“Cut every one of the trees!” I said.
The men looked at me to check if I was serious.
I was planning to build a house, and the land needed clearing up.
In a couple of hours, they had cut down what had stood there for decades.
After paying the woodcutters off, I went to check if everything was in order.
I was satisfied. With all the tree stumps finally, construction could start.
Then I noticed something strange. All along the boundary walls, I could see birds. Crows, magpies, pigeons and even a kingfisher . All looking in my direction.
“You cut down our home to build yours!”
They seemed to be saying.
I felt uncomfortable under their scrutiny.
“Once my house gets built, I will plant more trees. I promise.”
I said it out loud.
Not convinced, they kept watching me.
“Are you lost?”
“There was a shop managed by an old man here. He used to sell oil lamps, ” I said.
“That was my grandfather. He died a few years back. Please do come in.”
“I am sorry. I just returned after two decades.”
The shop had a vast range of electrical appliances on display.
“Your father is still in Mumbai ?”
“He has settled down there. I like this village better,” he said.
As I walked out with a purchase, he said, ” I was a pleasure serving you.”
The comment made me smile.
The boy’s grandfather used to say that when a customer left.
“He taught me how to treat customers,” the boy said.
“You learnt well. You learnt from the best,” I said.
My village was more of a town now, but I was happy to see that some of the old world traditions had survived.
“Remember me ?” I said.
The shop belonged to my college friend.
He settled down in our village and took over the management of his father’s grocery store.
I left for distant shores.
Over the years, we hardly kept in touch.
Streaks of grey hair and a potbelly aside, he had not changed much.
It took him a second to recognize me.
“Welcome back!” he said.
We swapped stories that we missed sharing over the years.
“One kilo of basmati rice!”
That voice sounded familiar.
She recognised both of us and smiled.
On her way out, she flashed another smile at us.
“She married a doctor and has three kids now. The eldest one is married,” my friend said.
“Remember how we always used to jump on to the bus she travelled in?” I said.
Those memories made us both laugh.
Yes! It felt good to be back home.