As the tea sinks in and the eyes see more of the man, the wrinkles became apparent. First, some. And then, some more. As he adjusts the apology of the woolens that’s on him, even more become visible.
Ten rupees gets passed on to him.
He searches for change of which there is none. He searches some more, rummaging through what seems to be a sheaf of yesterdays newspapers. Perhaps he has some cash there. After another hurried ruffle, looks up and with an apology laced accent, says, “I don’t have change”.
“How much does it cost? How much do you have to give”, I ask.
The combination of abundant chill of the winter morning and the travel induced weariness that seamlessly envelop every bone, checking for the price of his tea before drinking it, was missed. Besides, this is a roadside stall. How much could it be!?!
“Nothing”. “I have nothing”. He says falteringly. “Actually, I had, but can’t find it”.
Sheepishness announcing its presence through a substantial drop in the decibel level of his voice at the end of each sentence.
“Doesn’t matter”. I say. And move on. Not bothering to stop and check with him. After all, It was ten rupees. Not a million. The old man with the wrinkles indeed made a very genuine attempt and seemed sincerely out of change.
As I get into the cab, the old man shouts out. “Wait”. He says running as fast as his wobbly feet can bring him. “Now, what did I miss”, I wonder and hurriedly get out of the car.
He grabs my hand and passes on a pack of biscuits to me. “For the five rupees”. He says. “Your balance”.
I smile and accept his biscuits. The wrinkles on his face stretch in sweet surrender to a smile that sprouts from nowhere. Perhaps to announce a quaint victory. Maybe in satisfaction of preserving what is dear to him: his pride.
I swallow hard. The lesson stays. I say “thank you”. We look at each other for a few seconds. He smiles. Suddenly, the twinkle in his eye outshines every wrinkle on the face. I smile too.