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The Little Customer

'A bottle of strawberry milkshake!'

A soft melodious voice made us all look up at the counter.

The three of us were out for a small coffee break today morning once the OP was settled, just outside the emergency department.

A small girl perhaps eight or nine years old was the owner of the voice. Wearing a pink-white frock with her slender hair braided well onto one side of her face, she was peering over the counter of the cafeteria-cum-stationery store. She also had a hundred rupee note clutched firmly inside her left palm.

'Is that all, child?' the man at the counter asked her gently as he extended the small bottle of her favourite milkshake to the girl.

'Not quite...I want a bathing soap and a washing bar too' ; the girl was quick to respond.

The shopkeeper disappeared for a minute but was soon back with what she had asked for.

'How much is it?'

'It would come to one hundred rupees!'

'One Hundred Rupees?!'

The girl hesitated for a moment as she considered the matter at hand.

She picked up the bathing soap in her little right hand and asked for its cost...She knew it was the culprit.

Our curiosity seemed to rise at her cute little gestures.

As soon as she got her answer, she asked the shopkeeper to exchange it with a cheaper one.

'How much is it now?!' she raised her eyes at him, once the mutual exchange was made.

'Well, now it would be seventy-five!'

'Okay...I shall have toffees worth five rupees as well uncle!'

'Here's your change...'

'And a cover too please!'

The shopkeeper gave her purchased goods in a cover along with a twenty rupee note which she gladly accepted.

By this time, all of us were in smiles - the way she carried herself, the way she dealt with a particular situation in life, the way she assessed her need for the moment and above all at her naive innocence while being serious enough!

As we looked back,she was already gone...out into the scorching Sun, perhaps back to her parents, perhaps brandishing her milkshake gleefully at a younger sibling or sharing it with a dear one or perhaps to an ailing relative who had come to the hospital....

[Cover painting : 'The Visitor' by Arthur Hopkins]

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