I pushed the cart to its usual corner in the market. Around me, others had already set up shop.
“Hari, you are late today. What happened?” asked Shyam, arranging the tomatoes in his cart into a neat pile as he spoke.
“Just overslept. Had a headache last evening and couldn’t sleep till late,” I replied as I hurriedly removed the vegetable bags from the storage at the bottom of the cart. From the corner of my eye, I could see others make their sales.
“Is your wife back from the hospital?” asked Shyam before turning his attention to a buyer who had come to him.
“No. Maybe tomorrow,” I replied. But he wasn’t listening. I focused my attention on stacking the leafy vegetables into neat piles. Every moment mattered for leafy vegetables. They were not like other vegetables that you could carry over to sell the next day. I had to sell my day’s wares or throw them all out.
My mind returned to Neerja and her diagnosis. What if it was cancer? I had heard of a relative who went broke after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Nowadays many people seemed to be getting this disease. It was not like a heart disease. That just needed some medication. But cancer. My legs weakened at the thought. I would have to ask my son for help. I disliked the idea of troubling him for anything, let alone money. He was doing ok in the city. He worked in an office. Did he earn enough?
A couple of brightly dressed women chatting loudly began to examine the vegetables. “How much for the spinach? Do you have Fenugreek? Show me the coriander.” As they purchased the vegetables, others began to come as well. If women spotted someone at a vegetable vendor, they immediately assumed his wares were good and went there as well. There was no logic to this. But there was no logic to me thinking Neerja had cancer as well. I needed to focus on selling the vegetables. Hospitals were expensive business. God alone knows how much loan I would have to take now. In between customers, I kept sprinkling some water on the vegetables so that they appeared fresh. I rearranged them in the baskets. What if they didn’t all sell? I needed some extra cash. Taking a kerchief from my pocket, I wiped my brow.
I realized Shyam was watching me, with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Brother, you know God did not create a meaningless world, right? Whatever happens may look bad to us. But it may not be so. Don’t let your imagination run wild, Hari,” he said, a half-smile on his face.
For a moment, I did not know how to respond. Then I was overcome with emotion. It was what my wife had told me when I left the hospital this morning. She always blamed me for being weak and emotional. “God did not create this illness,” she whispered. “Let us trust him.”
What else did we poor folk have apart from God and our faith in him? Our days were spent in thinking about death, suffering and destruction. We lived in the shadow of fear all day long worrying if illness would catch up with us, or if we would have an accident or be left penniless. It was only his memory that drew us out of the nightmare of our thoughts. Looking at Shyam, I smiled. “Thank You, Brother,” I said, “for reminding me.” Indeed, God did not create a meaningless world.