DON’T SPEAK TO STRANGERS!

“Who were you talking to?” Mother asked when Zack walked into the hall.

“The man wanted directions to the market,” Zack answered meekly. He knew that his mother had a special problem with his talking to strangers but he just couldn’t help it otherwise how would he make new friends or also get help from people who did not know him.

“Let this be the last time that I hear you talking to strangers especially suspicious looking ones. You never know what trouble they could land you into.” This harsh warning spoilt Jack’s mood for a minute but when he went out to play with his playmates, everything was forgotten and he allowed himself to be immersed in the world of play. At that time Zack was seven years old. His father was a construction worker, his mother a housewife and they were all hoping that Zack would get a sibling soon.

**********

From where he was seated under the tree he could hear the noise coming from the roadside. He lifted himself and spotted a pregnant woman trying to control her toddler and hold on to a huge basket at the same time. “Angela, no no no .Don’t go there,” She was saying. Zack could hear her heaving and panting. He felt like doing something but decided against it and went back to reading his textbook .Why should he be bothered? How could he help the woman? For all he knew, she was going somewhere very far away. For a moment he forgot about the diversion and went back to his books but when he heard the woman shouting in frustration at her daughter he put his book under his arm, walked up to her and offered to help her with her basket at least. She looked so relieved and yet embarrassed. “That would be nice .Thank-you,” She said.

They walked for quite a while before they got to an unpainted house. “We’re home,” she said more to Zack than to her daughter. When Zack handed her the basket she thanked him and asked for his name. “Zack,” he answered.

“Jack,” she repeated .Zack nodded. It did not matter whether she knew his name or not. They would probably never meet again. He walked quickly back home where his mother was waiting for him.” Where have you been? I was seriously looking for you.”

“I was helping a certain woman with her luggage .Sorry.” When Mother raised her eyebrows Zack knew why.

“She really needed help.” Mother simply shrugged and gave Zack the prescription to go to the drugstore to get some drugs for his father. At this time Zack was fourteen years old. His father had had a work accident which had affected his leg badly so he was no longer working. His mother sold sachets of pure water to support the family now .After a series of miscarriages Zack had no siblings. He was the only child and his parents were putting so much into his education so that he would be able to lift them out of their misery in future.

**********

They had stood at the roadside for a very long time. Every commercial vehicle that passed by was full. Those that had free seats were not enough for the three of them and others at the bus-stop were also rushing for them. Time was running and he had to go to school. He could not afford to be absent because final exams was approaching and he needed to prepare. Zack looked at Father. He was getting tired- Mother too. Thirty minutes went by and just when they started to lose hope, a beautiful wine Toyota Landrover pulled up in front of them. The car glasses were rolled down. “Need a ride?” One of the passengers asked.

“Definitely,” Mother answered quickly.

“So where are you off to Jack?” The driver asked .When he did not answer the question was repeated.

“Are you talking to Zack?” Father asked. She nodded.

“Well, we are going to 37 Military Hospital, “Zack said. “Please, do I know you?”

The woman laughed and so did her male companion who was carrying a toddler and a girl of about four years.” Do you remember that about a year ago you helped a woman with a toddler carry her load?” Zack was thoughtful for a while and then a look of recognition came into his eyes. “It’s you .I did not recognize you. Are those your children?”

She nodded. “He was the one I was carrying and she was disturbing me. That is my husband. He was abroad at the time.”

Later in the night Mother was commending the woman who had saved them in the morning. Zack could not help saying, “You see, if I had followed your rules strictly about talking to strangers we would not have been helped.” Mother and Father only smiled. Zack was fifteen years old and getting ready to write his B.E.C.E.

**********

“In three months’ time you will be graduating,” Father said. “Hurrah! My son will soon be a nurse and will take care of us better.” He and Mother simply couldn’t wait. The years had been hard on him and Mother but they had not given up especially on Zack’s education. Soon, they would be reaping the benefits of their suffering. Zack walked out confidently wearing a meticulous white shirt. The day was so wonderful and beautiful.

He was walking to the bus station from the hospital when he saw an old man stooped with age trying to cross the road with a heavy briefcase. His situation aroused sympathy in Zack so he went to help him. The old man looked so pleased.”Since you are here, please help me take this to my son across the street. He will recognize the suitcase and come to you .I shall in the meantime rest here for a while here. God bless you, son.”

Zack crossed the road. He thought he saw a man coming towards him. Everything happened too fast. He heard sirens and then he was on the ground .Everybody was shouting .The suitcase was opened. He was handcuffed. He tried to explain .The old man had disappeared. He went to jail. The trial began. He was proven guilty. They said he was an accomplice to a drug baron.

As he was led out, he saw Father and Mother crying .He was their only hope. Who was going to take care of them for the ten years that he was going to be away? Tears rolled down his cheeks. The world looked so dark. Ah! He should have listened to Mother. Don’t speak to strangers! Don’t speak to strangers! He was twenty-two years old.

He came out when he was thirty-two years. Mother and Father had passed on. Their only hope had disappointed them. He sat on Mother’s grave and screamed, “You were so right about not talking to strangers.” He placed his head and arms on his knees and wept like a baby.

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