The guard was given a post far from the main gate. He was old, that was one reason, for the main gate needed guards who looked fit, capable, and pleasant to the visitors. This place was far from the gate was at the other side of the building where people would go past without stopping as they brought in their cars to move towards the exit. It suited the man fine, for he too knew that he was no match for any intruder, or a person who refused to go through the formalities at the entrance. His uniform did him no good either. Instead of making him look like a man with authority and responsibility, it revealed to whoever looked at him twice that he was too short for the shirt’s shoulders that went beyond his, and too thin for the pants that were buckled up to gather it in far more pleats than fashion or the tailor had allowed for. He was given a stick, as part of the overall getup, and a whistle that he found could sound really weird if the gap in his front jaw because of the missing teeth wasn’t sealed with his tongue before blowing into the steel hardware. Luckily, he had little use for the stick or the whistle and he soon forgot that he had the two in possession, just as the security detail and people who moved in and out forgot about him. He was kept because someone had added a clause in the security apparatus that the rear of the building would be guarded during the day hours by a guard. For what, against what, no one knew. But such oversights often have a desired effect for someone like this old man who was past the best-by date for most of the professions he had picked up after giving up the job of a railway shed guard that left him with a rasping cough because of the diesel locomotives that kept shunting in and out.
It was now the month of March, and spring was starting to peel off layer after layer of the winters. The guard still carried his coat, but would often take it off during the day. The neem tree had shed its melancholy and had agreed to take on the deep green leaves. The squirrels and the sparrows were now darting about, and the guard could hear the distant chatter from the main gate, and catch a few sentences from up close when he went to take his tea at 11am and 5pm. Other than that, he was free to sit under a tree and wait for the day to get over. This was his first spring in the city, having just come as far as he dared from his hometown, and he wondered if the smell of the pine trees would reach this far from his home in the foothills.
And then, the first of the shetut dropped from the short tree he had now started sitting under to get away from the midday sun. He looked down at the purple tube that looked like a small insect, and wondered if the thing was dead or just playing dead to avoid getting squished. And then another fell, making him look up at the branches above cleverly hiding thousands of these small things dressed in green. There undiscovered till they ripened to a bright purple and then dropped. The guard wondered if this was something that could be eaten, and then on his way home that day he saw three children from the slums by a building site up on another tree that could no longer keep the thing hidden from him. The three were dangling from branches and pulling at the far off reaches to pluck some ripe, some unripe offerings and bite into each with equal relish. The guard stood there, watching them. Between the tree, they didn’t let a single one drop or go waste. Though many lay on the ground, squished to a deep purple by the many feet that walked too fast and too engrossed to notice.
The next day, he picked up his first shetut and put it in his mouth, and for the first time tasted the spring of a new place, under a new sky. And from that day, the motorists who passed him on their way out or in, would see him looking up at the tree and reaching out for what they had missed all the years they had been here. Some, when they saw him walking around or sitting, would even notice that he looked younger, stronger, and happier. Even though the sun was getting harsher.