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The Shoeshine Boy Who Walked Into A Barista

"They'll never let me in there."

10/10/2017 9:04 AM IST | Updated 10/10/2017 9:04 AM IST
Jayanta Shaw / Reuters
Representative image.

On a November morning, two years ago, just a few days before "Children's Day", I was standing outside a Barista waiting for an Uber cab I had just ordered. I called the driver for the third time in 15 minutes.

"Arrey kidhar ho?" I asked him exasperatedly.

"U-turn le ke aa raha hoon!" he replied equally impatiently.

I hung up, and as I did I heard a thin voice ask, "Joota polish?"

I looked down to see a boy who could not have been more than 10-years-old squinting up into the sun at me, with his shoe-shine kit slung over his shoulder, asking to polish my shoes.

He looked up scornfully from his polishing and said, "Do I look like I go to school?" I instantly felt like an idiot!

I pulled out a ten rupee note out of my pocket and handed it to him. He took a step back indignantly and said, "I'm not begging." I suddenly felt ashamed of myself and asked a bit gruffly, "How much will you charge?"

The boy said, "Whatever you want to give." Smart little chap, I thought to myself.

I sat down on the steps of the Barista and started chatting to him as he began scrubbing my shoes.

"What's your name?" I asked

"Honey," he replied.

"How many people in your family?'

"Just me and my mother."

"What does your mother do?" I asked him

"Nothing. She's not well, and so I have to work."

Not quite sure what to say next, I asked him, "Do you go to school?"

He looked up scornfully from his polishing and said, "Do I look like I go to school?" I instantly felt like an idiot!

"Where is your father?" I asked him.

"Gone", he replied. I did not probe further.

I looked at his dirty white shirt, and bleached brown hair as he applied the final touches of shoe wax to my shoes and a thought suddenly struck me.

"Have you eaten?"

"Not since last night. I'm starving," then he quickly added so as not to have to make me think too much, "There's a place in the back of the market where they sell rajma chawal for people like me."

For people like me?

The words stung me like a slap! For people like me?!

Something resembling anger rose up inside me. I pointed to the Barista behind me and said, "Want to go here for lunch?"

Honey recoiled. "No, no, no!" he said. "They'll never let me in there."

"Of course they will," I said. "You're my friend, right? I'm taking you for lunch."

Honey frowned, not exactly sure if my saying I was his friend actually made me one.

"Come on," I said to him. "Let's go." And I opened the door to the Barista. The look on Honey's face said that either I was mad or he was. We walked into the Barista, me with my laptop bag slung over my shoulder and he with his shoeshine kit slung over his.

All conversation in the Barista suddenly ceased. A complete hush descended on the coffee shop. Even the sound of cutlery died. There were maybe 30 people in the cafe. Every pair of eyes stared at us as we walked to the counter.

"What would you like?" I said. Honey pressed his nose to the glass. "That!" he said, pointing to a rich chocolate truffle pastry.

"One chocolate truffle for my friend please," I said to the chap behind the counter who had a wide grin on his face. He was, I guessed, not from a very affluent background himself. The cafe manager, on the other hand, looked like he was frozen in time and space and had no clue how to handle this.

I was starting to enjoy myself now.

"Where do you want to sit?" I asked Honey, rather hoping he would choose to sit inside. But Honey, the empathetic soul that he was, looked around at the very obvious discomfiture of everyone else in the cafe and said, "Let's just sit outside."

We went and sat on the steps of the Barista as he wolfed down his chocolate truffle. He suddenly realised he hadn't offered me any. He held up the half-eaten pastry and said, "Want some?" I declined, and he happily went back to finishing it.

My taxi arrived, and I got up to go.

I slipped Honey a hundred rupee note. He said, "So will I see you again? I'm here every day." I said, 'Of course," and took my leave.

As I settled into the taxi, I heard a rather heavy knock on the window. I turned to see a burly chap in a pink shirt that I remembered seeing in the Barista. I rolled down the window. The big man said in a soft voice, "I saw what you did there. That was very nice. Thank you."

I honestly did not know what to say and fumbled for words and a response. Nothing came to mind. I can't remember what I said if anything. All I remember is that I felt a bit awkward and embarrassed.

As the taxi drove away, I turned to see the man in the pink shirt sit down on the steps next to Honey and start chatting to him.

I went back to that market a few days later with a bag of warm clothes for him and then a few times after that, but I never met Honey again. I asked around, but no one seemed to have seen him. It's been two years now. I have no idea what happened to that little chap.

I hope I meet him again.

The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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