Short Story Longlist 2018, Bhagyashree Mishra

The Milkman

In a sparsely populated industrial town of Odisha, Piyush lived along with his wife Priya and daughter Preeti. Endowed with wildlife sanctuaries and parks the scenic beauty epitomised solitude. Dense forests bestowed with a variety of flora and fauna attracted picnickers. Meandering Mahanadi passed through nature’s bosom. Awe-inspiring was the view of lush green plants swaying on hill slopes.

Preeti, an adorable little girl of three, sometimes visited these tourist spots with her parents. Urban lifestyle and its sophistication helped them live comfortably. Piyush worked with a mining and quarrying private sector company. He was the sole bread winner of his family. Though Priya chose to quit her job and be a homemaker, yet the toddler’s hilarious activities filled her soul with the joys of spring. Mother and daughter spent quality time caching memories. Often at sunset they visited the nearby parks. Slides, swings and seesaws were all that the little one asked for. Preeti’s amicable nature awarded her many friends. Parks lent her a million reasons to amuse.

In a wintry evening, around 8 o’clock, Piyush received a mail out of the blue. It was his third attempt for a government sector job that had brought him laurels. Within a month, his family shifted to the new location. Away from cacophony, vehicular emissions and rampant smoke from industrial exhausts they had moved onto a remote area. Only the rattling pots, swashing of sea, fluttering birds and clucking hens broke the silence. The trio took many days to adapt themselves to the remote lifestyle.

Almost everyday Preeti wailed for she missed her friends. And unfortunately, there was no park in their surrounding. Kids in the village ran after butterflies, rolled worn out vehicle tyres, swung on aerial roots of banyan, jumped on muddy puddles and chased small animals. Mollycoddled Preeti could hardly imagine playing these games. Preeti’s tantrums escalated for her parents couldn’t provide her rides on slides or swings. Surprisingly, even toffees, ice-creams and pastries lagged at consoling the little heart. One fine evening, Priya unbolted the door at Mr. Ramakrishna’s knock, a man perhaps of 40. He had come to deliver milk. Priya took the bottle of milk and went into the kitchen. Ramakrishna taught students in the village’s primary school. But to augment his meagre income, he relied on cattle. He was kind and hardworking and considered no job to be below his stature. Finding a toddler with tearful eyes, quivered Rama’s heart. He thought of sharing her pain. Thus he waved his hand lovingly, gesturing her to come near him.

Without wondering for a while, she ran to him as if she had found a friend in him. Piyush and Priya rushed to their living room upon listening the toddler’s tinkling anklets running outdoor. Both of them heaved a sigh of relief upon seeing their ward laughing at her loudest. Tears of joy rolled down their cheeks viewing the toddler swing. The Milkman was singing a melodious song and cradling the angle in his towel. Four of them sparkled a score of smiles. This turned to be an everyday affair. Preeti’s ears eagerly waited for the tinkling bell in the evening. Rama would come, take the little one in his arms, sing and cradle her. An array of chuckles the child spread out, eased all his aches.

Post few years of his service in the rural area, Piyush was once more transferred to the town. Unfortunately the Milkman and the toddler could no longer meet or interact or laugh out loud. Both of them moved on in their lives but their voids could never be filled. Everyday on his way to sell milk, the Milkman would pause outside a vacant house for few seconds, pull out a photograph from his shirt’s pocket, flash a smile, shed some tears and pass by. The house was where the adorable little girl dwelt in once.

The little girl grew up in the next two decades. Within these years, Preeti and Priya tried reaching out Ramakrishna over the telephone. Alas! All efforts in vain. Each time they heard it as -” The dialed number doesn’t exist, please check your directory and dial again”. Nonetheless, the honey sweet memories leaped over fallouts of technology. Preeti manyatimes recalled those times spent in the remote area. In her diary, she had mentioned about how grateful she was to meet Rama uncle. She completed her schooling with fair grades. She went on to pursue her Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in the United States. Despite being in a foreign land, whenever she drank a mug of milk, her subconscious mind reminisced Rama uncle and his ways of pampering her younger version. Post graduating from the Harvard, Preeti was offered jobs by renowned multinational companies with handsome packages. But she willingly refused to accept those job offers. Hardly, anyone thinks of undertaking such a risk. Preeti risked it all for her once put off desire of settling in India had rekindled. Her dream was to start her own enterprise in her homeland. Thus, she returned India and established her own business which flourished, efficaciously.

Ramakrishna had retired from his job and was suffering from osteoporosis. His lean and weak body restricted him from milking the cows and riding bicycle. His money-grubbing sons thus sold the cows and orphaned him on a fateful day. Humiliated by the inhumane behaviour, Ramakrishna left the village. He went to the city in search of a job. But helpless Rama couldn’t seek any and moreover ran out of the little money he had within a week. Beside a traffic congestion, on a pavement Rama perched for some time and gulped water. His hands then caressed the photograph he saw everyday reminiscing Preeti. Alas! A heavy gust of wind blew away the photograph from his hands. The wind carried it through a car’s open window and placed it on a person’s lap seated on the driving seat of an Audi. The person turned it around and cheerfully exclaimed: “How cute the little girl in this picture is!”

On the spur of the moment, a fountain of childhood memories cascaded in the lady’s mind seated behind. She screamed: “Our Milkman”. She snatched the photo from her driver’s hand and ran towards the pedestrian. The lady was Preeti Arora, entrepreneur of a successful multinational company.

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