The boy had started collecting stamps when he was seven years old. An uncle had gifted him with a stamp book for his 7th birthday. He had wished for a train or a G.I.Joe, but his uncle thought it was time the boy took up a hobby.
His sister had helped him tear off his first stamp from their father’s envelope and place it in his new book. Soon, he learnt to cut them neatly with a scissor.
Over the years he had learnt to organise them by country, by year, by occasion. He begged relatives who travelled abroad to get him stamps from faraway lands where exciting things happened (at least in his imagination).
The stamps from China had pictures of Dragons spewing fire; the stamps from Paris showed a strange tower-like structure like a giant fir tree without a trunk. His father had told him the name of the tower but he had forgotten. It sounded very foreign and exotic. Surely all those countries were much more interesting than his little town. Any place with dragons had to be smashing!
The stampbook(s) for there were many across the years came to be a constant companion for the little boy. It followed him through teenage and into early adulthood. He was the only boy among his friends, who spent most of his pocket-money on buying stamps rather than watching movies or having a night at the pub.
His first job allowed him to start spending regularly on his stamp collection. And his collection flourished. Then he met a wonderful woman and got married. Years passed by. They had two children. The children grew up and left the nest. The wife passed away.
And once again the stamp-collector was all alone with nothing to keep him company but his books. He had stopped collecting new stamps. He was too old for that now, and preferred to spent his remaining days admiring his collection sitting on the front porch of his house.
One afternoon, he was poring over a particularly intricate Turkish stamp with a magnifying glass and cursing the Arabic language for its cunning curviness, when a sound startled him.
“Who’s there?” the old man asked sharply.
“It’s me, Sir” a small voice replied. A little boy of 5 or 6 appeared. The old man recognized him as the neighbor’s child.
“What do you want?” the old man asked rubbing his temples.
“What are you doing? What is that?” the boy was looking at the stamp albums with interest.
“Don’t you know you shouldn’t ask elders questions?” the man asked angrily.
The child smiled. His front two teeth were missing. “Why? Aren’t you supposed to ask questions when you don’t know something?”
That’s 2 questions in a row, thought the man irritably.
“Go away. Don’t disturb me.” the old man looked down and continued poring over his stamps.
The boy didn’t move. The man pretended not to notice. Five minutes later, he looked up.
“What?” asked the old man.
The boy looked upset and said “Nothing”. Then he quietly walked away.
Next day afternoon. The man hoped he hadn’t scared the child. But it was rude manners to ask so many questions. He wondered if it was the child’s fault or the parents. Parents definitely, his wife would have said.
He was surprised when the boy appeared again. This time he asked no questions. He just sat on the porch steps watching as the stamp-collector looked through his albums, turning the pages with his arthritic fingers. He jumped out of his seat whenever a loose stamp fluttered off the desk to retrieve it. The boy and the man sat for an hour in companionable silence after which the boy left.
This pattern continued for a week. The next week, the old man reserved a stamp for the boy. It was a US postage stamp of Spiderman and he had loved it through and through as a boy.
“Here”. He handed it to the little boy. The boy took it, his face breaking into a grin.
“Why are you giving this to me?”, the boy asked.
Too many questions , thought the old man.
“Hmmpphh…well..umm..for keeping your mouth shut last week. And for helping me collect those flyaway stamps.” the man gruffly said.
The boy flashed his toothless smile.
“Do you have more of these?”, he ventured.
“Off with you boy!”, cried the man. And the little boy fled with his cheeky grin clutching his Spiderman stamp.
The next day, the man settled down on the porch. There was no sign of the boy. An hour passed by. Th old man closed his books and sighed. He didn’t feel like having his usual cup of tea either. He thought he would nap for a while. But he sat staring at the ceiling for a long time before nodding off. He woke up to see the little boy peering down at him.
“I thought you were dead. But you were snoring. Dead people don’t snore, do they?” the boy said.
The man grinned. He had missed the little rascal.
“I got you something”, the boy continued.
He placed a scrap of paper on the desk. It was a picture of a crudely drawn Batman. Batman was flying in the sky along with some V-shaped birds. Batman didn’t fly, did he? thought the man to himself.
“You gave me a card yesterday. So thought I’d bring you something. Spent all afternoon colouring it.” , the boy said proudly.
“What card?” The man was puzzled.
“The little piece of paper with Spiderman on it.” the boy replied.
The man stared at the picture and he felt odd. Like something had just flown out of his chest. Nobody had gifted him anything for so long.
“Oh”, he said.
“Will you keep it in your books with the other cards?”, the boy asked.
“Cards? No my dear boy, those are stamps. Some are very valuable” The man was amused.
“Stamps? What’s that?” The man looked at the little boy. And he saw himself years ago sitting beside his sister as she explained to him about stamps and tore the stamp from their father’s envelope.
The boy rubbed his eyes impatiently, restless from standing still for so long.
“Yes, we will put your picture up in my book. Fetch me that scissor, boy. Shall we cut this up and get started here? Now here’s what we do…”
Author’s Note :
I have been toying with the idea of a story about a stamp-collector for the past two weeks. Don’t ask me why. It just popped up in my mind one fine day.
I had to do a bit of research to know what exactly a stamp-collector does. For eg: there are different specialised tongs just for picking up a stamp! Never thought a day would come when I would be Googling for ‘stamp collector’. But that’s the beauty about writing. It makes you wonder about things and then research on them. Hope you enjoyed the post :)