It had been a struggle, like most of his his life but finally there was a sense of accomplishment that his file had been submitted to the visa officer.For the last 4 days he had been on a continuous run, from the District Courts to the Bank to the travel agents almost like a merry-go-round but with a lot less fun.
As he sat on the comfy chair close to the whirring standing fan, he noticed the fan oscillating from side to side just like the head of the visa officer sitting right across him behind the thick glass window. He heard a young girl pleading to him about something, but could only make out two words , “student and please” . A primary school dropout farmer in remote village couldn’t make sense of the rest of conversation but the shake of that head could be understood by any person, educated or not.
A superstitious man that he was, he looked at that fan staring right at him and thought to himself, “Is this a Sign” ? But before the thought stuck to his mind like the dried up wet mud on his old worn out trouser, he brushed it off.
He looked back at the visa window and noticed a flashing red number on the top. Squinting a little he looked hard through his old eyes and tried to read it but to no avail. Just as he was about to get up he heard the announcement,” Number 132 on Window 4 “. He quickly remembered that he was handed a piece of paper too when he submitted the file. Without a blink he looked at his “Receipt” and calmed down seeing that his number was far away. His paper said 288.
He looked again at the receipt and a wry smile came on his face. The number took him back years. This was the registeration number for his first scooter, PBJ 288. The green Chetak, on which he had Harpreet his son, stand in front as he took him to first day of middle school. A proud moment for a father who had never seen the inside of a school after primary years. All of a sudden, seeing this number he started feeling a lot more confident about his chances on the visa window.
Another announcement of “Number 186 on Window 2 ” woke him up from his daydreaming slumber. He suddenly realised that the calls to numbers were random and that he could be called upon sooner or later. He could not afford to make any mistake and missing his call would not be a great beginning; so he tried to stay hyper-attentive. Although memories of Harpreet, learning to ride on that same scooter in narrow village lanes tried hard to drag him down the memory lane. The numbers flashing in front of him however, were much more important at this point.
The room was pretty cold with Air conditioning in full effect and with extra help from the standing fans but he was still sweaty. He got up and moved up a couple rows trying to get a better look at the number display boards. As he sat down, he remembered the day Harpreet came with a cloud of dust behind him riding the scooter like the real Chetak, shouting at the top his voice, ” Daar ji, I have got a seat to do my engineering in Toronto”. Both father and son had burst into Bhangra move with absolute zero music but their laughter and shouts of joy more than made up for any ‘Dhol’. His pride knew no bound; his son for whose success he had dedicated all his life was going to a foreign land for higher studies. An unheard, unimaginable feat had been accomplished. A culmination of the dream that he had seen all his life.
The whole world was in his grip now !
Suddenly he noticed that while looking back he had clench his fist a little too hard and the receipt was a bit soggy with the sweat of his hands. He unfolded the paper and looked up on the display board again. The board was lit by 167, and then 194 right after that. His heart was beating a little faster now as the numbers started approaching 200’s. It was almost like he was rooting for the higher numbers like he rooted for Harpreet’s cricket team especially when he was batting. Then his heart missed a beat as the board flashed 28….but then came the 0. He was almost panicking now and every minute that the other people were spending on the visa window seemed like a drag. The feeling of so close yet so far had never been as clear as this moment. His mouth was dry but he didn’t want to move away. His number was far too close .The most important number of the day. The number that began the whole journey. And then it came up. A bright red 288, and he sprung up like a hungry lion and almost ran to the window.
The visa officer, looked in his eyes and and then at his passport. He was asking no questions, like he was asking others. For what seemed like an eternity but was more like a minute everything stood still in dead silence. Then the visa officer looked into his dreary old eyes and said, “I am sorry”! ” You have been granted Visa, to bring back your son’s body”.
Quietly he muttered what should have sounded like a thank you, holding his passport wiping his eyes with back of his wrinkled hands.
As he sat down alone on the pavement outside the embassy, he felt this strange sense of satisfaction yet worthlessness looking at the sweaty, crumbled receipt in his hand quite similar to his feeling about his life……..