Harvest Times


The Coffee Shop - Short Story

Today, after more than seventy years, I am reminded of that event.

This morning, my wife made my favourite dish of dosa for breakfast. Usually I eat it with chutney. But today, I told her I would have sugar instead. Although I am a diabetic patient, since it was my birthday, she obliged. She gave me two big spoonfuls of sugar.

It was the spoonful of sugar that brought back that memory to me today. Years ago I used to be served spoonfuls of sugar in a coffee shop by a very generous, lovable person.

I was only six years then. Being the pet boy of the house, I was pampered a lot by my parents and sisters. There was good reason for this. After having four daughters, my parents very much yearned for a son. My mother went into fasting and praying. Two years after the birth of the fourth daughter, my mother became pregnant again. Constant prayers from friends and relatives went up to heaven. My father and mother prayed with tears for a son.

Finally the great day arrived. My mother delivered a baby boy. The joy of my parents knew no bounds. My sisters literally danced with excitement – they finally got a brother! And that was myself.

When I grew up, I became the hero of the house. I had a special place in the house. I enjoyed a preference over my sisters in almost everything.

I remember my parents taking me to church when I was six years. We lived in a village and the church was more than three kilometers from the house. We had a car with a driver. Although my father could drive, he preferred the driver to take us to the church, one reason being that he wanted the driver also to attend church.

My father wanted me to attend church regularly and learn spiritual lessons even from a young age. Personally I was not that keen to go to church, and I envied my friends in the neighbourhood who were allowed to play at home while their parents went to their churches.

My elder sister, who had a soft heart, came to my rescue. In order to give me the incentive, she suggested that whenever I felt hungry during the church service, I could go to the nearby coffee shop and eat dosas. This coffee shop was supplying dosas and idlis, and my sister knew dosa was my favourite dish. This appealed to me very much and I readily agreed to go to church every Sunday. My father was quite willing to confer this privilege upon his pet son.

That is how I was associated with the coffee shop. This place, called ‘kappikkada’ in the local language, consisted of just one room built of stones and thatched with plaited coconut fronds. There were three or four tables and benches for customers to sit down and eat. The place was owned by one Madhavan Nair who was the manger, cook-cumwaiter and cashier all combined into one. He made tasty dishes including dosas and idlis and used to keep them inside a glass-covered cupboard, prominently displayed to outsiders. Boiled water was kept ready so that he could make instant coffee and serve it to customers.

Our driver would take me to this coffee house where I ate as many dosas as I liked with plenty of sugar.

Madhavan Nair was a man of around forty, handsome and well-built with a fair complexion, having curly hair and a smiling face. He had a special liking for me which he displayed by giving me plenty of sugar – more than usual – with the dosas I ate. He wore a white dhoti, without a shirt, baring his chest which was covered with black hair. He always came to me very often whenever he was free and talked to me in a very pleasing manner. And while I enjoyed the dosas there, I liked his talking too and gradually developed a deep affection for this good man.

As days went by, my craving for dosa decreased and my visits to the coffee shop became less frequent. But I still liked the company of Madhavan Nair. Meantime, I developed a liking for some of the programmes of the church service such as the songs and also the sermons of some preachers who used to tell interesting stories during their sermons. Also one idea got stuck in my mind which I had also learned in the Sunday School – that is, you believe in Jesus and you will go to heaven and if you don’t do that, you will go to eternal hell where you will have to suffer great agony and pain.

I thought of telling this to Madhavan Nair because I did not want him to suffer in hell. I was not clear as to what he believed. But I had seen him bowing to a picture hung on the wall of the coffee shop. This was the picture of a handsome young man playing a flute which I understood to be the Hindu god Krishna. Madhavan Nair used to garland this picture and stand before it with folded hands and bowed head.

One Sunday morning, when he brought dosa, I mustered enough courage to ask him: “Do you believe in Jesus?’

The smile suddenly vanished from his face. It seemed he did not expect such a question from me. He looked at the picture of Krishna for a moment. Then he turned to me with his usual smile and said: “I know the story of Jesus. He was a good man.”

“He was God”, I said. “You must believe in Jesus, otherwise you will go to hell.” He gave me another broad smile, but did not say
anything. Some people who were eating there looked up intriguingly at me.

During the following nights before I slept, I prayed to God to speak to Madhavan Nair and make him a Christian.

Days were fast moving into weeks and weeks turned into months…..

ONE Sunday morning, we were going to church as usual. Father and the driver were sitting at the front seat. I was sitting between mother and the elder sister at the back. (The other sisters were walking to the church with friends.)

When we reached half the way, we saw a crowd gathered at the side of the road. We heard some unusual sounds coming from the crowd. Father asked the driver to stop the car. They both went to the side of the road where the crowd was moving about. Getting curious, I struggled out of the car and followed them in spite of my mother’s loud protests.

What we saw was a pathetic sight. By the side of that narrow road, a man was struggling between life and death. His body was splattered with drops of blood and he was writhing in pain. I went and had a close look. I could not believe my eyes! It was my beloved Madhavan Nair!

I was shocked and started shivering with fear. My father asked me to go back to the car. It seemed Madhavan Nair had some enemies who came and stabbed him while walking on the road – our driver explained when he came back to the car. I could not believe that. How come anyone could stab such a nice man? How come someone could be the enemy of such a magnanimous person?

During the church service, I could not concentrate. I was earnestly praying for the recovery of Madhavan Nair.

After the service we passed by the coffee shop. It was closed. My father asked someone standing there about Madhavan Nair.
“They took him to the hospital,” the man said. “The doctors tried their best to save him. But they did not succeed….. He died half an hour ago.”

I felt a pang inside my heart. The ground suddenly seemed to have vanished from under my feet and I was sinking down into the deep!

On our way back, while inside the car, I asked my mother whether Madhavan Nair would be in heaven. “If he had believe in Jesus, he will be there,” she said….. TODAY, after more than seventy years, I am struggling to convince myself that he did.

– P. V. Samuel
Published in Harvest Times for Your Family 24 March 2013 / Volume 10 Issue 03