Once upon a time, there was a boy, a kid barely into his teens. He had left his grandparents and aunts and uncles and his many cousins back in his hometown and had come with his parents to a foreign land where they bid their fortunes. After many years, his aunt’s marriage was fixed. He was excited, because this would be the first wedding of someone among his close relatives that he would attend.
A few days before the wedding, his grandfather declared that he would be the man of honour at the wedding, he would be the one leading the bride and the bridegroom to the altar. The boy was thrilled beyond words. Among all his cousins, he was chosen for this great task, to lead his aunt and his future uncle to the altar on their most special day. He was going to be an integral part of their wedding.
The day of the wedding dawned. The boy set about making preparations. The previous night he had been practising taking slow steps so that he would not be running too far ahead of the couple. He put on his new clothes and went to ask his grandpa whether his steps were slow and small enough. His grandpa, amid all his other tasks stood there and watched this little boy take his steps cautiously and knew at once how seriously he took his task. He gave the boy a small clap on his back and told him, yes, it was ‘alright’. The boy could not wait till they got to the church. But of course, there were the lengthy preparations for the bride to look her best on her most special day, and her sisters to look even more stunning, often making people wonder whose wedding was going to take place.
Finally, all was in place and they reached the church. The bridegroom and the bride took some of their first steps together into the church. The boy was hovering with his measured ‘5 steps ahead’. The moment the boy saw that the bride and the brodegroom were in place he took his first step and glanced back to check if they had got the cue. Yes, they had. They too had taken their step. And then, there was his grandpa who gave an encouraging smile and gave him a shake of his head, as if telling him to keep moving because all was right. Emboldened, the boy set off. He saw the cameras all around clicking and whirring as they recorded the couple’s walk to a new chapter in their book of life. He thought that he would be there with them in at least a photo, in at least a few seconds of the video. And he walked on. With pride. With happiness. And a bit of sadness that his aunt would soon leave them.
The wedding was over. The albums and the video of the wedding had come. The boy eagerly pulled them out of their protective covers to see if he was there in the photos and the videos.
He paged through the albums, one by one. But in all of them, he was merely a snip of cream coloured cloth in a corner of the picture, at least in the ones he was there. Not losing hope he put the video on. Nope. He was not even seen, not even as a peice of cloth in the frame. He had been cut out from the picture. He had been the invisible man of honour. It was as if he never attended the wedding.
Not uttering a word, he left the room.
The day had come for the newly-weds to leave for Bombay, the bridegroom’s place of work and the entire family was going to see them off at the railway station. The boy was there too, with a sealed envelope clutched in his small hand. He did not allow anyone else to hold it, or even touch it. His only answer to enquiries about its contents was an angry stare. The train arrived. The aunt was on her way to start a new life. The newly weds got onto the train and the train’s final whistle was sounded.
The boy went up to them and gave her the envelope, saying, “This is my gift for you. Your wedding gift.”, after which he simply stepped back and watched the train slowly pull out of station.
The aunt forgot all about the envelope in her haste in bidding her parents and her sisters farewell, and she stuffed it into one of her bags.
A few days later, after having reached Bombay, the aunt was busy unpacking everything and settling into her new life when she saw the unaddressed letter lying in one of her bags. Opening it she saw a pencil sketch of her on her wedding day. But what disturbed her were blotches on the paper, from what seemed like tears dropping on it.
It was signed, Don Joe Martin.