The smiling gardener

Published: July 4, 2013
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Eyes sparkling, face animated, so obliging, always willing to lend a helping hand, never losing that spring in his step, his presence was larger than life. PHOTO: REUTERS.

The house is the same but he’s not here. Why then is it that everywhere I turn, I feel his presence?

The garden he worked so hard on day after day, month after month, blooms but his corner is empty. No music blasting from among the flower beds, no hoeing of loose earth, no planting of flower buds, no watering of plants, no clearing away of rubbish, no crackling of leaves burning. The garden looks gorgeous, a testament to the hard work of the smiling gardener who tended it with so much dedication.

He was like mercury- here, there, everywhere. Happiness poured out of him, infecting even the most jaded among us. Words tumbled out of him enthusiastically when he chatted to his friends and family on his cell phone. He would hum in the kitchen and play swashbuckling music on his cell. I told him once to turn down the ring tone , but he just flashed his endearing grin. Not being immune to his charm, I could not help smiling back.

Eyes sparkling, face animated, so obliging, always willing to lend a helping hand, never losing that spring in his step, his presence was larger than life. When he took the stairs two at a time, I thought,

“Gosh, what an athlete.. look how he races up in seconds and here I am breathless if I try to do the same.”

Once when he was helping to unpack clothes, I noticed a hole in his shirt and felt ashamed for having so much when others had so little. I gave him a couple of shirts and he sauntered proudly through the house in his new blue shirt.

“It’s my best shirt,” he grinned.

I was disbelieving when I heard that he slept for only two hours in the night and thought I would ask him when I got the chance. But I didn’t for a few days. Then one day, I heard the musical timbre of his deep voice echoing in the house. I craned my neck.

“Where are you, Henry?” I called from the foyer. “I can hear you but I can’t see you!”

A few big strides and he was in front of me.

“Here I am! I was cleaning in that room”, he pointed to the far side.

“Uff, you know how weird this place is with all the pillars and it’s circular plan. So confusing.. can’t see anyone!” He smiled at the in house joke we had shared from the day I had set foot in the house.

“So is it true that you sleep for two hours a night?”

A slow smile. “Sometimes two and sometimes four hours..”

“But why on earth do you sleep so little?”

He was amused. “I can’t sleep more than that.”

“You know they say that human beings spend one third of their lives asleep. So while we are sleeping and wasting our lives, you are making the hours and moments count. You are achieving so much more in your life.”

His smile grew wider. “Yes, I am achieving a lot. That’s true.”

“That’s great. I’m getting inspired by you. From today, I am going to work harder, learn and write more. Make my days more productive just like yours.”

“Yes, you will!”

We both laughed heartily. The great and irrepressible joy he took in life was reflected in his beaming face. I turned and walked up the stairs away from him. During that day, I put aside my writer’s block and worked harder, wrote more and felt more fulfilled. I resolved to value time and be more positive just like him.

That same night, he died.

In the prime of his life, a cowardly trailer mowed him down on the highway he was crossing to reach home after visiting his sister. Perhaps he thought he could outrace it. Instead it mangled the same legs which had carried him with such speed through life. His indomitable spirit was crushed for the first and last time.

It was truly a privilege knowing you. RIP Henry.

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Maheen Usmani

Maheen Usmani

A freelance writer who has covered subjects ranging from socio-political issues to women's rights to counter terrorism, sports, travel, culture and music. Maheen tweets @MaheenUsmani (twitter.com/MaheenUsmani)

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