(Please read Parts I and II before you read this.)
The Oldest Patron paused again, and cadged another cigarette from a reluctant Arjun in the interregnum.
The whole tea shop came to a standstill as they waited for the Oldest Patron to light up and continue. Smoke from a hundred half-smoked cigarettes filled the air. The non-smokers held their cups in a vice-like grip, unable to take the next sip till the old man spoke again.
‘Well…it was then that it happened. Was it the day before her birthday? Or the day before that?’, he screwed his eyes shut as he tried to recollect memories from a past long gone.
‘Whichever day it was, she called me that night. I was writing on the first page of the book exactly the kind of soppy stuff my friend said would bring a blush to her damask cheek (and puke to my mouth) when the phone rang.’
The thought of the Oldest Patron - with his grey locks and long white mane - writing odes to love on the front page of a book brought upon me waves of laughter I could not suppress. Worse still, I thought, the PYT he was talking about would probably be a grandmother today!
‘You may find it funny, my ugly young man. But when I penned those lines, my hair was of a darker hue and I didn’t have a beard.
‘Anyway, coming back to the point, I picked up the phone and hollered a cheery What-ho to her over the line. Her what-ho was considerably subdued, and she didn’t sound her usual, cheery self. I soon realized why when she told me we wouldn’t ever eat the strawberries and cream at Wimbledon together again (not that we ever did, for that matter – I was speaking metaphorically, you retard!). She spoke of how the spark had died down. My suggestion that we try cleaning the spark plugs was shot down unceremoniously.
She had just given me the raspberry, I realized.
‘The world reeled about me. The words P.G. Wodehouse and the sum I had spent on it, seemed to form a hammer and strike me between the eyes. It took me a minute before I could compose myself enough to speak.
‘Er… the money, I mean, the books…?’, sputtered I, for I was not at my most articulate when faced with a terrible financial…oops, I mean, personal… loss.
‘’You cheap bastard! You want those books you gave me last semester back!! You can take it…’, screamed she in language which brought the blush to my damask cheek (if I ever had one).
‘I tried to tell her once again that I’d actually bought a book for her, spending my father’s hard-earned mone.
‘I tried to tell her that my father would see the bill. I tried to tell her that I had taken such a great risk for her alone.
‘But all I actually said was,
‘‘The bills…my father will see them… how do I send the message across to …’
‘I was cut off again, and had to listen to another two minutes about how she half expected me to even ask for money back for all that I’d ever spent on her. She went on to suggest that I get the bills attested by a Chartered Accountant and send it along to her. She even offered me interest on the amount.
‘Though I thought the idea was capital, I knew it was neither the time nor place to bring up the issue. My inarticulateness had created a barrier as high as the Eiffel Tower between us.
‘I told her I was sorry that it had to end this way, to which she said something about how she said something I cannot remember – so fogged are these memories by the mists of time.
‘She then expressed a fond desire to dance over my remains at my funeral. I almost asked her to pay for that as well. But I was cut off as she decided to return the phone to its receiver.
‘I looked down at the book – and saw within it an opportunity to redeem my mangled pride. I rose from the desk and walked towards the nearest trash bin with a purposeful stride that rather became me. I threw the Wodehouse into the trash bin and smiled at the sight of it on top of a mound of garbage.
‘Around two hours later, realization dawned upon me that:
• I’d never read the book, which was among my intentions in the first place
• I’d never be able to sell it to the second hand dealer
• I could always tear page 1 where I’d penned the romantic message and feed the vultures with it
‘I ran towards the trash bin, only to see that the blokes at the Corporation had chosen that day to make their once-a-year-garbage pick-up.
‘It was the end of the road for that book.
‘It was the end of the road for my money…
‘Today, somewhere, someplace, under ten tones of rubbish, lies a Wodehouse, forlorn and neglected. A Wodehouse,’, said the Oldest Patron, getting almost lyrical at this point,’ that bore her name on it.’
Then his voice rose. It sounded shaky.
‘A Wodehouse on which I’d spent valuable money.’’
The Oldest Patron’s voice dropped down to a whisper,
‘And I never got to read that book. Till date...’
The silence that followed the Oldest Patron’s last statement was broken but by the clattering of glasses of tea long neglected, and the sharp intakes of breath which indicated that Arjun and his compatriots had begun to get back to work with their cigarettes again.
The Oldest Patron passed away last week, having lived long enough for everyone to have lost count of his age.
He never did get to read that book. The rest of us lesser patrons purchased the book and placed it on his funeral pyre.
The girl never turned up to dance on his remains at the funeral. Good thing she didn’t. She’d have found the pyre an awfully warm place to execute a buckwing dance. Besides, it was unlikely that the arthritis she probably has would have allowed her to dance as freely as she would have wished to.
Besides, she probably doesn’t even remember the Oldest Patron…