The Birthday Gift

The Birthday Gift

Today when I turned 13, there was no cake-cutting, no bloating balloons and certainly no surprise gifts. It was just another day. The only solace was that my poor mother woke me up in the morning with a sunny smile and a tighter hug.

Barefooted I ran out of my muddy house to celebrate my birthday with the urchins of the neighborhood. Ouch! Something ran through my toes, and I felt a mild prickling sensation. I stopped and turned back. I saw something sparkling with its head above the mud. I dug it out. It looked like a coin. I spat on it and rubbed it on both sides. The coat of mud went away. My lips parted into a smile. It was my birthday gift. It was indeed a coin. I kissed it and tossed it high up in the air. With cupped hands, I aimed towards the falling coin and caught it in the air. I flipped and tossed it again and again and dreamt of what fortune it can bring. I clasped it tightly in one palm and ran at once towards the market in anticipation of buying myself a gift… I ran past the lanes of the neighborhood, past the golden maize fields, past the herd of cows and buffaloes wallowing in the muddy pond, past the junction meeting the nearby town, past the turbulent traffic of the town, and eventually made it to the marketplace. 

A row of colorful shops flanked the alley on both sides. Blue, green, red, and yellow schoolbags rested in the glass shelves of a shop. Sharpeners and pencils adorned another shop. Notebooks with cover of appealing cartoon characters in the next shop.  A little away an ice cream vendor was selling rainbow ice creams. Next to it was a sweet shop and then a bread shop and then some other shop and then some other. It was a great spectacle to watch. I opened my palm and looked at the coin with misty eyes. I strode to the bag shop and asked the shopkeeper to show me the yellow bag. I ran my hands over it tenderly. The front side of the bag was studded with blue stars and white clouds. I slipped the bag on my shoulders and imagined myself swaggering before my schoolmates and burning them with the fire of jealousy.

A voice broke my reverie. 

“Do you want to buy this bag?” asked the shopkeeper impatiently. 

I nodded.

“How much?”

“Two hundred rupees”

 I pointed the coin at him and said, “I have this one.”

 “Out, you urchin!”, he hollered while the other customers sniggered.

I gathered courage and walked up to the next shop with the hope that my coin can fetch me one of the caps. I asked the shop owner for the red cap adorned with black and white studs. He handed over the cap to me. I surveyed the cap and then placed it on my head. I looked at the side mirror and I was on cloud nine. I pictured myself leading my neighbors as the captain of a game. Captain with the red hat and the team of followers behind him.

Knock… My dream broke again. 

The shopkeeper demanded, “50 Rupees for it.”

I indicated again my coin hesitantly to him and pleaded, “This I have.”

“Is that a joke? Get off” he shouted.

I plodded then to many shops only to be shooed away by the angry shop owners. My lucky charm could get me nothing. Soon I was hungry as a hog, and I trudged to the bread shop. My mouth watered at the sight of breads- the white bread, the wheat bread, the whole grain bread, the multi grain bread, and the others. 

“I have only this coin. What would I get?”

“You can get this small brown bread.”

I heaved a sigh of relief and passed on the coin to the shop owner. He slipped the bread into my palm. I just then saw a scrawny man. Dishevelled from top to bottom. Limping slowly towards me. He was a beggar. It was obvious he was starving for food. Biting my lip, I slipped the bread into his palm, and he readily accepted it.

I returned home without the bag, without the cap, without the pencil, and without anything. And I wonder despite that I felt so relaxed and satiated now. That was my birthday gift. And a perfect one!
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