It’s a bumpy ride. A rather funny one, I suppose. I see heads swaying in various directions in perfect synchronization, as the bus roars it’s way through the crowded market, unsuccessfully trying to dodge the potholes and the badly constructed road (I’m not sure if it was even close to being called a road). I glance a look outside the blotted window, men carrying herds of goats, hoping to find a good pasture for grazing. And sluggish goats trying to make way, still drooping from the morning laziness. Rich men negotiating a deal for a proper slave. I see ladies in fancy gowns, with a matching umbrella (probably protecting them from the sun that never shone in these parts) eyeing us cautiously as the bus passed the market.
I closed my eyes and breathed the damp air. The sky was overcast (which was a common affair here) and it was really soon when there was a downpour. I closed the window to protect my sweater which Mother had so firmly sewn. She had stitched a jasmine in the center and green stalks protruded out of it in the direction of both of my arms. Father once told me that the day I was born thousands of Jasmines had blossomed in our garden. “It was magical,” he had said.
Although living in a foster home wasn’t something I’d expected since the day I came to know the meaning of the term Foster. But it all happened too fast. Father never returned from work and mother hurriedly packed my things in a small jute bag and while she helped me hop into the cart, I felt the very last sensation of her lips on my forehead, and then she was gone. We reached a street, not very far from the market. The houses were all the same. Brown roof and cream walls. It all looked like one big chain of perfectly aligned squares. Walls were moistened from the rain, people trying to cover their roofs with plastic sheets to prevent dripping in the rooms.
The jasmines in this town changed colors. Every season marked a different color and to my fascination-this season they were golden. Not the neon and sparkly one but a soft yellow glow like that of a firefly, only lighter.
We were each led to our assigned houses. Mine was the same as the rest. A lady in her early 40’s, yelling and cursing the children to work. The man of the house oblivious to the miser condition in the home. On my first day to the local school, while my teacher recklessly took the attendance, something else caught my attention. “Jasmine” No response. “Jasmine!”
Startled by the hysteria, I called for my presence which was just physical, for my mental self was far away in the fields. In the recess, I skedaddled my way towards the other side of the pastures, near the oak tree; jumping over the hill and the ridges till I was finally standing over him, overshadowing his enormous body. He was a man in his late 60’s. He wore a brown coat which looked worn out and a grey hat covering his left eye. The lines on his face signified he worked hard and his hands were covered in dirt. Streaks of ripe gray hair resting in the unripe brown ones.
Popularly called Mr. Tuberk, he glanced his way up, “What are you doing here little one? Shouldn’t you be at school?”
“Yes, but I ..”
Perhaps he understood why I had come when he noticed my attention towards his Mouth Organ. Not a very fancy one, but it was a wooden rectangle, polish withering out from the corners where it was carefully and skilfully carved ‘T&G’.
“You like it?’ he said with an amusing smirk. I nodded. Apart from Jasmine’s I had a fascination for music. In my previous town I used stand outside the sumptuous bars just to listen to the music they played in the evening. It had hardly been a week when we became from strangers to friends. Every day I anxiously waited for the school to get over to see my friend while Mr. Tuberk never failed in welcoming me with open arms.
He used to play his Mouth Organ and I listened and waltzed around. The tune permeated my soul, lifting it above. Occasionally I used to save the sandwiches from recess while he brought some chestnuts and we used to eat them in the evening breeze, saving some of the leftover chestnuts to munch later. I sometimes wondered if Mr. Tuberk ever had any family. Or why did he prefer being alone under an oak with a 10 year old girl rather than drinking and laughing in a bar.
I saw a sad face with a defeated smile when I asked him the reason for his solitude. “You ask why I like your company? Do you know that a jasmine soothes the air with it’s perfume and removes the stench away. Who wouldn’t want to be around the scent of the pacifying jasmine.” I looked down towards my sweater confused. Did my sweater had a scent? Maybe mother cast some magic spell.
Mr. Tuberk laughed briefly. “I had a daughter just like you. Gemma. (T&G – Now I see) She used to love my Mouth Organ. And every evening we used to sit here and I played while she read a book or sang along. It was our favorite part of the day. Sadly she came with a little time on earth. That’s why I still come here every evening, reliving her presence, maybe the soft breeze or the shade of the oak bring me some refuge. Ease my pain a little. Clean the stench of her absence, mend what’s broken.”
It was very soon when I realized what he meant. My sweater certainly did not smell, but it was ME. I WAS THE SCENTED JASMINE OF HIS DRY GARDEN. I was the rainbow in his clouded sky. I was the sunshine in his foggy street and I was the thread he was holding on to. I did not respond, but we continued to meet up in the evenings and played and danced until the moth hour of eve. Or sometimes even after that, when the little white pearls peeked out of the black velvet sky. Like dazzling diamonds carefully mounted over a black elegant cascade. We gazed at those selfless friends above, while a soft wind swept the arena- making the oak leaves above rustle.