Vadiraja M S, Longlist, Short Story 2017

The Key

Vadiraja M S

He saw it from a distance.  It was glittering in the early morning sun rays seeping through the thick branches of the large tree.  What is it? He thought.  Did not look like a glass piece but something else.  As he came closer, he saw that it was a large key!  Bending down he took the key in his hands.  It was indeed quite heavy to hold; must have weighted around 100 grams.  He held the key and looked at closely.
It was an unusual key.  It measured almost six inches and as he held it in his hands, he looked around trying to identify the owner.  Someone must have lost it on their way to walk, he thought.  But on closer look, he identified dust on the face of the key and concluded that it must have been lying there for quite some time.  Why I didn’t notice it yesterday, he thought. 

As he held the key in his hands, he looked around.  Although he took the same route every day for his morning walk, he seldom noticed the surroundings.  But today, as he stood there, he could see a bench few meters away on the other side of road.  But no one was sitting on it.

Holding the key in his hands, he turned it around and gasped loudly. The words that were written on the key was smeared on the edges but very clear to read.  It was in English.  As he held the key to the light rubbing the dust away, he read the words loudly:” The key to Happiness”.

He realized that other morning walkers were looking at him and heard his voice and he felt embarrassed as well as disturbed.  Who could possibly create a key like this?  And what is the significance of writing those words, he thought.  He also felt like throwing the key in the bushes, but somehow held it back.

As he walked for the rest of the journey, he kept feeling the key in his jersey pocket and felt strange feelings that he could not put his finger on it; but it was pleasant.

As soon as he reached home, he realized that he was already late for the office and hence, threw the jersey on the cot and went about his morning ritual of getting ready to leave.
He didn’t remember the key till very late at night. While he inclined on his bed reading a book, suddenly he remembered the key and a worried look crossed his face.  Has wife seen it?  May be she threw it out?  He could not find the track suit and called his wife to enquire.  She too had forgotten to check his track suits before washing, and there, the key very much intact on the side pocket of his track suit hung for drying. He took the keys and put it under his pillow and slept blissfully.

As soon as he went out for his usual walk, he put his hand in his pocket to ensure that the key was there.  An odd feeling ran through his mind as he touched the cold key.  He could not understand the feeling.  No, it was neither fear;  it: was something else.

What kind of a box does this key belongs to?  He thought as he walked.  Must be a big box by looking at the size of the key and may be buried deep down the earth; containing jewellery or cash? He looked at the key and read the words once again The key to Happiness! May be, the box contains something else; what would bring happiness to anyone by opening the box? He thought and contemplated ways and means of finding the box.

He walked briskly with purpose written all over his body and  as he strode to the very place where he had found the key a strange feeling came to him and he stood rooted to the place under the shadow of  the large tree.  As he looked around, he realized that someone appeared to be sitting on the bench.  An old man was sitting on the bench and was staring at the far away horizon oblivious to his surroundings.

He approached the old man cautiously and seeing that there was space left on the bench, sat down at the edge and looked closely at him.  The old man must be around 80 or 90, he thought.  He had a lengthy beard and was small in build.  But it was his eyes; though they were not looking at him, he thought they had mesmerizing quality to them; they were sharp and deep.  Suddenly, the old man turned towards him and asked; “So, what have you done with the key”.  The man was shocked that the old man knew about the keys. 

“Is it yours?  I have it in my pocket.”  He replied, trying to pull the key out from his jersey pocket.  “Thank god I found you. Are you are the owner of the box?  I am sure it contains something very valuable.  By the way, when did you lose the keys”? But old man just smiled and said as if he didn’t hear a word “So, what have you done with the key?” 

The man looked at the old man and said “Nothing just going around with it and trying to find the true owner.  Thank god I found you” The old man laughed aloud and said.  “Hmm… that’s what you have been doing all your life, anyway.”

The man felt offended. “What do you mean all life?  I found the key just two days ago.”  The old looked at the man and with a wry smile on his face and whispered to himself. “Who said anything about the key”.  The man heard the whispering sound but the words were not clear.  He looked at the old man and asked him.  “Sorry, can you please repeat what you said?” The old man simply closed his eyes and said nothing.  After what looked like an eternity, the old man got up and started to walk away.
“Hey, wait” the man shouted and followed the old man now walking briskly.  “Tell me what should I do with the key?”
For a brief second the old man stopped and looked directly into the eyes of the man and replied.  “You are not ready yet.  But when the time comes, you will know what to do” the old man walked away as the man, confused, stood there.  He pondered about the old man’s last words.  “You are not ready yet.” Ready for what?  he thought as walked away.

The man searched for the old man on his next few days of morning walk.  But the old man appeared to have disappeared.

An odd sense of feeling ran through him every time he touched the key.  As he walked to the now vacant bench and sat down with the key in his hand.  He slowly took the key and looked at the inscribed words once again. “The Key to Happiness.” While he looked at the key, the old man’s words came back to him “That’s what you have been doing all your life, anyway.” Suddenly, the realization hit him hard.  He started laughing aloud, oblivious to the passersby, who looked at him with a quizzical look on their faces.

The man got up from the bench and put the key back exactly where he found them a week back, and started walking with springs in his legs.  Now he knew what to do; not just with key, he thought out loudly.
The man came back next day morning and seeing the key was still lying where he had put it, decided to wait in the shadow of the tree where the passersby couldn’t see him.

He need not had to wait for long.  A man may be in his early forties, saw the glittering key and took it in his hands, turning it around looked around for the owner.  As expected, the gasping sound came when the man looked at the inscribed words on the key.  He looked around once again, trying to identify the owner or perhaps, trying to see whether anyone saw him picking up the key.

The man standing on the shadow watched his new prey with a smile on his face.  I have to wait for couple of days before sitting on the bench and waiting for the man with the key, he thought as he moved away with a happy smile on his face!

 

 

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