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It was the end of the '70s and Ram Chand stood in one of Rome’s random streets holding presents.

He was reminiscing how his wife Kulwanti would peer over colourful scarfs “those foreign women” wore in European magazines, and her pursed lips would suddenly spread into a smile, imagining herself in place of the model. She would always liken the pictures to an exquisite orchard in the Kashmiri hills as her trembling fingers patiently sketched the scarves’ outline, as if waiting for her stronger self to emerge from the magazine’s pages.

 

Ram nodded to the Italian couple as he passed them. His light complexioned north Indian ancestry and four years of travelling in merchant navy gave him a more local look than foreign.

He smiled at the fleeting sense of his belonging. A policeman called him over and Ram started walking faster, his heart beating; his papers were incomplete and he barely spoke beyond accented pleasantries.

 

Ram tripped on his laces and suddenly remembered his grandfather's remark “old habits catch up quickly”. He accepted this as a warning from his grandfather and god plotting a series of tests to make him into a better man. He nervously started collecting his presents he had dropped and bent over the street to pick up the toy Vespa, when the bus driver suddenly noticed him.

 

Mrs Alesio smiled as she ran her hand over the Indian man’s head. She had never met an Indian but Raj Kapoor’s popularity had reached her ears.

Ram awoke in the night, cold sweats rolling down his back. The bus headlights still flashing in his eyes, even while lying on the cold hospital bed. He wanted water but his legs wouldn’t move. His tired brain slowly understood the horror of his condition. Ram’s legs were paralysed, permanently.

 

Brevity Quest 2016

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