Changing Tides

What can you tell about someone by just looking at him or her? Seeing what they’re wearing, how they communicate and looking over their action, we can tell a lot about a person but at the same time, we don’t know what their life really is like or how it has been.

Ritesh was an average man living in Kolkata with a small sweet shop of his own. He was from Bangladesh but that life was a lifetime ago that he probably didn’t even remember about. He was young, unmarried and had a name in the small society that he lived in. He spoke so calmly and sweetly with everyone. Never had anyone seen him lose his temper, not even at the mistakes of any of the three people who worked under him. He was not well read but he knew enough to run a shop of his own.

Outside of his shop, Ritesh was also a man of honesty and principles. He knew not to take something that was not his and he tried his best to do his bit for the needy and unfortunate. He also had an admiration for the girl, Chavvi, who lived down the lane from his shop. She would often come to his shop with her mother so Ritesh could never tell her how he felt about her. Ritesh had a hint that she liked him too but he was never sure about it or what to do about it.

After all this while, Ritesh finally got the chance to talk to her when she showed up at his shop alone. He asked her what she wanted and sent one of his workers to get that packed. While she waited for her package to come, Ritesh tried to indulge her in a conversation. She kept blushing and hiding her face from him. Just when she was about to leave, he asked her if she drinks coffee. She giggled and looked away. She started to walk and he thought to himself how foolish he had acted. She suddenly turned back and asked him if Sunday was good with him. He outburst in joy and said that it was perfect.

They met at a small café on Sunday, where they first sat awkwardly without saying much. He broke the ice by asking her what she was doing and what she wished to do after her studies. They sat there for an hour, figuring out each other over sips of coffee. Before they left, he asked for the bill. He noticed that the bill was missing one thing that he had ordered so he called on the waiter and got the bill corrected. Chavvi saw this and smiled. Before they left, she said to him that most people don’t even bother paying; instead they try to go out of the place in a hurry. He laughed at said that he doesn’t wish to keep what is not his neither does he want to keep it from who it belongs to. Her smile grew bigger and before leaving she asked him if they could meet again, next Sunday.

After that, came many more Sundays and soon Sundays turned to weekends and weekends to every second or third day. They would meet and talk. Telling each other how their days were. They would talk about problems and find solutions within each other. Some days Chavvi would ask Ritesh how he always stays so humble and calm despite the problems and ungratefulness around him, in return he would simply say that life has taught his so. One day she asked him that what was so grateful in his life that he turned out the way he is. He says that it was nothing so great at all; instead it was the total opposite.

“I was about six or seven when I lost my parents. Bangladesh was very unstable in those days. We used to live scared everyday, not knowing when it will be our last. One day, my parents heard some noise in the neighbours  house and woke me up. My father went to check outside and he never returned. He was murdered at the hands of the terrorists. My uncle took my mother and me and ran out from the back door of the house. My mother couldn’t make it very far and she too was murdered at the hands of the terrorists. My uncle managed to get me to a refugee camp nearby but due to high amount of people coming there, the military were sending people back. My uncle knew it was unsafe for me to be out of the camps, so he begged them to take only me in. That day I lost the last and only living family I had and the worst were yet to come.”

Ritesh has told the whole thing very calmly. He looked up to see Chavvi only to find her in a state of shock while a tear rolled down her cheek. Ritesh wiped her tear and asked if he should stop. She looked at him and asked him to go on. Ritesh tried to calm Chavvi but she urged him to continue.

“Life at the camps was no cakewalk. No one cared about an orphan, with nothing to his name. There were times when I went on an empty stomach for days. I learned to ration my food before I could even say the word. Many times there were people stealing food from my hands to feed their own and there was nothing I could do about it. There were kids younger than me who had no one to cater to them. I would give some of my food to them too. There was even a slave trade within the camps. Many orphan kids like me were abducted in the middle of the night and sold off to other nations as slaves. I managed to survive in the camps for eight months. I was not even eight years old when I started to work in sewing factory. I made mistakes in life and was punished brutally. My masters would beat me up and leave to starve. I was further sold to merchants and miners. I spent six months in a mine without seeing the sunlight. I may have lost my sight had I stayed a few months more. It was the kindness of an uncorrupt police officer that found me in the mines and freed me when I was twelve. It took me a few weeks to fully adjust back to the sunlight. I was still lost, no place to sleep and hardly anything to eat. I would beg not for food or money but for work. 

“After three months, a sweet shop owner gave me the cleaning job at his shop and a place to sleep inside when the shop was closed. I once broke a glass and the owner came running. I started crying and begged him, sitting in a corner, not to hit me. He kept his hand over my head and said in a very calm voice that it was okay but if something like this happened again, he wouldn’t hit me but take out the money from my salary. I was still scared but he helped me to trust me over time. He pushed me to go to evening school. Once I joined, I had interests in studies too. I would finish my homework at night and in the morning I would wake up early clean the shop. As I grew older, the owner taught me to make the sweets and gave me more jobs at the shop. He also increased my salary. I still made a few mistakes after that but the shop owner never took money out of my salary. Instead, he bought me books to read and helped me become someone on my own. Over time, the work at the shop grew and I stopped studying. By the age of 24, I saved enough money to rent a place of my own and set up my own stall. The owner of the shop had no family of his own. He had started considering me as his family. When I was leaving that job to set up on my own, he gave me some more money to actually set up a small business of my own. I tried to refuse the money offered by him saying that I hadn’t earned a penny of it so I could not take it. He told me that my loyalty and honesty towards him were the reason why I earn not only the money but also his love and respect. He not only helped me set up my business but he brought my ashes back to life. I am almost 30 today and all that I am and all that I have is because of that man.”

When Ritesh finished his story, Chavvi’s eyes were filled with tears and she was on the verge of bursting out in a cry. She had no words to say. She thought that nothing was appropriate to say while Ritesh was just calm as always. Chavvi left the café crying and Ritesh tried to follow but she asked him not to. Ritesh was confused about what had he said that upset her. He got upset too thinking about Chavvi. Two days later, she came to his shop and asked him to come aside and talk to her. The first thing Ritesh said to her was sorry thinking he was wrong and he upset her. She said that there was nothing to be sorry about and it was her who should be apologizing. She then asked him what happened to the man he worked for. He told her that he died two years after that and his shop was sold away. The money from the sale was given to charity and was used to help under privileged children. She then asked him if past ever haunts him.

He said it in his ever-calming voice, “There is nothing that haunts me as I can do nothing about it. I think about the past to remind myself where I come from and what I had to come through to get here. But all I have to go from here is to the future and there is nothing in my past that can do anything about it.”

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