For three years, as young students, we had dashed in and out of the wide gates of our college towards the bus stop, passing en route a vendor with a blind girl, about ten years of age, by his side.
Together, they had set up a modest florist trade in the shade of a spreading banyan tree. They had positioned themselves strategically at a rather busy corner to attract the commuters.
The man was physically deformed, his torso was propped up on two little stumps, and from a distance one could not determine whether he was sitting or standing. But while he sat/stood, his busy fingers were deftly weaving garlands of fresh flowers. Strings of jasmine to adorn many a woman's hair, chrysanthemums, roses, asters, marigolds, each in its season, with some foliage entwined in between, were strung together for door-hangings or table decor, to honour the family deity or the chief guest at a social function.
His young attendant was the girl denied with the blessings of sight. The florist would patiently describe the things around her in great detail. Occasionally, he would teach her to weave a garland or string flowers. It was fascinating to watch the young apprentice pick the correct flower merely by its touch and fragrance. To draw the attention of passers-by, she rattled a tin can and sang a song to sell flowers.
The man was the master manufacturer and treasurer. Often, we would stop to buy some flowers or a bouquet from our flower girl and her father. However, months later we learned, much to our surprise, that they were not really father and daughter, at least not biologically. Years ago, apparently, the crippled man had come upon the baby girl groping wearily in her dark world and, moved with compassion, had decided to take her under his paternal wing, and they had lived as father and daughter ever since. Day in and day out they went about their business and were almost a part of our city landscape.
Then, as the academic year was drawing to a close, they were gone. I missed them, in fact everyone did. I am sure the banyan tree missed them too. Our brisk walk from the bus stop to college did not seem the same without them. The rattle of the tin can followed by the lilting call echoed in our ears. Perhaps they had found a more lucrative set-up elsewhere. We hoped so.
One day, as I alighted from the bus at the usual stop, I heard the all-too-familiar rattle and the rhythmic call. There, under the banyan tree, sat our little flower girl. Almost instinctively, I quickened my step towards her. Her father was not with her, and it appeared she had turned manufacturer-cum-sales girl-cum-treasurer. With the same dexterity of her father's fingers she wove the garland of flowers. As I approached her, she turned towards me, and I gasped in total disbelief. I enquired very sympathetically about her father. He had been killed in a car accident, she said, and as he lay dying, he had gifted her his eyes.
By Alice Menezes