enough in the fairytales his wife told their children.
He had to change the course of his boat only a little for the object to come plainly in view. It was round, shiny and red. It winked like a beacon in the orange light of the evening.
He flung his net. On the third attempt, he managed to snag it. He pulled it closer and hauled it in.
It was a ball.
The fisherman’s children were asleep by the time he reached home. His astute wife knew that when her husband was late, the catch, if any, would be meagre. No point waiting for a filling meal, then. She had served watery gruel to the children and convinced them to sleep before their barely filled stomachs complained of hunger again.
The fisherman showed the ball to his wife. She cast the happy animal figures on its surface a tired look. “Maybe the children will not feel so hungry now that they have a ball to play with”, she mused. Her children
were wise enough to know that they
could not afford the toys which some children in the village played with. Yet,
envy was hard to keep at bay. This would, at least, give them some joy.
The fisherman’s son was delighted with the ball though the daughter was not so impressed. The red ball was the boy’s favourite thing in the world.
The happiness lasted for a whole week before his parents decided to exchange it for food. The food lasted them for three days.
A month after the fisherman had found the ball, some people from the city visited his village. The village headman took them around to show how the fishing folk in this part of the world lived.
The visitors were so moved by the plight of the villagers that they decided to do something about it. They offered to support the education of ten children from the village. Since the village had no school, the children were to be taken to a big city, where they would study and live. The fisherman’s children were also chosen.
The bus in which the children were to go was white and so clean that the children could see their faces reflected in its sides.
The fisherman’s seven year old son, however, stood a little apart from the excited children. The kind lady from the city noticed him and asked him though the village headsman, “What are you looking at, son?”
The boy pointed to the red ball, his favourite thing in the world, which sat on the old, wooden table of the grocer.
The lady smiled.
The bus left with ten excited, nervous children. And among them was a happy boy with a red ball.
Many years later, the fisherman’s son, who was now all grown up and successful, came to live in a country across the sea from his father’s village. His new house was not very big but it was pretty and comfortable.
It had glass cupboards in the drawing room to show all the medals and trophies that he had won. And along with those, there was a slightly grimy, old red ball with faded cartoon characters. The cheerful shininess still shone through when the light caught it at certain angles, like the gleam of happy memories in tired eyes of grandparents.
His neighbour was an elderly lady, who waved at him, every time he saw her – on the road, in the garden, at a store.
One day, she knocked on his door and very humbly asked in her broken English for that customary loan – sugar.
He let her inside and requested her to wait in his drawing room.
When he returned with the bowl, he found her standing entranced in front of his trophy case. He called her. She turned and he found her crying.
He was alarmed. He tried asking what was the matter but she brushed him off and slowly took the bowl of sugar and left. A defeated, sad old woman.
Next day, she came to his house again. Wary, he invited her in. He requested her to sit down but she didn’t.
It was then that he noticed that she was clutching something in her hand. She offered it to him.
It was a crumpled old photo. It showed an old woman, older than his neighbour but similar looking. Perhaps, a relative. With the woman was a child, about one and half to two years of age. They were smiling into the camera with a tranquil sea in the background.
But the fisherman’s son’s attention was fixed upon what the child was trying to contain in his chubby arms. A shiny, red ball with Mickey and friends painted on its surface.