Sampat lit the incense sticks and the subtle fragrance permeated the otherwise empty house. After the bus accident ,that killed his entire family six years back, he no longer prayed. But he religiously lit those incense sticks for the illusion of filling up the void.The lonliness and lack of a caretaker had forced him to take up the job of a peon in a local school. At sixty-five he was a reclusive brooding man with a sorrowful demure and a slow staggering gait. Though frail he tried not to depend on anyone and stayed in his own quiet limited world of home and school. This was a regular work day but he was unusually anxious.
As he walked towards the school in his khaki uniform , that strange bodily craving overpowered him again. He first experienced it around two years back on a random day at school. It was almost shameful and unheard for his age. He was totally disgusted with himself but the thoughts recurred . He tried to curb the desire for weeks together but the craving took over his better senses and when in secrecy he indulged in the act , he found it very gratifying. Then began the vicious cycle of craving and sating it. The school was an absolute ideal place where he could find the object of his desire and satisfy his needs. Only that he had to be careful that the innocent children did not raise alarm. He frequented the classes , specially the lower grades , during the recess and the play period. When the children had this innovative class where the teachers left them alone with lots of chalks to draw on the concrete ground, he was always hovering around the kids.This had been going on uninterrupted until Sarita joined school.
She was a research scholar in Child psychology and was in the school for a six week stint. She was doing a study on teaching methods , nutrition and there effect on psychological development of children. Her vigilant and observant nature made her suspicious of Sampat’s behaviour. This otherwise reclusive and distracted old man caught her attention by his unwarranted friendliness with the toddlers. Sampat wasn’t unaware of her scrutinizing looks . He had hence become more careful and avoided her in every possible way. This avoidant behaviour had a countereffect and made Sarita more vigilant. What had begun as a simple observation, had started bothering Sarita. She had heard of pedophiles and infact had attended a seminar recently . Now she could not but help think that Sampat was a pedophile. Sampat had become extra cautious and had stayed away from the children for the past two weeks. Sometimes he just watched them from a distance, when they played with chalks drawing on the concrete floor, almost overwhelmed by desire. But today the craving was unbearable. He sure did not want anyone to discover about his secret passion.If discovered it would be a disaster and lead to loss of repute.But today the craving incapacitated him and instead of fighting himself he started plotting to fulfil his desire.
Sarita entered the staff room with a determined air. For the past two weeks trying to enquire about Sampat she had almost grown sure of what she had concluded. Today she was determined to find the evidence . Sampat waited for the recess totally devasted by the anxiety. Sarita closely watched Sampat without alarming him. When he moved from his seat to ring the recess bell she stealthily followed him. Sarita hid behind the wall waiting for Sampat to find a prey to sate his lust .But to her surprise Sampat did not enter to into the classroom till all the children left to play. She was puzzled . ‘Perhaps he steals from the classroom or is he more derranged then I ever thought… or am I just going paranoid?’ Sarita was growing anxious due to Sampat’s inactivity and a little annoyed with her suspicion over an old poor man. However she was convinced enough that somethimg was wrong to wait until Sampat entered the classroom. He closed the door partially . Sarita moved quietly towards the door and through the partially closed door saw him standing facing the wall his hands moved vigorously and his head shaking. Sarita couldn’t stop herself now and opened the doors with a bang ‘ Who is there? What are u doing?” She almost screamed .
Sampat turned with a jerk ,his heart pounding ,and something fell of his hand with a thud. Sarita could not believe her eyes. There was a mess of broken chalks and saw dust on the floor as the contents of the box spilled . Sampat had by now crouched down on the floor sobbing as the piece of chalk he had been nibbling on slipped off his almost paralysed limb. Sarita had understood that Sampat suffered from pica and eating chalk soothed the anxities of his sad , lonely and senile life. She had misunderstood the old man but it was time to help him. She stooped to help Sampat stand and thought about how often people fall for weird addictions inorder to sooth anxieties and escape the emptiness and solitude of their lives.