The old man was very paranoid about his wealth. One sight at him could easily have you deceived – he looked the picture of misery in his torn pants and faded shirt. But he was a hoarder.
Down the years, he had amassed wealth from all sorts of queer sources. His father had left him a bag of gold coins. He had remaining more than half of his earnings as a bank officer, considering he had lived off bread and butter in a measly room for the most part of his youth. Moreover, he wasn’t married.
It was a sudden tea-time visit that first brought his wealth to the notice of people.
He had retired a week back and a young officer from the bank came along to deliver some papers. The old man sniffed, not too happy about entertaining a guest, but offered him a cup of tea nevertheless.
“There was a coin of real gold at the bottom!” the young man later announced. “It sat there calmly at the bottom of the cup.” The old man, he said, had awkwardly pushed him out after his discovery and locked himself in.
Ask the neighbours and they confirm his quirkiness. One of them remembers waking up to the sound of shovelling one night. He looked out of the window to spot the old man digging. The rain was heavy, the night dark. The spooked neighbour shied his eyes when the old man came out to walk the next day. Another resident of the locality once found him carrying home three huge gunny sacks. Apparently, he folded them when seen and went ahead with a horrific scowl.
One fine morning, the old man did not emerge for his morning walk. The other people at the park easily noticed his absence. Though forever quiet, he was by far the most fascinating walker with his vagaries and jaded clothing.
Incidentally, he didn’t turn up the next day, or the day after that.
A small kid from a nearby house spotted him lying on the floor after a week. His ping-pong ball had fallen across the courtyard and he went along to fetch it. “Old Uncle was sleeping on the floor Papa.” he said to his father that evening. “Without a pillow and with open eyes.”
It took only the milkman to clear out his belongings, with a little extra charge of course. The house was thoroughly searched after his funeral but not a trace of money was found. The lone box under the bed was found to contain blue paint.
The next day, the neighbourhood woke up to a shock. Right outside the old man’s house, sheltered by a newly sprouted leafy-bush was a large blue signboard. A black bag marked “Rs.” defiantly stared at passers-by.
Since that day, several attempts have been made at digging out the ground under the board. Several counter-attacks have also popped up as a result. While one of the diggers suffered a snake-bite, another complained of a spider attack. A team of college kids exaggeratedly claimed the signboard had chased them off the ground when they had dared to shovel the soil one night.
My office being on S.B. Road, I see the signboard every day. It is now embellished with pamphlets asking you to earn money sitting at home. The security guard of the HDFC Bank (right next to the old man’s now deserted house) narrated the tale to me as I waited in the queue one morning.
As I looked, the leaves huddled closer.