An age-old smile

After putting him to sleep, she decided to catch a quick nap before resuming to being a nurse to the one now in a land of dreams. With two pages left, I thought I would finish the chapter and then go off to sleep but my eyes like curtains half-drawn contested and I, submitted. Reclining against the window seat with my slouching pillow behind, when the winds whispered into my ears, when I heard the snapping of switches one by one and the train’s rhythmic chugging substituted for a lullaby, I finally resigned.

I woke up to a morning not as musical as the previous night. Like a battalion marches with thumping steps toward a battle zone, an army of passengers, some half-asleep hurried to occupy space in a long queue stationed outside the washroom, the door knob of which was soon to breathe its last. Towels hanging from shoulders, hands clutching toothbrushes in one and soaps in another combined to replicate a refugee camp scene.

Oblivious to the cacophony, I admired the landscape outside the window that flashed past like running pictures.

I saw him open his eyes to this action-packed morning. As his eyes flickered, I noticed his almost missing eyelashes. How adorable he looked!

Staring outside the window, she was lost in deep thought that intensified with her every sip of tea. The moment he kept his hand on her shoulder, his gentle touch broke into her reverie. She was ready with the sponge towel that she now rubbed over his face like a mother strokes her child’s cheek. Next, she tucked into his shirt a soft-fabric handkerchief resembling a bib, while he sat obediently with crossed legs. Slowly she unravelled two medium-sized lunch boxes and un-wrapped the contents inside.

“Only home-cooked food suits him. He is allergic to packed food and I never trust the pantry,” she told me as I gazed at her while she fed him patiently.

It was past five in the evening, the winds were now a little chillier. As I looked intently, she opened a small bag and took out a pair of socks. Carefully, she slid them into his feet without disturbing his extended afternoon siesta and quickly added another layer of blanket over his body.

It must have been the aroma of the hot steaming soup served as a precursor to dinner that tickled him to wake up. He gestured her to take one cup for him. All of us slurped the delicious tomato soup and waited for the following menu to make us happier.

He was now scanning his berth with a roving eye as if looking for something. His twisted eyebrows revealed worry. I felt helpless for I did not know how to help and she too had disappeared suddenly.

To my delight, she arrived in no time only to find a frown on his face. As if she already knew the reason behind his morose expression, she lifted the book lying open like a hillock on the side-table and unearthed a pair of glasses.

“Are these what you are looking for?” she asked.

The frown converted into a sheepish grin and he burst out laughing, “What would I have done without you, my darling?”

She replied, “Please honey, at 75 don’t laugh out that loud, you might suffer another stroke. It’s not just you who’s ageing. I am not growing younger either!”

He turned to me and said in a breaking voice, “You know what? We are visiting our son’s family to celebrate our 50th marriage anniversary and she fears that if something happens to me, all her plans would go down the drain.”

I saw a shy smile on her face as he exchanged a glance and uttered, “Nothing will happen to me as long as you are here right next to me with your hand in mine. And, I promise to never lose grip. You, my darling?”

I just watched and sighed.

Wrinkles were prominent on their faces, limbs trembled and hair had started to recede; but the one thing that did not grow old was their age-old innocent smile. Neither rust nor dust had taken over their smile that twinkled like a jewel, a star in the sky!

I could not complete the chapter that night too…allowed the bookmark to hibernate between the pages till the next day…

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