I stared at the letter; read it again. Was this really happening? Was this happening now? I stumbled back and plopped down on the wet floor; broken. I had known something was wrong when she hadn’t answered my calls all day. That’s why I had hurried back as early as I could. But then, I was still not early enough. She had left me; leaving my home, my life, completely dark.
Where had she gone? How could I find her? I had to find her; to tell her the truth; to tell her how much I love her; tell her how mistaken she is; tell her that I had made a terrible mistake and she would be my redemption.
I raced through all the places she could be and came to conclusion. She wouldn’t be in any of those places. I simply knew it. Suddenly, I went entirely limp, like all my vitality had been flushed down the drain in front of me. I sat there and cursed my luck. The best day of my life had stormed by and shredded it into pieces.
The day had started off much earlier than usual. Boss had wanted me to sweep and scrub the entire office sparkling clean before the special visit. It was not an unusual request and I obliged as usual. It meant I could get overtime money.
Bone tired after doing housework in 4 places, Nammu had still woken up at 4 to pack my lunch box. We never ate food outside. It was simply too expensive. It was an indulgence reserved for special times…
I remembered how she had stood there and waved to me from the front door of our tiny home, as she did every day. That morning smile had always been my only defense; the shield that I would carry all day long.
It was too early for the bus station to be crowded. Perhaps, that is why I noticed the bag. It looked like a child’s bag and I was immediately worried that some kid would be looking for it. I went up to it and opened it, hoping to find a name or address.
But what I found left me breathless. I had never seen so much money in my life. Trembling, I sat down next to the bag, unsure of what to do. I knew the right thing was to give up the money to the police. In all these years as a sweeper, it had been never hard to do the right thing. I had come across gold jewelry, phones, wallets and what not. Never had I even touched those. That day, however, my integrity broke. It was simply too much money. At first, I had been ashamed to even consider taking the money. But then, I convinced myself that if someone had been carrying so much money in a kid’s bag, they were not good people. They were trying to hide, to get away. Such people deserve to be double-crossed. I was not bad. I had only looked at the bag to help a child and I was only getting rewarded for my good intentions.
I carried the bag back home. Nammu had already left for work. There are not many hiding places in a poor man’s home; so I hid the money in the bathroom and started for work. I wasn’t going to do anything suspicious. I had decided to tell Nammu in the evening after work. God knows how she would have reacted over the phone.
And what a terrible, terrible mistake that had been! Two selfish decisions had landed me here, on the bathroom floor, weeping into her letter.
“You cheat! All these years you let me wallow in poverty. You never let me have even 100 bucks for anything. But you have been secretly hoarding all this money without telling me even a single word. How could you, you liar? How long has this been going on?
But then, I don’t care. I don’t want to live with a cheat. Don’t try to find me. You and your money can live happily with each other.”
I stood up, making up my mind. If selfishness had destroyed me, perhaps honesty can resurrect? I took the money to the police station. I also lodged a missing person complaint.