‘Why the long face?’ Asked the lady.
It was a question which Mr. Shetty would not want to discuss with a stranger but the ten minutes on the bench outside his office together had made some connection between them. The lady, in her mid forties and flower patterned saree was pretty of sorts. Her black eyes gleamed in the evening twilight giving a sense of warmth to the conversation which she started.
Mr. Shetty gave her a smile, a rather struggling one. ‘The calmness around here hurts me’, he added.
‘People die to be in this place’, the lady said smiling, trying hard not to hide the pun. It was a Cemetery after all. Mr. Shetty had recently taken over as the manager for the Cemetery. This job was very close to his home and at fifty five of age, it was a big advantage to have. However, it was more than the advantages that had made him take this job.
‘My name is Anna’, the lady in the saree prodded.
Mr. Shetty smiled again, this time looking into the distance. She was right; he knew a few who would love to have his job. Life here was slow, quiet and you would get paid even if the targets were not achieved.
‘I used to work for an electronic good retail chain. I was used to the workday speeding off by me, pushing and shoving me around on its way out. For 25 years I pushed back on the pressure for achieving my targets – winning sometimes. They never blinked once when they asked me to go’. Mr. Shetty scoffed, still looking into the distance.
The lady smiled. ‘I need your help Mr. Shetty’.
The first few days into his new job, the calm tomb stones would give Mr. Shetty creeps and he would wake up at nights all sweaty. He used to get a feeling of being followed all the time. Eventually he got used to it – or rather talked himself into it. There was no choice which he could exercise. He needed the money. He knew his severance package would not last him long and there were not many enterprises around who would want to hire a resource going into sunset phase.
One of the afternoons few days after he had started his work at the Cemetery, Mr. Shetty had an interesting visitor. He was engrossed in purchase bills for coffin wood when a 10 year old came into his office and stood across his table watching him. The boy was impeccably dressed and Mr. Shetty gathered he would have accompanied one of the families at the funeral.
‘How are you doing, young man?’ Mr. Shetty asked him with the brightest smile he could manage. ‘You better not wander around here. You don’t want to disturb the people sleeping around us now, do you?’
‘I want to see my Ma’, the boy said.
Mr. Shetty appreciated that the boy had the presence of mind to come to the office to ask for help. He would have usually asked his staff to help but the boy looked anxious and Mr. Shetty did not want a ten year old to have nightmares like he used to get when he started working here. He set aside the bunch of bills he was reviewing and went and kneeled before the boy.
‘What is your name young man?’ Mr. Shetty asked with a smile. He thought a little conversation would ease the anxiety out of the boy.
‘My name is Joy’, the boy said ‘And I want to see my Ma’.
‘Okaaay.. let’s find your mother for you’, Mr. Shetty said getting back on this feet. He let the little boy hold his hand and they walked together out of his office into the Cemetery ground. There were three funerals happening that day. He walked around the first one slowing down when they reached the crowd. He paid his respect to the dead and whispered to the boy to look around and see if he can find his mother.
‘She’s not here’, the boy said. Mr. Shetty looked around and they slowly started walking to the next group.
‘Joy, do you know your mother’s phone number? We can give her a call and try?’ Mr. Shetty enquired.
‘My Ma does not carry a mobile phone and nobody’s home to answer the phone’, the boy said. Mr. Shetty was getting to like this young man. He had a demeanour of a grown up. He walked up to the next group holding Joy by hand. He started looking around for some restless lady looking for her lost belonging. He pushed into the crowd and led the boy ahead for him to look around and also for the crowd to see the boy, hoping someone would recognise him and lead him to his mother.
Mr. Shetty reached into the midst of the gathering and saw the mourning family, the coffin and the picture of the deceased. For all the composed man he had become since he started working at the Cemetery, nothing would have prepared him for what he would experience next. It was the picture of Joy right beside the coffin. Mr. Shetty was transfixed, couldn’t move a finger. He wanted to yell but couldn’t. All he could do was stare… stare right at the boy in the picture.
‘That’s Ma, she wouldn’t talk to me’. Joy said pointing to a broken lady among the mourning family.
That was the first of it. Working at the Cemetery was never boring again – calm, but never boring. After the initial shock and awe, Mr. Shetty gave in. He understood that he was directed to the Cemetery with a purpose. Perhaps he was fired as a sales man to serve this higher purpose.
As like every time, all this came back to Mr. Shetty in a flash. He looked at the lady sitting beside him and smiled. There’s no one else she could go to.
‘How can I help you Anna?’ Mr. Shetty asked the lady in the saree looking straight into her eyes.
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