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Chapter 31
They met once, Mr. and Mr. Kumar, the baker and theteacher. The first Mr. Kumar had expressed the wish to seethe zoo. "All these years and I've never seen it. It's so closeby, too. Will you show it to me?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," I replied. "It would be an honour." Weagreed to meet at the main gate the next day after school.
I worried all that day. I scolded myself, "You fool! Why didyou say the main gate? At any time there will be a crowd ofpeople there. Have you forgotten how plain he looks? You'llnever recognize him!" If I walked by him without seeing him‘he would be hurt. He would think I had changed my mindand didn't want to be seen with a poor Muslim baker. Hewould leave without saying a word. He wouldn't be angry – hewould accept my claims that it was the sun in my eyes – buthe wouldn't want to come to the zoo any more. I could see ithappening that way. I had to recognize him. I would hide andwait until I was certain it was him, that's what I would do. ButI had noticed before that it was when I tried my hardest torecognize him that I was least able to pick him out. The veryeffort seemed to blind me.
At the appointed hour I stopd squarely before the main gateof the zoo and started rubbing my eyes with both hands.
"What are you doing?"It was Raj, a friend.
"I'm busy.""You're busy rubbing your eyes?""Go away.""Let's go to Beach Road.""I'm waiting for someone.""Well, you'll miss him if you keep rubbing your eyes likethat.""Thank you for the information. Have fun on Beach Road.""How about Government Park?""I can't, I tell you.""Come on.""Please, Raj, move on!"He left. I went back to rubbing my eyes.
"Will you help me with my math homework, Pi?"It was Ajith, another friend.
"Later. Go away.""Hello, Piscine."It was Mrs. Radhakrishna, a friend of Mother's. In a fewmore words I eased her on her way.
"Excuse me. Where's Laporte Street?"A stranger.
"That way.""How much is admission to the zoo?"Another stranger.
"Five rupees. The ticket booth is right there.""Has the chlorine got to your eyes?"It was Mamaji.
"Hello, Mamaji. No, it hasn't.""Is your father around?""I think so.""See you tomorrow morning.""Yes, Mamaji.""I am here, Piscine."My hands froze over my eyes. That voice. Strange in afamiliar way, familiar in a strange way. I felt a smile welling upin me.
"Salaam alaykum, Mr. Kumar! How good to see you.""Wa alaykum as-salaam. Is something wrong with youreyes?""No, nothing. Just a bit of dust."&q............
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