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Once in a Dress Shop

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By Savitri Narayanan

“91%!!!,” Saurabh skipped  into the room, “I scored 91%!”

The final exam results were out and Saurabh was back from school with his report card. His tone brimmed over with joy and eyes glowed with pleasure as he shared the happy news with his family.

Now that the middle school years were over and Saurabh had entered Class IX, he would also move into the senior school block. There was something special about the senior school students, an aura that made them stand apart! The rest of the school looked up to and treated them with respect. Saurabh eagerly looked forward to the day he would walk into the classroom in the senior block.

“Congratulations, dear!” said his father, putting down the newspaper that he was reading, “This asks for a celebration; you deserve a treat!”

“Of course we knew you’ll score well!” his mother’s voice was full of affection and pride, “But you do deserve a treat, let’s go shopping!”

That’s how that evening they ended up at the Delightful Dress Collections in Bazaar Road.

“Leave me out, have workers in the northern yard,” Papaji excused himself. “Saurabh bete go with Mummyji and buy a new outfit, Anju Masi’s wedding is happening soon!”

Happy to shop any time, Saurabh’s friend Anshuman too went along.

“You both look around for your clothes.” Once in the shop, Mummyji left them alone. “Let me try to exchange this bed sheet!”

They took their own time as they enjoyed every moment of shopping.

Selections over, they headed for the trial rooms.

“Check the fitting,” said Mummyji, “ill-fitting dresses are an eye-sore!” Saurabh was pleased to wear the clothes one after the other which Mummyji and Anshuman commented upon. At the end, they all agreed upon the dark maroon silk kurta with the golden piping.

“I’ve something similar too which Mamaji gifted for my birthday,” said Anshuman. “Let’s wear these for the temple mela!”

Across the dress-shop was an ice-cream parlour where they stopped by for their all-time favourite – chocolate-coated vanilla ice-cream.

Much before they were back home, the sun had set and the streetlights had come on. At home, too, Papaji had lit the lamps in the prayer room, at the front door and at the front-gate. He was there, waiting in the front verandah, looking slightly worried too.

“Hope you got what you liked!” he smiled happy to see them home. “Get into your new outfit, Bete, let’s see how it looks on you!”

As Saurabh went in to change, his father called after him, “Your phone kept ringing but no answer! What happened? So unlike you!”

Saurabh was out immediately, in the same old dress, “Where’s my phone?”

“I called you a few times,” said his father, “there was no answer!”

“You’re always fiddling with your phone, it’s like part of your body!” said his mother. “Where can it have gone?”

“When did you use it last?” asked Papaji.

Papaji, you called when we were waiting for Anshuman outside the Delightful Dress Collections,” said  Saurabh, “to find out where we were; I don’t remember using the phone  after that!”

“Think you left it at the shop?” asked his father.

Tears welled up in Saurabh’s eyes at the thought of losing his phone. It was a new phone, gifted by Sunil Mamaji and Renu Mamiji. A timely, thoughtful Deepavali gift when they noticed how Saurabh was struggling to cope with the ongoing online classes with his old cellphone.

“If they’ve got it, they’ll surely return it,” Mummyji had full faith in the shop, “reliable shop, honest people they are! Know them for years!”

“The risk is if some customer got it,” said his father. “They would just throw away the sim, delete the data and use the phone!”

“Let me try calling!” said his mother with increasingly rising hope. “Someone might answer!”

The next hour was spent repeatedly calling the shop and Saurabh’s cellphone.

“The phone’s ringing, but no answer,” said Papaji, “Was it in silent mode?”

“Don’t remember!” Saurabh sounded lost.

There was a phone number on The Delightful Dress Collections’ bill which they called.

“We don’t know what you’re talking about!” was the answer from the shop. They were friendly and patient at first but turned increasingly impatient and offensive.

“Did you lose your phone in our shop? If you’re sure, lodge a police complaint, we’re keen to find the thief too!”

It was a quick decision. Papaji got up and picked up the car keys.

“It’s only 8 o’clock. The shop won’t close till ten or so,” he said. “Let’s go there right now!”

There was hope in their hearts as the car tactfully negotiated the evening traffic.

The shop manager was warm and friendly.

“This has never happened before! Nobody has lost anything in our shop!” he said, “We’re honest people! During the past seventy eight years have earned people’s trust and respect, haven’t pinched their cellphones!”

Saurabh’s father was quick to clarify and make amends.

“Sir, please don’t misunderstand, we’re here to tell you how we trust you completely!” he said. “I’ve been coming to this shop for years, as a child with my grandfather and my parents and now as a father with my own children too! Your shop is part of our growing up!!”

The manager calmed down quickly and smiled.

“If at all we find an owner-less cellphone in our shop, we’ll surely put it aside for you; keep checking with us on this number, no need for you to drive down all the way like this, that too so late at night!”

They came back home with no phone but much reassured and hopeful at heart.

***

It had been two days since the cellphone was lost. As time passed, they were learning to accept the loss and move forward. Saurabh and Anshuman were out in the Municipal Garden as usual.  A group of friends usually met there in the evenings to play games or just to hang around.

“Just imagine I lost my phone on the same day that I got good results and a treat too for that!” Saurabh told Anshuman as they walked around. During the past days, every now and then, they continued checking with the shop but the answer was negative. Papaji wasn’t keen to buy a new phone either!

“Why do you need a phone?” he said. “The classes aren’t online anymore, right?”

The phone was special for Saurabh, a symbol of Sunil Mamaji’s and Renu Mamiji’s affection!

“Knowing Sunil Mamaji, he might gift me another phone,” Saurabh confided in Anshuman. “That’s not the issue!  How could I be so irresponsible? How could I lose my cellphone? How could I be so careless?”

“God willing, you might get it back!” said Anshuman.

“You really think so?” Saurabh brightened up.

“My father often says everything follows ‘God’s plan’ of which we’ve no clue!” smiled Anshuman. “So if it’s God’s wish, your phone’ll be back with you!”

The very thought cheered up Saurabh.

“Anshuman, you have my phone number,” he said, “Call the number just now!”

Anshuman took out his cellphone and dialled Saurabh’s number even as they moved away from the footpath and found a cement bench to sit down. The phone kept ringing at the other end but there was no reply.

Suddenly a woman answered.

“Good evening, may I know who’s speaking?”

“Isn’t this Saurabh’s phone?” Anshuman was thrilled.

“I’m not sure whose phone it is,” said the voice, “If you know the owner, ask them to contact the manager of Delightful Dress Collections on Bazaar Road!”

Anshuman and Saurabh were at a loss for words when the voice at the other end continued, “The other day as we were winding up to close the shop, I found this phone under a pile of clothes!  It was completely drained out and in silent mode too; last evening we found a compatible charger so could switch it on; ever since we’ve been waiting for this phone to ring!”

“Thanks a million!” said the boys, “See you soon, we’ll be there!”

Thrilled at the sudden turn of events they rushed home to inform their parents.

“This asks for a double treat!” they laughed. “A burger and a chocolate-coated vanilla ice cream!”