Studying at a reputed missionary school in the 1970s, under the strict Jesuit eye of the Irish Brothers who firmly believed that “sparing the rod spoilt the child”, imbued one with well-enforced moral values. However, sometimes integrity was put to the test. One afternoon, as the gong struck 3 pm, announcing the end of classes for the day, I joined other boys hurrying out to play or head home. Coming down the stairs, my foot slipped on something hard and round. Looking down, I saw a thick ballpoint pen shining brightly. In one quick swoop, quite like the kites that would snatch food from our hands during lunch break, I picked up and pocketed the pen. It was a prized possession, as unlike the maximum two refill pens, it had six different coloured refills, each of which could be pressed down to write. I joyfully hurried home, savouring the stroke of luck which had bestowed me with this wonderful gift.
Upon reaching home, I closeted myself in the room I shared with my brother, three years my junior, after making sure I was alone. A detailed examination of the pen thrilled me no end as I scribbled away in six colours, flipping between the refills.
At dinner time, my father asked us about our day at school, as he often did. The sibling talked about a beautiful multi-coloured pen, which one of his friends had brought to class and which the latter had recently received as a gift from a foreign-returned uncle. He also mentioned that after school, as he walked home with the boy, his friend was distraught as he had lost or dropped the pen while leaving school and was unable to find it even after retracing his steps. I absorbed this piece of information in stoic silence with my gaze fixed on my dinner plate, lest I should reveal any emotion.
I did feel pangs of conscience that night but firmly decided to hang on to my chance possession, believing in the dictum ‘finders are keepers’. However, the early-morning brightness next day, as we walked to school, seemed to nudge me to be righteous in conduct. Before entering our respective classrooms, I told my brother that I would turn up during recess to meet the boy who had lost the pen. He looked at me quizzically but said nothing.
At the appointed hour, I met a scrawny 10-year-old and as I took out the pen from my pocket, his face lit up with joy and relief. After returning the pen, I felt a deep inner peace and a unique satisfaction. However, my sibling never tires of telling me that it was the fear of being found out by him that compelled my conscience to follow the right path!
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