As the door creaked open and a bespectacled 70 year old figure appeared, the little boy’s squeak of delight resonated in the hospital room. Sampath, cane in one hand and a present in the other, slowly heaved himself on the bed beside the child. On unwrapping the present, the boy’s face lit up with the brightest smile that Sampath had seen in weeks. “Another R K Narayan book! Thank you grandpa,” he exclaimed as he hugged Sampath. Sampath too had a wide grin across his face; with shaky hands he carefully lifted the book and began reading it aloud to the little boy. The boy and the boy-at-heart soaked themselves in the words of the book until the rays of the evening sun painted the room a shade of beautiful orange. “I will come back in the morning. Have a nice night’s sleep putta,” Sampath muttered as he closed the curtains before walking to the creaky door.
Hardly anything changed over the next few days – neither the dreary curtains, nor the faded bedspread, nor Sampath – who would prop his cane against the railing of the bed and begin reading as soon as the visitor hours began. The only change observable in the room was the boy – his condition seemed to grow worse as the days passed. His bones had become prominent, and his once chubby face was now replaced with sunken muscles. Intravenous drips of antibiotics were too harsh for a child of his delicate frame. Although each day seemed more tiring than the previous, he immersed himself in the world of characters that his grandpa created for him.
Sampath kept reading to him. The boy became increasingly engrossed as the stories progressed. He also had started to lose tufts of hair. He prayed to the almighty to give him strength, and promised his grandpa that he would stay until the book finished. The boy and his grandpa now looked similar – with prominent veins, bones, sunken cheeks and almost bald heads.
Almost a fortnight after the boy’s 7th birthday Sampath neared the end of the book. Over the days his voice had been losing its usual texture and became increasingly shakier. On an early October evening Sampath finished reading the last page of the last story. He turned around to pour himself a glass of water from the table next to the bed. His trembling hands dropped the glass jar and it shattered spilling water across the room. The boy took a deep breath as his grandfather went outside to look for a nurse. Sampath turned around worriedly as soon as he heard the EKG monitor beeping. He tried to run back inside, but tripped and fell because of his cane. Using all his strength he stood up and hobbled his way into the small room. The boy was smiling, although completely exhausted.
Sampath made his way to the bed as fast as he could. The boy’s lips parted to say a few words. “I love you Grandpa, it was a pleasure being with you” he whispered. “I love you too putta” Sampath whispered back, with tears falling on the boy’s cheeks. He sang his grandson a lullaby the last time. The lullaby calmed the boy as his vision dimmed into darkness. The grandson had kept his promise.