Oh the hundred rupee note again ! Quickly I pulled back the zipper of that tiny pocket of my purse. As always the sight of the note made me flinch with guilt and embarrassment.
It was a warm mid-April afternoon, hot winds and frequent power cuts bringing a precursor to the hot summer months ahead. As I took a rickshaw for my home, I barely noticed the puffing and panting rickshaw puller trying to negotiate the surging traffic on the flyover, lost as I was in my thoughts about a busy day in the public school where I taught English to senior classes.
Very soon I reached my apartment block and looked in my purse for a tenner and some coins to pay the tired and heavily sweating rickshaw puller- I found none! I had only 100-rupee notes. I asked him to wait there for a couple of minutes promising to send the money from my third floor flat.
As I reached the landing of the first floor, I saw some ladies standing outside a neighbour's house, grimly talking in hushed tones. I naturally had to stop and inquire if anything was wrong. I was absolutely shocked to know that the neighbours had lost their father that very morning. I stayed there for around ten minutes consoling the grieving family. Promising to come again, I went home. It was already three pm and my famished family was waiting for their lunch. I quickly had a wash and went straight to the kitchen. My teenage son walked in to have a chat with me as was our daily ritual. As he inquired about my day at the school and what had delayed me that day-it struck me! The waiting rickshaw wallah !!!
Grabbing my wallet in which I used to keep some change, I literally ran down the staircase, calling out to my son and the maid to follow me. To my absolute horror, he was not there. I ran to the gate of the society asking my son to go to the other gate and the maid to look for him under some shady tree inside the society premises. I inquired from the security guard if the rickshaw puller had asked him anything about me. I even went outside to see if he was waiting there but he was not to be found anywhere.
Crestfallen, I returned home to a barrage of questions,' how could you be so careless? how could you have forgotten?' from my son, husband and daughter who had woken up from her siesta hearing all the commotion. I couldn't bear to face the accusing stares of the maid which seemed to throw towards me all the questions that she preferred to leave unasked.
For months on end, I would answer the same question from my son, ' did you find the rickshaw wallah today?' with a sheepish 'No'. I had told him I would easily recognize him as he had very distinctive features of a hill dweller.
Over a period of time, the prodding stares of my family have become less piercing, but the 100-rupee note ! - the same 100-rupee note that I have kept aside in a tiny pocket of my purse to be given to the rickshaw wallah with an apology, whenever I meet him again, is a constant reminder to always carry some tenners and coins as I leave for work everyday.