Saturday 4 March 2023

All In The Eyes - Short Story - by Snigdha Agrawal


All In The Eyes

Short Story

by Snigdha Agrawal


He should have been in school like other children of his age.  Instead, every day without fail, he sat on the cemented pavement opposite the bus stop.  When his hands were not engaged in performing his trade, he could be heard whistling to the tunes of popular Bollywood songs, contentment written all across his childish face.  Guessing by his undernourished appearance, he could be anywhere between twelve to fifteen years age bracket.  Between whistling and attending to his trade, he would be calling out to passersby shouting cheerfully "Boot Polish...Boot Polish...for just rupees ten.  I'll rub and scrub and make them shine so bright, till you can see your image". And true to his word, he made boots sparkle like the stars twinkling in the skies above.

Office goers conscious of maintaining the image commensurate with positions they held, would stop by to avail his services, occasionally striking a conversation with the boy, while in all seriousness he went about with his business, polishing shoes for ladies and gentlemen.  If someone was in a hurry and urged him to speed up the process, he would politely tell them "pardon me, sir, I take pride in my profession and make no shortcuts. May I request you to have patience".  Seeing his earnestness, the regulars rarely deprived him of showing off his acquired skill in the shoe polish profession.

Next to him sat a wooden box with several compartments.  One to hold the round boxes of boot polish paste, brown, black, and white, stacked neatly on top of each other. In another, he kept pieces of clean cloth of different colors for wiping the dust from the shoes, before applying the paste.  The shoe brushes stood upright, each in a separate compartment, neatly labeled with color codes.  For a boy his age, he was very methodical in setting up his makeshift boot polish shop.  


Waiting for my bus to arrive, I paid close attention to this activity, which started with sweeping the place with a long broom. Dried leaves, twigs, and throwaway food wrappings, all went into a trash bag, which he emptied into the public trash can standing behind the green colour painted, wrought iron fence.  When done with this, he would spread a plastic sheet, weighing down the edges with bricks. A high raised wooden platform painted red, his seat, he placed at the center so accurately as if hitting the bull's eye in a dartboard game. The tool kit on the right, and a wooden footrest next to it, completed the ritual of getting the shop readied to receive customers.

I had no reason or need to use his services; my footwear was limited to flip flops, open-toed sandals, and sneakers, worn on bus rides from home to the supermarket to pick up groceries.  One day curiosity got the better of me.  Crossing over to the opposite pavement, I stopped by his boot polish shop.  In his faultless English accent, head down, intent on rearranging the brushes back into the box, he asked "how can I help you, Madam".  Taken aback, I haltingly answered, "I work for an NGO and our mission is to rehabilitate pavement children, provide them a home and education to make them self-reliant". Looking up squarely at me, he responded quickly " I am self-reliant and can take care of myself".  It was the first time then I got to see his face up close.   Scarred red mottled skin pulled tight stretching from forehead to chin, like parchment paper, he had neither eyelashes nor eyebrows, beady eyes staring out of deep sockets. I failed to hide my emotions. 

Unselfconsciously he smiled and said, "I see you are shocked.  Don't be.  I am used to it" and without my asking volunteered to share the events leading to the disfigurement of his face.  

I looked into his eyes, stunningly beautiful, dark pupils swimming in white, as he narrated his story.  They say eyes are the windows to the soul. That day I  looked into the soul of an innocent child and was completely blown away by the language his eyes spoke, emotions changing with each sentence. he explained how the fire caught the edge of his mother's saree, unknown to her, snaking its way up engulfing them both, while he was sleeping peacefully in her lap. Instinctively she had rolled him over onto the blanket, putting off the flames with her bare hands, ignoring the flames rising around her.  He was rushed to the hospital with second-degree burns.  She succumbed on the way.  Eyes turned glassy with the remembrance of returning home motherless.  Then the pain showed through as he went on to explain the recovery process, registering shock when he first saw his freaky image.  

"Madam now you understand why I dropped out of school.  No one wanted to be my friend.  Some laughed up to my freaky face.  My elder brother came to my rescue and convinced my father, homeschooling would be best.  That is the long and short of my story" he concluded his eyes lighting up to express his happiness at his newfound freedom.

He knew I was fibbing about my NGO credentials, as his eyes searchingly challenged as though to say...drop your charade and come straight to the just wanted to chat me up for that character you wanted in your novel.  Now you have it.  Go write your version.

So, here I am writing of those beautiful eyes that had me captivated for the short time I stood before him listening to his version.  


Beauty in his eyes had an osmosis effect, permeating deep down where his soul stayed caged.  All else faded.  Sometimes people are beautiful. Not in looks.

Not in what they say. Just in eye communication. And as is inevitable  "A beautiful face will age, and a perfect body will change, but a beautiful soul will always be a beautiful soul"... Rebecca Helen.

(Edited version of the story first  Published in Sweetycat Press Anthology Beautiful: In the eye of the beholder available on Amazon and Kindle).


Snigdha Agrawal (nee Banerjee) has an MBA in Marketing and Corporate work experience of over two decades. She enjoys writing all genres of poetry, prose, short stories, and travel diaries.  An intrepid global traveller her travel dairies are accessible in blog

She is a published author of three books...1."MINDS UNPLUGGED" Lockdown stories and Rhymes for the six to sixteen"(2021) available on Amazon.

2." TALES OF THE TWINS" unsung melodies" book of prose poetry (2018) 

3.EVOCATIVE RENDERINGS" book of poems (2017) available on Amazon.

For three consecutive years, she has been nominated as Author Of the Year by StoryMirror, a leading  online literary platform.  She has contributed poems, stories, and essays published in global anthologies.

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