"Hollow! Maadeeem" ....was the greeting that sounded so sweet to my ears every morning, when I went to open our restaurant"American Bar and grill" in Goa,India.Yes, that was actually"Hello! Madam" from the kindest and most humble human being I ever met,Johnny.
It was monsoon time in Goa and raining cats and dogs, a regular weekday and I was on my way back from the bus stop after getting our girls onto the school bus.As I got nearer , I could see this bundle of something wrapped up in a blue plastic tarp...I was a bit concerned at first and pondered if I should check it out or not..but then I also saw a little black dogs tail wagging from beneath...Kali was her name..she came out from underneath, oozing joy greeting me,so I bent toward her and patted her with all my love....My emotions took a hold of me and I was taken aback with what I saw next..Johnny sleeping right there dripping wet...My eyes welled up with tears and I could not compose myself so I sat down right there and ..whisper his name gently.He open one eye and then the next and jumped up saying ..."GOOOD MORNING MADAM!"really loud.I greeted him back and asked him why he was sleeping there...He said ," I am here because I wanted to catch you first thing in the morning,to ask you if I could help you with chores around the restaurant so that I can get a meal to eat...My heart sank rock bottom, to realize ..he was hungry...something that cannot be explained in words and I said .."OK!..although you will have to listen to me first..You are going to clean up in the back and wear the fresh set of clothes I give you ..with slippers too"Johnny smiled..teeth yellow and broken..He put his ...filthy hands together as if praying and said,"Thank-you!Thank-you! bherry much"Now this is how he spoke and I was impressed that he had some manners.
Johnny ..had a bigger problem...he was an alcoholic and did odd jobs for the nearby shops and restaurant owners who he bartered liquor for...The children from the slums would throw mud and water and trash on him while he was drunk..It upset me and I stood up for him.I took Johnny under my wing and he followed me every where saying to every one that I was his mother..even though he was much much older to me. I did not mind..all I wanted to do was save this simpleton from himself and others that my harm him.
Johnny all fresh and looking smart ...greeted my husband Om Shanti..saluting him and saying ..."I new boy"..Ha! Ha!!sweetest moment ever...Yes, he looked and felt good as it had been a very long time since he had had a bath or wore slippers on his feet..proof being the soles of his feet were like leather with large cracks between his toes which bled...I tended to them by smoothing Vaseline gently on and covering it with soft cotton gauze"
I guided Johnny and he followed my lead..he washed dishes and cleaned around the restaurant..he also helped with the shopping..although this faithful dog Kali and her son Bholu followed him all around the place...
My next step was to get Johnny off the booz...He made me a promise and slowly I kept monitoring him even though it was very tough..I made sure he had all his meals and kept clean..since he had no where to live we allowed him to sleep at the back of the restaurant at night on a soft and warm bedding...something else he had not had..
Johnny was loved and respected by all of our customers , friends and family..They gave him more cloths and shoes and even began talking with him on a regular basis..He was beginning to have a life and I could see the transformation..surprisingly he began to share personal detail about how he got lost and missed his wife and family ..who he had no whereabouts off..because as it seemed ..he was drunk when he got on to the local train and found him self in Goa...
It was a refreshing sight to hear him sing as he worked and we would sing along too...
All of you must be wondering where this story is going ..well it begins right here...another restaurant owner, was also observing the positive progress and transformation going on with Johnny..jealousy crept in and the betting began..because seeing someone change for the better was not in their best interest..It was three months now and Johnny was off the booz...talking, working and looking much better health wise..not forgetting the neatly combed hair as compared to the ruffled and crusty look before. I was so proud of him...He even held my hand now and then..and I held his back gently, It was my way of saying, "I have your back"
Music, fun laughter and food was the essence of Tuesday nights at the " American Bar and grill" and Johnny was not allowed to be upfront as he might be tempted to drink,instead he was helping the chefs in the kitchen , passing stuff and cleaning up dirty dishes"It was amazing to see how hard he worked and was so grateful at all times..The days work ended at around 3 a.m in the morning with the cops at the front of the restaurant ....sound pollution was the offence..so we closed up shop and as every day,Johnny went to sleep in the back of our restaurant ...with Kali beside him...
Waking up to the sound of the alarm around 6 a.m I got on with the morning routine of getting the girls ready for school...As always I dropped them off and walked toward the restaurant..The shutters to the restaurant were open and every thing was clean ,spic and spam ,aroma of incense sticks filling the air inside...something did not seem right ..I was not greeted by johnny this time..where was he??..I wondered..hmmmm....I walked to the back and there he was sitting on the floor of the kitchen ..sobbing....I asked him what was wrong and he said he was sorry..I wondered for what..then came the shattering new..."They offered me liquor"My heart fell to the bottom of my stomach and I began to feel sick..my temper rising slowly....I took a hold of my emotions and sat down slowly...placing my palm under johnny's chin...I said to him,"Johnny I am not angry with you..just tell me ..did you drink?"He looked up, eyes overwhelmed with tears...Words flowing out like a river..NOOO...Madam...Nooo...I could never do that to you..You are my savior ..I did not ..and...sobbing he said... they slapped my face"
It was a moment for the first time in Johnny's life where he realized his worth and felt ashamed and humiliated at the same time...I gave him the biggest hug and said I was so proud of him..
Our day went on as usual with laughter and work...when.... something happened..We got this big rush of customers and the chefs were on their lunch break..I was alone in the restaurant with Johnny and needed some more buns from the market..so I gave Johnny some money and sent him on his way....5 minutes went to 10 and then to 20 and an hour and there was no sigh of Johnny..I was getting frustrated..My husband was a god sent as he walked into the kitchen from his break ...we managed the orders and the customers left..still no sign of Johnny....I was having this pit in my stomach as if something was not right..so I took my leave from the restaurant and went searching for Johnny....in vane no sign of him anywhere..I asked about his whereabouts and no one seemed to know..funny...right??
Three days went by and there he was sleeping in the middle of the road ..covered in dirt and drunk as ever in front of the restaurant and bar at the end of the road...I went running toward him ....he was passed out and burning up with fever...Well this is what had happened...A bet was being made by a group of people to see who could get him drunk and back to what he was before..I got to know this later...My husband,myself and a good friend took Johnny to the hospital and admitted him for alcohol poisoning..
Johnny was having withdrawal symptoms and was in a serious condition..I took care of him from morning to night .. preparing soups and making sure he was taken care of..He gave the nurses a terrible time and would only listen to me...I fed him...and gave him his medications...even then ..those wicked people tried ...sending liquor in water bottles to give him..I ordered that no one other than my husband ,his friend and myself be allowed to visit him.
It was a long one month and Johnny was finally ready to be released..He came back to ours and stayed in our home now..we kept a close eye on him and the process of his recover....When it was time he got back to working and being his new self..I allowed him back into the restaurant.
Sometimes the universe has a funny way of teaching us lessons...and this is what happened next...We were so busy working in the restaurant that we did not notice Johnny slip away....He disappeared for another month and the last thing I heard about him was ....a body was found under the steps of a building one block away....he was beaten to death...what a tragic end..I cried and my heart was broken....We tried our best to find out who did this..again in vane because he was a nobody to everyone else...sad but true.
There are people who will go out of there way to save another life,like me and there are those who will go out of their way to hurt another because they feel it is their right ..so they go out and kill an innocent soul ....All Johnny ever wanted was Love and acceptance...
'Johnny you were a ray of sunshine in my life and a lesson I learnt well...You are held close at heart...R.I.P"
Your madam forever,