Losing your first watch can be kind of a bummer. Especially when your parents give you a long lecture after it. More so when you’re six. Or seven. Or somewhere in between. This was back in the late nineties, when all the trains ran on the metre gauge, when the difference between middle and upper was only on these trains, and not in social hierarchy, when small towns thrived on locals milling about, seemingly oblivious to, but happier than the world outside their bubble.
It was also the age of Milo (not Stanley Ipkiss’ dog), and for the ten years after that, all Milo was known for was the freebies that came with it. One such freebie was a digital watch (!) which showed the time and then some, a few pieces of which could be found in Main Guard Gate at huge prices, but most of which had Mickey Mouse smiling at us from the top of the watch, which was the main draw for a kid of my age. This watch was (Milo) green in colour and the strap, when closed, could hold two of my hands and still have room for some more. Not only was it two sizes too big for me, the dial was also huge, which meant half my wrist disappeared under the watch, which was the point anyway.
My paternal grandfather (aka Thathi) was, and still is one of the nicest, most loving men I’ve ever known. He just couldn’t say no to anything I asked for, and is in many ways still the same man, just with a heart that beats far slower at 92 than it did at 75. When Monday arrived and it was time to go to school (to which Thathi walked (carried) me most mornings), I insisted on wearing the watch. Amma on the other hand, refused to let me do so. I reached a compromise with Thathi (easiest way to sidestep Amma) that I’d wear it all the way to school and return it to him upon reaching there.
As was, and is, custom for a six year old who doesn’t want to part with something he’s grown attached to, I threw a short tantrum on reaching school, whereupon Thathi could not, as mentioned earlier, refuse my request. He tried though, and for a good five minutes too. While the first two or so minutes were spent on trying to get me to remove the watch and hand it over, the last couple were spent on telling me to be careful with the watch. I promised that I’d only wear it the one day (I kept this promise, oddly enough) and that I’d return it at the end of the day to Amma. I’m certain there were a lot of ‘Please Thathi’s uttered that morning.
While the first two or so minutes were spent on trying to get me to remove the watch and hand it over, the last couple were spent on telling me to be careful with the watch.
Once he dropped me off at school, I went to class, dropped off my bag at my desk, and stepped out into the corridors again. There, I met this senior who I definitely did not know, and who I’m sure did not know me either. When you’re in the first grade, pretty much everyone is your senior, but this one noticed my watch and asked me where I got it. I, being the talkative and outgoing kid, told him that I’d gotten it free with Milo only yesterday and showed it off, quite to his delight.
It also seemed alright when he asked if he could show it to his friends in class just down the corridor, more so since he told me he’d bring it right back. As he was leaving, he asked me if he could return it at the end of the day, which I seemed completely okay with, because you know, I was six years old and probably had a dunce cap on.
At the end of the school day, when I did not see him, I assumed that he’d come looking and could not locate me, and that I could retrieve it the next day, especially since he said his class was just down the corridor. I went home, and when Thathi and Amma enquired about the watch, told them all about the nice senior who had sweetly talked me into giving him the watch for the day and how I’d get it back the next day.
I’d totally spent about twenty minutes wearing the watch, until then. My first ever watch. How was I to know that I’d never see the senior or the watch ever again, despite my mother coming to school to try and locate him, all for just a free watch?
Except, it wasn’t just a free watch.