The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dear Mr Franks
ties that bind

Then I would dust my hands and glance at my watch. 'Yes! Yes! It's time for you to go! Shall I see you again next week' I would nod my head and hurry back to school.

Mr Franks waited for Wednesdays as much as I did. One day I fell ill. Viral fever had been raging in the school and I was taken to the infirmary with high temperature.

Lying in bed I realised it had been almost two weeks since I had seen Mr Franks. He must be wondering what had happened. Just then the nurse walked in. 'Someone to see you, miss!' Behind her ambled in old Mr Franks. I was delighted to see him.

'So the bug got you too! How do you feel now, lady' he said, handing me a bunch of dahlias. I said I was feeling much better now.

'Thought something must have gone wrong, so I asked Susie and came along to see you. These flowers are from my garden.'

I thanked him for the flowers and for coming to see me. 'Oh, not at all! Now get well soon, and then we can prune the roses together.'

Other than gardening, Mr Franks had a great liking for one more thing. That was festivals. 'I think this country has lovely festivals!' he would say. He looked forward to Diwali and Dussera as much as he did to Christmas, and would get as much joy and delight from lighting candles at Diwali as he would from decorating the small Christmas tree with streamers and little stars.

Before going home to Gorakhpur in December, I would take for Mr Franks a small box of decorations for his Christmas tree, bought from some pocket money I had saved. 'Thank you, my dear,' he would say. 'I'll leave them on the tree till you come back!' I'd wish him a Merry Christmas and ask him to take care. 'I will, my child, and come back soon!'

And so two years passed since I had met Mr Franks. Then one day, just before school was to break up for the winter vacations, I got a letter from Daddy. He had been transferred to Delhi, and I was to complete my last two years of school there. He would be coming to Lucknow the following week to complete formalities at my school and to take me home.

I was very sad when I read Daddy's letter. I thought of my school and my friends and I knew I would feel terrible leaving them.

The following Wednesday, when I went to see Mr Franks, he was weeding the flowerbed. He looked at me as I walked in forlornly. 'What's the matter, young lady' Do I see a black cloud hovering over your head' I nodded and handed him Daddy's letter. He read the letter through and then looked at me. My eyes were full of tears. 'Now! Now!' he said, sitting down next to me on the stone steps. 'You'll meet new people, make new friends! Is that something to cry about!' I shook my head and said that I would miss my friends here and I would miss him too. 'I will miss you too!' he said, holding my hand in his large wrinkled one. 'But we will continue our friendship through letters! You must write to me often!'

(Illustrations by Suman Choudhury)

To be concluded next week

Vandana Bist’s short story, Dear Mr Franks first appeared in the children’s magazine Target edited by Rosalind Wilson. It was later published in the short story collection, The Carpenter’s Apprentice, by Katha, a Delhi-based non-profit organisation and publishing house

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