It was the sleek black car that attracted his attention at first. He smiled to himself as it came to a stop at the traffic signal. It was his signal. It was all-powerful, controlled by a mechanism somewhere, somehow, he never really understood; this mechanism was so unpredictable, at least to the motorists.
Yet this signal gave him his daily bread. He sold newspapers to the people whose vehicles came to a stop when the red light on at this signal.
The driver of the car names his daily paper and the boy gave it to him. It was then that he saw her, seated in the rear of the car. The driver gave him a coin and told him to keep the change. These were the three words he loved to hear, although they were rare. He kept the change in his pocket and the woman on the rear seat in his heart.
The car sped away as the signal changed to orange and then to green.
She was beautiful, voluptuous; she attracted his thirteen-year-old brain in some mysterious way. She was dressed in black and even wore dark glasses. There was an aura of mystery around her. Her face was waxen, expressionless; she had a full bosom the sight of which sent tingles of yet unknown feelings through his body. He longed to see her again.
When he had reached an age where he could differentiate between a slap and a caress, he had found himself running errands for a grocery shop. These errands fetched him, at the end of the day a stale chunk of cheese, moldy bread and a tin roof over his head. As the days rolled on he became aware that "things" like parents, brothers, sisters, wives, children and friends exist in this world. All these "things" are beautiful, he heard someone say, someone who had had them and lost.
The boy never had them.
He watched people come into the grocery with these beautiful "things" Even with these they required food, very much like he did. He heard them argue the quality of fruit, freshness of vegetables and they bargained like hell. Bargaining. Something, which he had never done in his life. There must be something more beautiful than these "things" he concluded. His thoughts and undefined passions that made him conclude thus placed him in a vortex of perpetual vagueness. With these assets he became a newspaper boy.
But now, the reckoning came to him like a bolt from the blue. The visage was no more vague. Its stunning vividity choked him and he spent that night tossing and turning.
The sleek black car came the next day, same time. The woman was there, as on the day before, dressed in black. The driver beckoned him but the boy ignored him and handed the paper to the woman. She did not even make a move to take it from him. He tried to catch her eyes behind the dark glasses but failed. The driver snatched the paper and threw him a coin.
…His thoughts and undefined passions that made him conclude thus placed him in a vortex of perpetual vagueness…
The car sped away.
The boy felt something deep within him snap. She had ignored him. He tried hard to swallow the lump of dejection that rose in his throat.
She came the next day, and the next and the next. He tried his best to extract a sign of recognition from her and failed again and again. She was like those pictures, which came in print, the paper woman.
She was a paper woman.
Days passed. Today was an important day for him. The newspaper distribution company had given him a bright blue uniform with bright brass buttons to wear. He was at the signal quite early although he knew the car would come at the usual time and not earlier. He was looking smart, bright, cheerful and hopeful.
The sleek black car came to a halt at the signal but hesitatingly.
"What?s wrong?" The woman asked the driver hearing a crowd at the signal.
"There has been an accident," he replied. "The traffic signal is not working.."
"Is anyone dead?" she asked with a definite note of fatality in her voice.
"Yes!" said the driver, craning his neck. "Oh God, it is that newspaper boy!"
"The one who always tried to shove a paper into my hands?"
"The same!" confirmed the driver. "You should have seen the way he was trying to impress you," he added.
She sighed deeply. Her smile was faint. "At times like these," she said in a hollow voice. "I thank God for my blindness. Just imagine what I would have felt if I were to see that boy alive yesterday and dead today?"
The driver shrugged and bought the newspaper from another boy who had appeared on the scene.
"Yet, I wonder," she said. "Why was he trying to impress me?"
(A very highly appreciated short story, specially remarked by Fr.Pratap Naik, SJ Director of Thomas Stevens Konkani Kendr, Alto Porvorim, Goa)
Author: Edwin JF DSouza- Mangalore