Every time the blue door creaked open he remembered that he had to oil the hinges. Lekin ab aadat si ho gayi thi. He stepped out of the old threshold that had paint wearing off. Warm morning sunshine washed the dull distempered wall like everyday. He latched the door and put on slippers that had walked through several paths. Today was another day on the same paths. The tiny box like shop across the road was closed. Madhav, the man who ran it, shut it down one day, packed up and left. Nobody knew why or even bothered to find out. A solitary faded frock hung outside its grill window on a rusty hook. It fluttered every time a heavy wind blew.
A little ahead he saw the remainder of the morning mist lifting off the cobblestone alley. An old woman with a hunch walked slowly, bucket in hand. There were cycles parked outside tiny houses and their owners getting ready for the day. A child crying nearby made him tilt his head to get a better look. The mother was desperately trying to pacify him by singing the few words of a lullaby she knew. He chuckled and remembered his childhood when he used to cry and his mother who knew no lullabies turned on the old radio so they could listen together. He’d understand nothing; nevertheless it used to calm him down.
The place was waking up slowly.
At the end of the alley, old Damodar had already set up his little sewing machine outside his house. He sat there everyday on a rickety wooden stool, always focused on his stitching. There was always someone who needed a little button mended, school uniforms to be loosened as children outgrew them, salwars and bedsheets- you name it, and he would skillfully work magic on his machine. Street vendors had opened their stalls too. Bharti smiled radiantly as she spread out her tarpaulin sheet, displaying fresh vegetables. She was ready to begin her hustle with customers and share the latest gossip with passers-by housewives.
The sweet smell of hot jalebis made its way to his nostrils. The sweet mart must be open and in business. Aseem’s sweet mart was world-famous in Anupampur. Even the cat who sat at the steps of his shop waiting for milk knew it. As usual, a considerable number of people had crowded to try his delicacies. Further ahead the little library of the town with its red wooden doors was yet to open. Not very long ago someone from a nearby city stopped by and donated several books, hoping to inculcate the habit of reading amongst the children. A few of the children now knew the stories of Aesop’s Fables and Malgudi Days, thanks to the one teacher in their school who read those tales to them.
He had reached his shop where he sold refurbished watches. How he made them look new was a fact known only to him. “These are the finest watches you’ll find. My rates are best and my watches are world-famous in Anupampur,” he would say to every customer and coax them into buying. His shop being the only shop that sold watches, people had no other option anyway. The lopsided board outside ‘Chandan Watchmakers’ needed fixing. His wooden countertop was smoothened out with years of use and from behind it he had a good view of the town- his little world that he was so used to.
He closed the shutters of his shop at exactly 6 PM and walked back home, tracing the same paths, watching people head back to their own homes. Everything was just the way he had seen it in the morning, except with a twilight filter across the sky. He walked up to his blue door, paused a moment and gazed at the frock swaying gently at the shop across the road and went in. The creaking door closed behind him. He had to oil it. Lekin ab aadat si ho gayi thi.
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