I used to tell my mother that I didn’t like nanny and she should find me another one, but mother said that Granny had decided who was to be my nanny so we couldn’t just change her. Actually, I hated Granny too and realised that she too had ugly feet- they weren’t cracked and twisted like nanny’s but they were soft and pulpy and very, very flat which made her look like a duck when she walked. Gradually I realised that most people I didn’t like had ugly feet and from then on I instinctively started being wary of those with ugly feet. And my world was divided into people who were friends (that is those with good feet) and those who were enemies (those with ugly feet). So when I saw Cyrus Wadia’s feet for the first time at the swimming pool, I wasn’t in the least surprised why I had always hated him from the minute I set eyes on him.
It was in class 8, the first day of school when Cyrus made an appearance in our class. Since I was the smartest and most popular boy in class, Mr. Menon asked me to take him under my wing and help him settle in. This was not a task new to me as I have always been a helpful person and loved making people feel comfortable. But for the first time I resented this task. Why me? I thought , couldn’t Mr. Menon assign the task to someone else? I suppose I must have shown my reluctance for Cyrus was equally slow to respond to me. People say that I’m a great raconteur but Cyrus didn’t find any of my stories funny and frankly I wondered if he got the point at all because he just stared back with an inscrutable stare from behind his thick glasses. But still, I’m not one to give up easily and tried many ways to break the ice. Eventually I had to give up and everyone accepted the fact that this was one person who would never be my friend. And during our swimming lesson when we all changed out of our uniforms and into our trunks, I realised why I just didn’t like him – he had huge ugly feet with long, bony,simian, toes. His feet just gave me the creeps.
Gradually this dislike for his feet spread to the rest of his body, particularly his brain which turned out to be as good as mine and it wasn’t long before he and I became rivals and natural enemies of one another, a situation that lasted all through high school and even college. Normally school boys outgrow rivalries by their late teens but strangely ours went way beyond that into our early adulthood, a fate that was sealed by the final nail in the coffin when he got the job that we’d both applied for. I resented the fact that he was chosen over me and resolved to get back at him sometime, somehow in my life.
But childhood hatreds and resolutions are often lost or rather forgotten in the rat race of every day life. With him settled in California and me in Mumbai, there was enough distance between us to forget about hating each other. In fact I’d often laugh about it when any school friend brought it up during out infrequent class reunions which turned into maudlin trips down memory lane. That was till the time I met with THE ACCIDENT which was not merely an accident but a life changing event. Within that one split second I lost my wife and most of my life – left as I was with chances of living the rest of my life a semi-cripple.
However, fate was kind to her Golden Boy and my only daughter now settled in Miami came down to be with her old man. Unfortunately she was settled in the US and her life in Miami meant that she couldn’t stay with me for long spells and after a year of trying to get me back on my feet, decided that I would be better off with her in the US. Much as I tried to resist her bullying ways, I had to agree that it was the best option for her to discharge her duties as a loving daughter and I had to co-operate. After years of dragging her all over the world with my job, it was now pay back time for me and I had to accompany her to the US.
I hated the US even more than I hated being alone in Mumbai. I knew I was being ungrateful because my daughter had set me up in her “Granny” Home, an independent little cottage alongside her house. It had everything I could ask for – all the material comforts and her frequent, unannounced visits and those of her children should have made me feel blessed. But I was being resentful and hurt and angry that I had to suffer the indignity of being uprooted in my old age and being forced to re-adjust in a strange environment much against my will.
One day while I was waiting at the checkout at a Department store, I heard a familiar sounding voice, American but with a faintly discernible Indian accent. Like all Indians abroad, I was curious (do we all really know everyone on this planet?) and found to my surprise that the person looked vaguely familiar too. Outside, at the car park, I found that our cars were parked next to one another. He continued staring at me as I put the groceries away, trying to jog his memory as I was mine. I had seen those grey eyes somewhere, I thought, even though they were rheumy and lost in a face that was weathered and bearded. He saw me fumbling with my wheel chair and came forward to help me get in. As soon as his fingers touched mine, I felt a strange sense of recognition. The animosity that had separated us surfaced from my subconscious. I almost instinctively wanted to take my hand away from his, unwilling to look up into his face and see the pity that would undoubtedly be there. But he was already too far gone in helping me and I couldn’t take my hand away. He seemed to sense the same feeling for suddenly he said ” Oh my God! It’s you! What are you doing here?”
It seemed churlish to refuse to recognise him and I shook his hand. We both seemed to shrug off our past animosities and I told him my story. It seemed he had a similar story – his wife did not die in an accident but after a long and painful illness , one that left him lost and miserable.He had cracked up completely and his son had brought him down to try and re-construct his life. It was an hour before we realised that we were still at the parking lot! Our phones rang almost simultaneously – it was our children calling to find out if we were ok. We laughed as we put our phones away, transported back to our school boy days when we had to be back home in time before our parents got into a panic.
We exchanged phone numbers awkwardly, almost reluctantly before we went our ways.
That was over five years ago. Since then I have regained my mobility and some quality of life. I now play bridge twice a week and golf for another two. And once in a while I go on a fishing trip or to the farmers’ market. And yes you guessed right – all these activities are shared with my good friend Cyrus who made me heal again.
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