Shalini hurried to the first floor boutique. The guy who stitched her dresses said, “Madam, why so late? They were ready a month ago! I even called to remind you.” “I am here today. Look, pack them for me. I’ll take them later. Got to run!” she said and rushed back to the ground floor. From her vantage point on the staircase she had spotted Bhagyashree in the distance .
She decided to stand there and watch what happened from then on. One of her favourite authors, Toni Sorenson had written, “Christmas is about giving from the heart more than giving from the store.” She chuckled to herself. She was trying to do both!!
She could only hope for the best. She had meant well after all.
Bhagyashree saw the boy with the red balloon. A man held his hand and took him towards where his mother waited. Clearly this must be the father as the boy looked so much like him. The same nose and eyes. Indeed, the little fellow was a miniature version of his father. “Hello, young man! What’s your name?” she asked. “Pintu,” replied the boy smiling broadly. “How old are you?” “Seven years,” he said, confidently. “Did you have a nice time in the Mall?” she asked. He hesitated for a moment and that broad smile came back, “Yes, I did. My sister, too!” he said. She patted his head, “Good boy!” she said and walked off. The father’s heart swelled with pride on seeing his small boy confidently respond to this stylish lady who made him feel quite diffident.
The father and son reached the spot where the mother waited anxiously. “Why did it take you so long? I was getting worried. Did you lose the way or what?” “Of course not, there was a big crowd and I had to wait like anyone else”, he lied because he had actually lost his way and wandered around looking for the rest room. He didn’t want to admit that. “I am glad you have come, the girl is getting fidgety. Let’s get home as soon as we can. She is tired and so am I. I hope the children had a good time, though,” here she hesitated and went on “we didn’t buy them anything.” “Of course we knew things would be very expensive here,” he replied. “It was just for the experience. I am sure they had a nice time.” She couldn’t stop herself from blurting out, “Let’s hope so. I hope someday, when they grow up, they can afford to buy many things here.” A small tear emerged at the edge of her eye.
It was about 6.30 p.m. and becoming dark now. The lights were on. Fancy lights that transformed the place totally. They walked towards the exit when the PA system boomed, “Attention please! Master Pintu, please report to the Customer Service desk on the ground floor. Shopper Master Pintu, could you please meet Miss Bhagyashree at the Customer Service Desk? Paging urgently for Master Pintu. Wherever you are, please contact Miss Bhagyashree at the Customer Service Desk for an important message.”
Shalini saw the boy tug at the father’s arm and say something. They spoke amongst themselves for a minute. The mother looked doubtful but he was gesticulating towards the loudspeaker. The father supported him and asked the mother to join them. They found the Customer Service Desk easily enough. Bhagyashree said, “So little fellow, we meet again.” The father looked anxious, “What is the matter? Why have we been called here?” True they hadn’t bought anything but surely they hadn’t done anything wrong. The boy had picked up a balloon at the fourth floor but if he hadn’t someone else’s kid would have. That wasn’t a crime. He was a child after all. Surely, they didn’t know that he had lost his way to the Men’s Rest Room and almost entered the one for the Ladies?
He couldn’t believe his eyes when the lady bent down and gave Pintu a brightly wrapped parcel. “What is this?” he asked. “Sir, we have a scheme where once in a while we choose shoppers at random to receive gifts from our store. Today happens to be one of those days and little Pintu happens to be the winner because he was the 5000th person to enter the store today.”
People in the vicinity clapped and cheered when the gift hamper was presented to the boy. This had never happened to him in all his life. He jumped up and down in excitement. His father rapidly told his mother what had happened. Magically, her tense face relaxed and broke into a wonderful sweet smile. She was, like all mothers, very happy for her son’s sake. The little girl had woken up and wanted something from the gift hamper. She grabbed at it. “Open it and see, I’ll have it packed again for you,” said Bhagyashree. Their joy knew no bounds when they saw the chocolates, the aeroplane and the doll. This would rank as one of the happiest days of their lives. Many in the crowd smiled good-naturedly. The joy on the boy’s face was there for all to see. The crowd moved on and the family was left alone to enjoy the moment.
In his excitement, the boy had let go off the red balloon. It flew off caught in the swirling breeze. Maybe some other kid would pick it up, thought Shalini. She felt so gratified. She came closer to see them enjoy their moment of joy. Her eyes met Bhagyashree’s. There was no need to say anything. She smiled in thanks and walked away. As the balloon floated up she hoped the next person to find the balloon would be as deserving of happiness as little Pintu and his family.
On her way back home riding the Metro, Shalini felt so content. Not full with the burger, the French fries and the Diet Coke she had had some time ago, but full of happiness. Seeing another girl carrying a packet of clothes reminded her with a shock that once again she had forgotten to collect her dresses in the mall. Her mother would have much to say.
That was alright. She was happy that she had brought some joy into the lives of those kids. That was reward enough for her. Their sparkling eyes and beaming smiles had made her day.