Backgammon – I

He looked up at the navy blue, clouded sky. He smiled to himself, at the shapes of the clouds. He liked it, making sense of senseless cloud shapes.

Now that feels like a panzer, ready to crush the small volkswagen in front of it, he thought and smirked.
That’s another one, a see-saw.
Oh! That one is cute; looks like a teddy bear. The teddy bear that Sheila had.

He closed his eyes, trying to remember. Yes it was brown, and big. It’s nose ridiculously small for a bear and big eyes and ears. It was her favourite. The best gift I ever gave her.

The big droplet opened his eyes. He made no move to get up. The rain started coming down with a force. The drops were big and heavy, hitting him with all their might, pressing against his skin, inducing pain. But it was all bearable; no, it wasn’t just bearable, it was enjoyable. He was enjoying those small instances of pain, those little bites of water.

Joseph saw him sitting in the lawn and rushed inside to get an umbrella.
“Where are you running to?” Mary asked him.
“The old man is sitting in the garden,” Joseph said as he ran out. Mary stared after him. He is sitting in the rain! But he hates rain.

Joseph was frightened as he neared the old man. It’s certainly my bad day. He started, “I am sorry, I was inside. I didn’t …”

The old man raised his hand.

Joseph gaped at him. The man was smiling. This man hated rain, he thought, what has happened to him today?

Shiela liked rain too. It surely does feel nice. He signalled Joseph to leave him alone.

“But you will catch cold.”
The man said nothing. He had his eyes closed, the rain drops falling on his face. Joseph knew it was futile to say anything now. He stood in the corridor, the dripping umbrella at his side just in case the old man changed his mind.

“Seems like a change of heart,” Mary said.
“Yes it’s amazing to see him like this, enjoying the rain.” He stressed on the word.
“Do you think it has something to do with that girl?”
Joseph looked at Mary with enquiring eyes.
“The albino girl who comes with her father every Thursday,” she said. “She plays with him a lot.”

Now Joseph remembered. Shiela came every week to meet her grandfather. Her grandfather was a good friend of the old man, and so she became his friend too. The two played backgammon with her in turns, and gave her swing rides. Her grandfather told her stories while the old man showed her pictures of the war he had been in.

She stared at the men in the uniform and the guns in their hands. She was awed with the fighter planes, and even more so when she identified the pilot as the man showing her the pictures. “You are handsome,” she would say. The old man would only smile.

The two men had nothing to do except for waiting for Thursdays to come. They would plan every Thursday meticulously, savouring every moment they spent with the kid. They would treat her, give her gifts. They would irritate her at times just to see her frown, and she would pull up her nose and look at them with such small eyes like that of a mouse and her plain forehead would turn into a ground full of bumpers, and when she was just on the verge of exploding into tears, or shouting at them, they would surprise her with chocolates and dolls and teddy bears.

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