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Saturday July 2, 2022

The Old Man and a Christmas Tree: Part II

Kanchenjunga
Image courtesy: Mosaic Adventures

Bahadur stared at the old man. He could not understand why he had the branch cut and what made him so pleased. This was the first time in his thirty years of association with the old man that he was asked to cut a branch off a tree.

The old man impatiently looked at his watch. It was almost eleven.  “I’ll take lunch by twelve thirty today. They should be here by one thirty.”

“They???…so he is expecting guests in the afternoon” the housekeeper muttered to herself. 

“Where is the cake I brought yesterday? Make a flask full of tea and put it and the cake on the dining table before you leave for lunch.”

“Yes Saab.” 

After finishing a simple lunch of rice, lentils, vegetables and a fish curry, the old man came out of the house and stood in the sun for some time. The day was pleasant, a clear blue sky and a few clouds of different shapes and sizes floating across. He hoped it would not rain in the afternoon. He slowly walked towards the edge of the hill and stared at the pathway leading up to the house. The metalled road down below was partially visible with vehicles driving by occasionally. A toy train passed by, chugging slowly uphill, white smoke emitting from the short metal chimney. The whistling could be heard at a distance as the train approached the nearest station, a couple of kilometers away. 

It was past one o’ clock. The housekeeper came and asked for his permission to go home for lunch. Bahadur sat squatting on the edge of the hill, constantly talking about happenings in the village below. The old man hardly listened. Bahadur had not seen his employer so inattentive in his three decades of service with him. Suddenly the old man saw a faint figure in red among the shrubs that skirted the serpentine pathway. Gradually it became prominent and one more figure appeared behind. 

Pine Forest
Image courtesy: Pinterest.com

“There they’ve arrived. Quick Bahadur, get the branch from the backyard.” Bahadur hurried behind the house and soon dragged the newly cut pine branch behind him. The duo climbed the final lap and stood before the old man.

“How was the journey? Hope you did not face any difficulties reaching here.”

“We had to wait for some time at the taxi stand. But the journey was comfortable. How are you?”

“I’m good. Have you taken your lunch? Now where did she disappear?” the old man looked around. 

She had climbed a small hillock and was observing a bunch of wild flowers. She ran down and faced the old man.

“Is the tree ready? Where have you kept it? Show me, show me…” She jumped around in circles. 

The old man showed her the pine branch and she exclaimed “It’s soooooo big!!!”

After finishing a simple lunch of rice, lentils, vegetables and a fish curry, the old man came out of the house and stood in the sun for some time. The day was pleasant, a clear blue sky and a few clouds of different shapes and sizes floating across. He hoped it would not rain in the afternoon.

“I hope you will be able to carry it back. Is it too large? I’ll tell Bahadur to trim it then.”

“No it’s perfect. I had something like this in mind. I’ve emptied a paint drum to place it”, said the man.

“Are you Santa? But where is your beard?” she suddenly enquired, looking up at him. “Daddy said you’ll see Santa today.”

“No, I’m not Santa, but I could try to be like him if you want,” the old man chuckled. Sure enough, he was a roundish man, with a moderately rounder paunch. With a red outfit and white beard he could easily be Santa. 

He then led them inside the house for tea and cakes. He carefully poured the tea from the flask and offered them a slice  of plum cake, bought from a well known bakery in town.

“I think we should be returning now. Vehicles become scarce in the late winter afternoons”, said the man, signaling to his daughter to get up. 

“Yes, you’d better hurry. Bahadur will take the branch down. Hope you get a vehicle soon.”

“Will you come to our house for Christmas? Mummy is baking a cake with lots of nuts” said the little girl draped in a red coat.

“I’ll certainly try to come”, said the old man with a smile. “Now hurry up before it gets dark.” 

The girl’s father thanked the old man and bid him goodbye. He waved from the top of the hill till they disappeared from sight. He smiled, looking content. He had kept his promise, a promise made to a five year old. A whiff of cold air swept across his face and he hurriedly returned to the house. 

“Merry Christmas little one”, he muttered. Christmas was two days later.

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