Angels in Disguise

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My allotment of a Vespa scooter through the Canteen came just a week before I was to leave for Wellington to attend the staff college course. I gave Madras canteen depot as my choice for collection.  

The train from Delhi reached Madras early morning and the connecting Neelgiri Express was to leave in the evening. We settled down in the waiting room and after breakfast engaged a taxi to the Canteen Stores Depot.

Leaving the wife and our year-old son in the taxi, I went straight into the Manager's office.

"Sorry for barging in, but I have a metered taxi waiting outside." I said by way of justification.  I noticed a sprucely dressed gentleman sitting across the manager's desk.  After stating the who, where and why et al, I handed over the allotment letter to the manager.

"Have you brought the bank draft?" He asked.

"No" I said, "But we are carrying cash."  

"Sorry, I cannot accept cash as per rules."

Despite the finality of his tone, I still checked if there was a possibility of any flexibility to the rule. He nodded negatively and handed back the allotment letter.

 "Is there a bank nearby where I can get a draft made?" I asked.

"Yes, there is, but they take 24 hours to issue one" the manager said.

"But I have to catch a train this evening", I said, my voice betraying anxiety. The manager merely shrugged his shoulders.

"Excuse me," the gentleman sitting there said, I am retired Wing Commander ABC. If it is ok, you can leave the allotment letter and the cash with me and I will do the needful."  

"Thank you so much sir", I said with much relief. "I will just get the money from my wife."

As I walked out, I remembered the saying that God always sends an angel to help mortals in distress. 

Most of my military seniors had taught me that rules are made for guidance and not for rigid adherence. In this vein, I harboured negative thoughts about the manager for his unhelpful attitude. 'It takes all kinds of people to make the world tick' I whispered to myself philosophically.

I had barely re-entered the office carrying the envelope when the manager suddenly said, "Ok, I will bend the rules and accept cash from you." This was an unexpected pleasant surprise. I thanked him.

The gentleman rose from his seat and took leave saying, "I am happy for you."  I gave him a grateful smile.

"Do you know him?" the manager asked me sternly.

"No, not personally, but he is a retired Service officer."

"Just because he says so?"


The manager continued, "I have heard he is a notorious con man and has duped many gullible people. When I noticed that you were too simple and …." I could detect 'stupid' forming on his lips, which I richly deserved. But he left it unsaid, perhaps in deference to my rank. 

"When I noticed you were getting into a trap, I decided to help you", the manager said with genuine compassion. 

He then took the money, counted Rs 3,039/-, which was the cost of a Vespa scooter at the time, and gave me a receipt.

I was too staggered to think coherently, and said nothing more than a dry 'thank you' as I exited.  The realisation that I had just made an ass of myself, threw a self-loathing into me. 

I have read of many cases where humans go into severe penance to meet God. But He lives among us in flesh and blood. I had just met Him sitting in manager's chair. 

As I got into the taxi, I cursed myself for not even having asked the manager's name where I could send a letter of gratitude. All I had noticed was he had an extra finger on his right hand.

I suddenly felt inferior as a human.

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