When I first met Manikam all I saw was his khaki shorts and tight-fitting shirt and greasy hair. But when I got to know him better... .
I first saw him standing on the stairs. His big grin showed his uneven teeth. I gave him a cautious smile and walked into my flat. I later learnt that he was the grandson of our neighbour and that his name was Manikam. He had come from a village, near Madurai, and was here for the summer vacation.
Much to my chagrin, my mother appointed me his official caretaker. I had to play with him, introduce him to my friends and keep him company. Of course I did not like this one bit. He was so different from the rest of us. He wore loose khaki shorts and tight-fitting shirts, his hair was always well oiled and his side parting was awful and he stood out like a sore thumb. But as the days passed, I began to like him. He always had a big smile and was so curious and interested about everything. He had a knack with animals and soon even the most ferocious Doberman and the German shepherds in the apartment complex behaved like puppies around him. He fought bravely with a boy from the street who bullied the girls. At the swimming pool, he swam like a fish, taught us different strokes and soon we were venturing into the deep side of the pool. He ate a pizza for the first time and loved it.
He taught us the game called "seven balls" which we played till we dropped, and we introduced him to video games. He had an amazing collection of tops and glass pebbles, which he shared. He told us about his village, the big well and the huge trees, the village thiruvizha, the river and the falls. He explained how much fun they have during the harvest season, and how they sleep outside counting the stars in the night.
He always helped the ladies in the apartment, taking care of the babies or doing their shopping or carrying their bags. All the kids became very attached to Manikam. He was clever but never boasted; he had his fun but was also sensitive and caring to others. He was always nice to everybody and never hesitated to help. He became the darling of the apartment in a month's time.
When it was time to for him to leave I promised that I would write and keep in touch and he promised he would be back the next holidays. "Thank you I learnt so many new things" he said, solemnly shaking my hand. What he didn't know was that we had learnt so much from him.
"Thank you my friend, or as we in the city would say `you are so cool'! We will look forward to your next visit." We waved till the taxi disappeared around the corner.
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