The Gift – A Short Story
He stood there on the opposite corner of the street watching and waiting as the bank opened up in the morning. He knew he could just stride in there and be the first customer of the day but for his purposes he preferred that one or two others go in before him. After all wouldn’t any bank staff be annoyed if someone came in the first thing in the morning to close down three separate savings accounts and withdraw all the money from them? The money itself wasn’t a huge amount even spread over three accounts- his father’s death compensation money, his mothers saving account from the job she had slaved in every single day since his father died when he was young and his own little checking account his mother insisted he maintain since he first started working part time at a hotel as a waiter at the age of twelve. And today was the day that all that money would finally be used – to pay his college fees.
Impatient as he was he pushed his way into the bank and into the withdrawals line. There was a little bit of argument when he showed the bank staff the three withdrawal slips and informed about closing the accounts. The clerk behind the money disbursal counter had to summon the manager to whom he again had to explain everything in full and insisted he be paid in cash which the manger counseled against. But he had no choice the college had specified the amount be paid in cash only maybe to hide the fee amount of the students behind false accounts to divert the tax authorities. Not his place to question the rules, he just wanted the cash to go pay the college admission fee and he insisted on being paid in cash only, unaware that the ruckus he was making had attracted the attention of two large gentlemen behind him who now flanked him unobtrusively on both sides as he made his way out of the bank.
Outside the bank standing on the edge of the pavement he decided that the money with him would not be too safe on a bus and decided that he was better off taking an auto rickshaw. He lifted his hand to signal one which was making a rapid progress down the other side of the road. As he leaned forward to see intently if the auto would stop and turn his way he was jostled hard from behind and pushed off balance into the road straight on the path of the incoming auto. As he was hit by the front wheel of the auto and was flying into the air and just before he crashed down into the road he remembered that the bag he had held under an armpit, the bag with all that money had been pulled away from him just before he was pushed onto the road. That was the last thing he remembered, the money, before his head crashed into the road with a sickening crunch.
When he woke up all groggy and blinking his eyes the first thing he saw was his mothers tear filled face right beside him. She gave a little scream of delight at him waking up and leaned forward to give him a quick hug before any of the nurses could stop her. “Thank god, thank god, you are all right, i was so afraid”. He shook his head to clear it and with a tremor in his voice murmured “mom, mom i lost the money someone stole it”. His mother put a loving hand on his forehead to quiet him “hush now, it’s ok, I know all about it, the gentleman who found it brought the bag safely home yesterday and he told me how he had found it on the road near the bank”. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing, maybe the injury to his head was serious and he was hallucinating did he just hear his mother tell that the money was back? He couldn’t believe it and stared at her intently. His mother alarmed at the wild look in his eyes spoke rapidly “It’s all right, all right, don’t worry anymore about it, we can go pay the money to the college after you are discharged from the hospital tomorrow. Now close your eyes and rest”
Later that day, when he woke up he heard the rest of the story about how his head injury had almost killed him and how his heart had actually stopped for a few minutes on the way to the hospital and the ambulance people had to shock his heart back to life in the ambulance itself. He also heard about how he had been in a deep coma for the past two days and had surprisingly woken up today. One of the nurses confided to him that even a policeman had come around to check with the doctor and his mother if he had attempted suicide because he had lost the money and in that case they would have to file a criminal case against him for the suicide attempt. The doctor had managed to satisfy the policeman’s inquires and had at last driven him away.
So, that night when the doctor made his rounds around the ward he asked him “doctor when will you discharge me? I have to go join an engineering college within this week. My whole future depends on it”. The doctor looked at him a long moment and said “Well, your mother told me the same thing this morning. I wouldn’t mind discharging you tomorrow but I have some doubts about your condition. I want you to go see a neuro – a brain doctor- tomorrow morning at nine. I will instruct the nurse to take you to the second floor neuro department tomorrow morning and once the neuro doctor checks you and says you are fit to go home, I will discharge you from here tomorrow afternoon”. After saying so, the doctor walked away to the nurse and stood talking to her sometime, both of them glancing his way before finally leaving for the day.
The next day as the nurse wheeled him down to the second floor neuro department he asked her in a halting, scared voice “Nurse is there anything wrong with me? Why should I see the brain doctor? Is my brain injured?” the nurse, a large woman, laughed in a hearty voice and said “Son, there is nothing wrong with your brain that’s why we are going to see the neuro. For a man who had a head injury and was clinically dead for a few minutes, your brain scans are all absolutely normal. And that’s why the doctor himself is puzzled and wants a second opinion”. She made him sit down on a empty chair in a long line of patients all sitting down and waiting for the neuro doctor to appear, before she went away with a final admonishment to him “Now look, as soon as the neuro sees you, you come straight back to the ward, ok? And don’t forget to bring your scans back with you” as she dumped a large file with the scans onto his lap before she walked away.
After sitting there silently for a few minutes digesting the nurses news he turned over at the giggling sound nearby. It was a young couple seated beside him with a child of maybe four or five years of age held on the mother’s lap and the child was smiling and giggling and making funny noises at her mother. He couldn’t help but smile at that exhibition of childish innocence and exuberance. It did something to his heart, to lift the gloom of sadness from it. He turned to the man beside him and asked “Are you here for the baby?” The man nodded at him and he felt bold enough to go on to ask “What’s the problem with her? She looks so normal” The man hesitated before he replied “Nothing serious, just that a couple of days ago she had a fit of sorts, you know, like epileptic fits and started gasping for breath and suddenly even stopped breathing. Thank God we got her to hospital in time to save her. The doctors said that we were very lucky and she had almost died before she came back to us”. As he said that the father leaned over to touch his daughters head protectively at the reminder of almost losing her forever.
As he looked at the child, she smiled at him inexplicably and crooking a finger beckoned him nearer. He had always got along well with children and so with a slight smile he got up and went on his haunches before the mother and child to come to head height with the kid. She smiled widely at him and said “Uncle did you get your money back like that Grandpapa said?” Puzzled at her unexpected bombshell he asked “What money? What Grandpa?” She smiled at him knowingly and said “You know when you were crying there about your money bag and how your mother will be so sad about you losing your dads money and you can’t go to school. And I felt so sorry for you I pulled that white Grandfathers robe and told Grandpapa to help you and he smiled and said he will send your money back when you come down here. Did you get it back?” He was shocked to the core about the things said by a child who had never known him and never seen him till this instant. How? How could she know? And as he thought over what she said, straining his brain to try to remember, he felt a sudden bliss descend on his heart, a feeling of joy and everything felt all right with the world in a minute. As he looked into the child’s eyes which had the same bliss of pure joy he leaned over and murmuring “Yes, yes, he kept his word, I got the bag back” he kissed the child on the forehead lightly “Thank God for that”.
P.S. This may not be a true story and then again it may be. I don’t know. But I have written it the way I heard of it and like you I have absolutely no clue who that old man in the white gown was. But a lot of patients who survive Near-Death Experiences do describe a kindly old man in a white robe. Now who could it have been? Any ideas?