She knows even before she has opened the wrapping paper what is inside it. Rattling the box confirms her suspicion. It is an alarm clock. Just the like the one the school had presented Vijaya teacher when she retired and to Lakshmi teacher before her. They had organised a small function in the school assembly hall for her. The headmistress, Lalitha teacher had given a brief talk and presented her with the gift-wrapped box. No one was sure what was supposed to happen next. So Lalitha teacher suggested that they sing the national anthem which they did.
There was not much to take home with her. A few books, some old photos, a couple of birthday cards and that was about it. Lalitha teacher asked her to look after herself and promised to keep her informed if the school needed any help. As ever, Pazhani was waiting for her by the school gate. She eased herself into his autorickshaw feeling it sink under her weight. For a long time she would take the bus to school. She would leave home at seven thirty to board the seven forty-five bus which managed to get her to school at twenty past eight. But some days the bus would be late and she would end up taking an autorickshaw.
After her knee operation three years ago, Padmaja decided to take an autorickshaw on a regular basis. Pazhani was a reliable autorickshaw driver. He would pick her up from her doorstep every morning and be at the school gate when she finished for the day. He had only let her down twice in the three years. Once was when his daughter had had epileptic fits in her sleep and he had to rush her to the hospital and the next was when his brother's wife had passed away quite suddenly. Padmaja had understood his difficult situation.
“But you should at least have called me to let me know, Pazhani. Next time, whatever the emergency, just give me a call to say that you cannot make it today and I will find someone else, ok?”, she had said stuffing a 100 rupee note in his hand to pay for the doctor's bill.
She does not have much to say to Pazhani when he drops her at the apartment gate. “Thank you, Pazhani”, she tells him. “Aiyo madam, please don't embarrass me. It was a pleasure to be of service to you. Thank you, madam”, he replies effusively. She tells him that she would let him know if ever she needed an autorickshaw and ignoring his protests, thrust a new shirt and some money in his hands. And that was how Padmaja teacher marked the end of her thirty-four year long teaching career.
(This is a short story in parts, a work-in-progress. It still needs plenty of tweaking, kindly excuse.)