The soft old music chimed through the houses as the ice-cream man rode into our street; I looked out of the window to see kids already clustering around the old man. They fought to keep their hands the highest and yelled over the top of each other's voices. My own two children came running to me asking for money to buy ice-cream. So I took them out and watched as they went over to the old man, while I stood at the gate. People in the street might have been wondering that I was looking at my kids but actually I was looking at the man.
He passed the ice-cream patiently around with a genuine happy smile on is old and wrinkled face. He'd come to our society daily, in the sweating heat of the late afternoon. And every time I'd see him totally unrushed as he passed ice creams around, all without complaining about the noise, the heat or the questions the kids asked him. I never understood how he could ride that ice cream bike all through the neighborhood working is frail legs and still be pleased.
My kids came to me disturbing my train of thoughts and I sent them in as I saw the old man getting on his bike to go to the next street. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with a rag. I had been mustering up the courage to call him for a glass of juice for the past month, after I heard his story from an old tenant in the neighborhood.
'baba ji! Andar aa k thori dair beth jaiye, mai paani laati hun' (baba ji! Sit for a while, I will get you some water) I told him. at first he looked confused as if he couldn’t believe that someone would call him inside their house. After a couple of seconds he just nodded and then came inside the gate and sat on the garden chairs piled in the shade. I smiled at him and went inside. I returned a few minutes with a glass of juice and a sandwich which I served to him. he kept looking at the plate for a couple of seconds, like before.
'shukria beti' (thank you, daughter) he beamed and said before eating. As I watched him eat, gathering up the courage to ask him some questions I couldn’t help feeling the happiness that filled me. I asked him about his work and family as he ate. He told me he had a son who had five daughters, and he didn’t wanted to be an additional bundle so he had started the job. He said he felt content of all the attention he got here especially from the little kids, even if it was for the ice cream rather than himself. He thanked me when he was done and left blessing me.
After that I called him in whenever I could and we had a nice chat; He told me when his first grand daughter was married off, when his son got a new job. In that time we shared, we developed a bond. So when after a few months he stopped coming I started worrying. I couldn’t sleep and the next day I heard from the guard that he had passed away, silently in his sleep. I said a prayer for him and cried that day as if I had lost a family member. Because you know what? He had become a friend, a sincere one and till this day I haven’t forgotten the smile on his face as he passed ice cream, Or the twinkle in his eye when he talked of his son, how his face used to glow while he talked of his dead wife.
Once when I asked him if he ever got tired of selling ice-creams? He replied he didn’t because that’s what actually made him happy. It was not a burden for him because he was satisfied with his life.
Not many are like him. We, who have everything; a house, food, clothes keep complaining. And the few we have we are losing them…