The Rag Picker’s Dream

At first, he didn’t mind the barking dogs. It was a daily affair. He had somehow gotten used to it. The dogs didn’t insult him, because they were just the lesser intelligent species. It was the humans whose regular insults, and rejections were the hindrance to his normal life. He was looked upon as an outcast and never allowed in the high class vicinity. All he was trying to do was salvage something useful from the rich folk’s garbage. But a ragpicker is what he is, and it seemed that even these stray dogs had understood that.

He picked up a stone lying on the sidewalk, and threw it at one of the dog. But the dog was quick to avoid it by stepping aside and it landed with a metallic clunk in the garbage bin behind the dog. He picked another one, and his shot was on the target. A loud moan from the dog, was enough to disperse the entire pack away. Left alone, exhausted by the noon sun, he sat in the shade of a tree nearby, to have a gulp from his water bottle, and think about his life as usual.

It was an empty neighborhood road, as the people preferred to stay in their cool houses. Except for a black car, which slowed down near him, but didn’t stop. It went ahead down the street, and took a turn in the right hand alley ahead. When will I get to ride in such a car, he thought. Never, was his answer to himself. With the kind of money I get by scavenging these bins, I am sure……….wait!! Something is amiss. What is it exactly? He reversed his mind to a few moments, may minutes back. Something was out of place, he knew. A car had passed by, nothing unusual. The dogs….dogs were barking………he had stoned one………….first stone missed and hit inside the bin with a metallic sound….Metallic sound!!

His mind rushed faster then his feet. What was the metallic object. Plastic garbage bins don’t make metallic sound. My be another table lamp he could sell as junk? Or something else more useful? The 40 feet wide street somehow seemed miles before he reached the bin. A look inside revealed a black garbage bag, nothing more important for him. But the stone that he had thrown was on that bag and he needed to look further for the source of the sound. He lifted the bag to find something in it, something light, and rectangular boxy shaped. He remove it out of the bag, and it was a metallic briefcase, the kind used by scientists or engineers to store precious equipment. It was surprising, because people never threw briefcases in garbage bins.

The case was not heavy, so he assumed that it was empty. But he couldn’t get it opened, as it had a combination lock. A briefcase like this will surely fetch me a couple of dollars, he thought. But he had to get out of this neighborhood. Anyone could sight him and would want to reclaim back the case. He walked a few yards down the street, and took a left turn in to an alley. It was the quickest way to his place. After a few quick paces of excitement through the alley, he heard a voice from behind. “There he is”, someone said. Two pair of footsteps, broke into a run, following him. He looked back with confusion in his eyes. Two men, fit to be wrestlers, were following him, and had just broken in to a run, to catch up with him., or may be catch him. Many a times he had been shooed away. Youngsters and kids had scared him in such fashion. But never had grown up men followed him.

His instincts for survival overpowered his body and mind, and he broke in to a run. He had an advantage. The advantage of knowing this alleyway like the back of his back. His bare feet gripped the cobbled path much better then the leather shoes of those men. He knew that the right turn after the next left would lead them all to a 3 way junction, and a little luck would confuse those men to a wrong path. He took the next left turn, and then the right in few steps. He headed straight for the path leading to his home. He didn’t look back. The sound of the following steps subsided. It had worked. He had shrugged them off. But there was no slowing down until he had reached home.

In due time he reached his shack, on the outskirts of the town. Only when he had settled down in his chair, the broken one which he loved so dearly, he realised that he had been carrying a briefcase all along. It struck like a lightening that those men were after the case, not after him. He racked his brain and remembered that one man was sitting on the passenger’s side in the car that had passed on the road while he was resting. He was good at remembering faces. He had just one look at the man in the car, but he remembered that the man had a big scar on his left cheek, the kind made by a knife in a fight. One of the men following him in the alley, had exactly the same features and the same scar on his cheek. His mind raced faster. The car had slowed down and seemed like it was about to stop, but had not. It had slowed down exactly near the garbage bin. They were supposed to pick up this case!! Oh My God!! This case was valuable. There was something important in it. Something that could change his life. Was it money? Were there drugs? Was it some vital information? He had to open it up to know.

He brought out the crowbar, one of the few objects that he had scavenged, but not sold. With quite some effort he was able to break loose the lock. The briefcase top lid flew open and he found himself staring at few packs of 100$ bills and a small black pouch. He had never seen so much money all together. In fact, if he counted all the money he had earned in his life, it would turn out to be a small amount as compared to what he was looking at. He quickly counted the number of packets and the number of bills in each packet. A quick calculation informed him that he was richer by 50,000$. That wouldn’t help him move to the king’s neighborhood, but he would be comfortable throughout his life.

His vision caught the black pouch again. What was it doing there. It couldn’t carry currency, so small it was. May be loose change. He picked up the pouch. It had a draw string which tied around its mouth to seal it. He carefully removed the string, all the while feeling something with the shape of small stones. His fortunes opened up with the pouch. On emptying the contents on his palm, he found himself holding few transparent, colorless stones. Diamonds!! He couldn’t believe his eyes. So this was the valuable thing that the men were after. Yes, they surely were diamonds. The couldn’t be anything else. He saw himself booking the Rolls Royce, the silver ghost which he had a fancy for.

Suddenly, reality struck him. He was a no-one in terms of earning such a huge fortune. He had no source of income. He couldn’t sell these diamonds in open market, as the government would notice. So would the people who were after this case. He couldn’t deposit this money in to his only bank account, as that would be noticed too. He didn’t know if the money was marked, or hot. He was lucky enough to acquire such a fortune, but was not in position to use it all of a sudden. He was in a fix.

He had to find a solution to this. He knew a pawnbroker who bought from him regularly. But this was not something junk. Nevertheless, the pawnbroker was the only option he had at the time. He took some time, relaxed, and thought it out. He would shift to some other town to spend his life. He could spend his money there. But he had to evaluate the value of the diamonds at the pawnbroker. He couldn’t risk showing them to anyone else in the town. It was evening, and if he started now, he could make it to the pawnshop before closing time.

With that thought, he hid the case with all the cash in a well hidden place, which he had used in past for his precious things. He took the pouch of diamonds in the inner pockets of his pants to keep them safe. He took out his spare dress, so that he wouldn’t be recognized if those men who had followed him, happened to pass him. All the while along the road he kept whistling at his fortune. He had never expressed happiness so openly throughout his life. All the while along the road he kept on planning and replanning his future. It was near closing time when he reached the pawnbroker. As there was no one in the shop, he showed one stone, which he had taken out of the pouch before entering the shop, to the pawnbroker. He also informed that given a good price, there were more stones from where this one came. With a glitter in his eyes, the pawnbroker examined the stone. He said that it was a diamond, but he wouldn’t know the value until the next day. as it was closing time. The pawnbroker asked him to come back the next day at noon time, when he would have the exact price for the stone.

With a boost to his joy, and his whistle, he walked the road back to his house. The next day, he started early to reach the pawnbroker. The road was isolated as usual. Along the way, he sensed that he was being followed. Looking back he saw few men walking their own separate directions, nothing unusual. Along his way he reached an isolated place with no houses on the roadside. The road itself was empty. His sight landed on a tree at some distance. He saw someone standing by its shade. As he came closer, he recognized the person to be his pawnbroker. At that moment two men came out of an alleyway ahead of him. These were the men who had chased him yesterday. He turned back to run. There we three more men standing in a group, staring at him, as if waiting for him to make a move. He had nowhere to go. A chilly realization ran up his spine. The pawnbroker had sold him out. That was the reason why he had asked him to come the next day. A trap was setup for him. There was no escape. The two men behind him came closer and put a mask on his face. Everyone of those five men tried to hold his one body part or the other. They pinned him to the ground. One of them asked in a stern voice, ”where is it?” He did not reply. He thought that his silence would buy him freedom. Maybe some vehicle would come down the road, which would scare these people. But he was wrong. He felt a heavy leather boot lodge in his stomach with a heavy blow. More blows started raining. He started feeling the pain. He wanted to shout, but couldn’t. He tried say something, but his mouth seemed to have lost the voice. He felt helpless, and pleaded to God that this be a dream.

The kicks stopped. Then he heard few dogs barking. He opened his eyes. The mask was gone. The afternoon sun looked straight in his eyes, blinding him for a while. A few feet away, he saw stray dogs barking at him. He looked around. The men were nowhere to be seen. There was no pawnbroker in sight. A realization of joy came upon him. It was all a dream. There was no briefcase. There was no money, no diamonds. Sigh!! But this was all a dream. He wouldn’t be found murdered on the sidewalk. He got up happily only to be barked upon by the dogs more loudly and vigorously. He picked up a stone and aimed for one dog. The dog dodged it and it landed in the garbage bin with a metallic clunk. He picked up another stone and aimed at the dog with success. And then he froze!! Déjà vu!!

A chill ran up his spine as the metallic clunk reverberated in his ears, while a black car came towards him down the road, slowing down.


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