Grandpa and the Elephant
by Charles G. Chettiar
Prakash came with a soft toy in his hand. He could see all the screens glittering, the computer screens pulling him in. He told himself that he was in remission, and he just had to visit for old times’ sake. He kept going from screen to screen, seeing the gamblers — buddies for a couple of minutes — place their bets, look here and there and everywhere, pray, curse, spit and call names.
Even though he had been released from hospital a few days back and advised exercise, he came here at “Maharastra Rajya Lottery.” He liked the bland monotony evident to any outsider but the player. For the player there was only sheer delight of maybe a win amid many losses.
The last time he had seen his grandson, he could taste his favorite pastry in his mouth. His grandson had grown and now walked on twos in the room skirmishing with chairs and stools.
“Abba!” his grandson crooned.
“My love, my sweetmeat,” said Prakash. “Grandpa is home! Let’s go for our walk.” Prakash felt lightheaded but still continued to the market.
“He seems to want this stuffed elephant toy,” said the shopkeeper. “It is good.”
“Only 150,” said the shopkeeper, Bhairav.
“150,” shouted the shopkeeper.
“There is so much noise. Okay. 150. I get it. Don’t shout, I can hear you.”
Prakash pointed to a stuffed tiger beside the elephant and said, “You want 200 for this one, right?”
“No, sir,” said the shopkeeper. “It is real tiger skin. Only 250.”
Prakash felt like laughing and crying.
His grandson clutched his pant and pulled.
“No, my sweetmeat. We’ll take it another time,” said Prakash.
Prakash felt light with a tingling sensation at his toes. His entire body felt vacant. His head throbbed. His head felt weak for an instant and then as if it was going to burst. It was the last thing he felt before hitting the asphalt.
* * *
“Where are you going, Dad?” his daughter said.
“Walk. Doctor’s orders, Devi.”
“Just eat something, then go.”
“You shouldn’t go on an empty stomach; your sugar levels will shoot up. After all these months in the hospital!”
“It’s okay. I will take something on the road.”
“Don’t take any sweetmeats!”
He didn’t hear her last retort.
* * *
“How much for this, Bhairav?” Prakash asked the shopkeeper.
“Same old: 150,” the shopkeeper said.
“That is four months’ saving from my pension.”
“Devi, my daughter, doesn’t give me much money,” he said. “The pension deposited in my account, she transfers to her account. I am computer illiterate and can’t do it. Then weekly she gives me only twenty bucks. I used to give her pocket money, and now she gives me pocket money!”
“You have left the hospital, then?” said the shopkeeper, smiling.
Prakash felt a single trickle of sweat on his forehead. He felt burning under his skin.
“Thanks for last time Bhairav, for calling Devi. I was four months in the hospital. Just came back. I want to surprise my grandson with that toy. He wanted it.”
“I know. He now says some words, too,” said the shopkeeper.
“Yes,” said Prakash, “but reduce it for old time’s sake. I always buy from your shop.”
“I don’t get much profit from this. Not even 5%.”
“Just a little bit, son. I know you from the time you were so little,” said Prakash touching his hip.
“Okay, uncle, only for you: 130.”
“God bless you! Take this thirty. Remaining money I’ll give you next week in installments. I promise!”
“I’ll speak to Devi, if you don’t pay up!”
Prakash hurried from the shop nestling the toy. He liked the feel of the elephant nestled in his palm. He could see the sheer delight on his grandson’s face when he gave him this toy.
On the way home, he saw the red neon sign of “Maharastra Rajya Lottery.”
He had been a winner of a lottery once. He was showered with praise and envy in equal measure, when he had won a mere 50,000, an example of dumb luck. That time he had gone home with the money, not “re-investing” it as he used to tell his daughter.
Just a little peek, he told himself.
He could win again, it was a matter of time. The fluorescent screen called him, and he decided to hang on. Time ticked away but he didn’t pay any heed.
Just a peek, he said to himself, watching another gambler lose a couple of 500s to the online gambling machine. He could do better. He needed only a hundred. Then he could pay that crook Bhairav, and his daughter wouldn’t know that he took the toy in installments.
I am better, he told himself. Just one gamble. One last time.
He saw the computer screens flickering, casting shadows in the small jampacked room. The shadows in his head felt different. He felt lightheaded again.
I need to see if I would win, he told himself.
He looked at the gambler who had lost another couple 500s.
I could do better, he repeated again. Shaking his head momentarily he became aware of the fluffy toy in his hand.
Only if there is one small gamble to prove that he is better.
He placed the soft toy on the counter. “Lend me a hundred, Sheth.”
“You got to be kidding, man! A hundred for this toy! I won’t get fifty for this piece of crap. Here. Take this twenty.”
One last gamble.
Prakash lost all sense of time, as the screen flickered and the roulette wheel on screen spun. He bet on his lucky number, 16, but the number the screen displayed was ‘27’.
He felt his heart was in his throat, a sudden burning under his skin. The vision of his grandson’s delight crumbled, and Prakash stared at his wrinkled hands, feeling a dark emptiness inside him. He couldn’t hear any sounds around him. He stared at his shaking hands.
Copyright © 2015 by Charles G. Chettiar