It came as a shock for Ranjith’s brother when he came to know his younger brother was smoking. They had a casual relationship so it was not so hard for him to confront him with this. Ranjith never really cared. His brother even tried not talking to him for a week or so. But Ranjith convinces as usual with his charm.

“Brother! You don’t have to make this as a big issue. Accept me as what I am. Smoking is no big deal. Even you bore me with your various literary knowledge, have I ever asked you to stop that?”

He continued smoking, five sticks a day became 2 packets a day. His brother was not able to do anything. He knows, if he harden his stance, things will get worse, just behind his back. He waited for his brother to stop it himself. But he didn’t see that coming any near.

The position in his office was worse. His colleagues would say, “How much ever mint candies you swallow, the smell is still there.”

“If you had any problem, just move your seat or ask my manager to put me somewhere alone.”

His manager would never call him for a meeting at least for half an hour if he was on break. He is allergic to that smell.

His answer was similar to everyone.” If you have problems with bad smell, move away from me. If you are talking about environment and such bullshit, come to office in bicycle for a month and then come and advice me.” He never changed for anyone.

His brother had asked him some money on that day. As usual, Ranjith forgot to take it from the ATM. Only when his brother was dressing to go out it occurred to him. When his brother came to him, he gave him his debit card.

“So Ranjith, you forgot once again?”

“No, actually you go out very rarely. Why do you want to restrict yourself with some amount? Just spend how much ever you want. I am OK with that”

“I know brother, I think you are going to strip me off in the month end. By the way, don’t you need this today?”

“I have 130 odd rupees. That would do”

He was gobbling up the hot idlis his mom prepared, when his friend called him.

“I want you to come with me today. I am buying a new laptop for me.”

As he had nothing better to do in house, Ranjith started his bike which immediately started giving trouble. Ranjith pushed it till the petrol station and filled petrol for 100 rs.

When he reached the place where his friend asked him to come nobody was there. He went to a petty shop and  bought a stick when an elderly voice called him up.

“Sir” the man was 65 years or so old, he had a plastic bag in his hand which could barely contain its contents. He was wearing an old Tee shirt and god-knows-when-washed dhoti. Usually such people came begging with some story. But something in the eyes of the elderly gentleman said that he was not here for money.

“Can you tell me how to go to Red Hills?”

“Take you right. There will be a signal. First bus stop after the signal” he lighted his cigarette.

“Not by bus. I want to reach there by walk. Can you tell me how to go?”

Suddenly Ranjith’s friend came running. “Machi! Bike punctured da. I am taking your bike. I will be back soon.”

When he is gone, Ranjith looked around. The elderly man was standing there.

“You haven’t left yet?”

“You haven’t told me the route yet”

“So its my turn huh! Are you running candid camera or something?”

“No, I don’t have money to go by bus. I would walk, if you tell me how to go?”

“Nobody would do that. Where are coming from?”

“I am from a distance place. I came to egmore today morning. I walked from there to reach here now. Can you tell me how to go further?”

“You could have asked for help right?” Ranjith suddenly felt sorry for that elderly man. Suddenly his initial days in Chennai came as a flash in front of his eyes. He would walk the long distance to save money.

“In this city, everybody seems to be in some urgency. They don’t want to pause and listen to me. Worse thing is, they see me like a beggar” a hint of tear escaped from his eyes.

“Sometimes it is like this. How did you come here? Why?”

“I came to Chennai for a job in hotel, My nephew took ticket for me to Chennai. I felt bad to ask him for more money. So I thought I could cover the area by walking.”

“Did you have anything to eat?”

“It will be in the hotel I work. I am getting late.”

Ranjith decided to help the man out. He was sure that he is not going to accept the money if he gives any. So he started walking with him to the bus stop. There was heavy traffic than usual. He caught the elderly man’s hand while crossing the roads, when the man started sobbing uncontrollably.

“Why Sir?”

“This city terrifies me sometime. I don’t know why. I had a son. I spent all my money and land to educate him. He died in accident recently. I still have a daughter. I want to settle her down. Thats the reason, I need to work in this age. Sometimes, self-pity engulfs you more than you accept.” He started talking irrelevant things to himself. Ranjith knew what to do at such times. Listen. Don’t speak a word.

In the bus stop, it was more rush than any day.

“Will the bus that goes to red hills will come here?”

“Today no bus will come here. There had been a problem. We can only take share autos. These autowallahs are making some money today.” an annoyed passenger started venting out his frustration.

Two share autos passed by taking in the passengers that would fit five. The third one came, the driver came out and started announcing,

“Only Redhills, 30 rs, will not stop at any other place”

Ranjith started searching his purse for money, but he only had 25. 100 rs for petrol, 5 for cigarette, 25 is all he got now.

He started pleading to the driver “Anne! Elderly man. Have some mercy. Take 25 rs. And drop him somewhere in the middle till it takes you 25 rs.”

The driver came up to the elderly man, who was now washing his face. “Perusu! Walk in this road for 3 miles and you will reach redhills. If I take you with me I will only lose 5 rs.”

The driver took of his auto and left. Ranjith was so angry. But the elderly man was smiling.

“Leave it thambi. I will now be able to walk. I realize that all I needed was someone to pour my emotions out. When you get older, you will not have anyone to talk to. When someone listens, it will be enough. The autowallah had told me  the route. I can go by walk.” The elderly gentleman started walking. Ranjith stopped him.

“Atleast a tea?”

“Others in the city just saw me like a beggar, you please don’t make me one” he started walking. There were numerous ways to take him to his destination. But Ranjith was not able to think of anything. When he watched the old man drag himself in the beating sun towards his destination, the smell that slipped through Ranjith’s fingers made him puke.