The Old Man on the Stump

This game had become an integral part of our morning walk. Who is he? Where is he from? And what is he doing in the university campus? Ah! The mystery of the toothless old man who sat gnawing upon a neem twig, his head bobbing with the breeze, his eyes twinkling at every passerby.

The deeply etched map of wrinkles on his gaunt face brought alive a myriad of possibilities in our fertile minds. The creepy chemistry lab technician who came out to mix his potions at night. The gardener in charge of the swamp where many a students were supposed to have met their fateful end in the far far past. The dean’s dad who sat there every morning wondering where he had gone wrong (that was a big favourite during exam season). The stories were many, each story teller vying with the other to concoct the more absurd yarn.

We never spoke to him but we always waved at him and he always bobbed back. This pied piper who inspired exotic quixotic tales was the catalyst that transformed our fugue state into a walk through mystery lane.

Until the day we were faced with an empty stump.
Was he was unwell, or out of town? Had the dean been finally sacked?
The next day too the stump was bare. And the days after.

It was a strange feeling of being bereft, as if an integral part of the landscape had gone missing leaving us unable to find our bearing. As if they had pulled down the maps and road signs overnight and now the only thing guiding us onward were a faint memory of what used to be.

The walks continued, but the romance was lost.

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