A British in India
The story is set in the hilly forests of Shimla. The main character is called Mr Oliver. He is British born in India and is a devoted teacher in a school at Shimla. He is a compassionate and caring man. However, he is unmarried and kind of lonely in his personal life. He spends a lot of time alone be it a school, library or the market.
Oliver has a daily routine. He goes to the market in the evening and returns to the school at night. To cut time, he usually takes a detour through the wild filled with pine trees and wildlife. He never gets startled by the dark and usually carries his torch to stick to his route.
A Weird Child
One evening, he is travelling through the forest when he suddenly hears someone sobbing. He tries to look for the source and ends up finding a young boy crying into his palms. Oliver is surprised and enquires about the boy’s well being.
He advises him that it is not safe for a young child to wander out of the school at that hour. The boy does not respond or ceases his sobbing. Oliver continues with his question and the boy eventually raises his head. But when the light from the torch strikes his face, Oliver is petrified.
The boy’s faced lacked eyes, ears, mouth and any development. It was plain, round and featureless. Suddenly, the torch switches off and it instils a sense of trepidation in Oliver. He drops his torch and scampers toward the school howling for help.
Encounter with School Watchman
Soon, he is approached by the school watch guard. He inquires about the commotion. Oliver narrates his account of the events. He settles down a little after having the security of the watchman’s company.
He is soon overtaken by fear that he forgets about finding why the boy was crying or if he needed help. His fear had seized his ability to empathize. As he was describing his horrifying encounter, the light from the watchman’s lantern falls on his face.
To Oliver’s shock, even the watchman’s face is devoid of any features like eyes, ears, nose etc. The story ends with the revelation of watchman’s face.
Moral of Story
It is a philosophical exposition of how often a person gets scared and is consumed by fear when he meets or encounters someone who is different and unfamiliar. The horrors of xenophobia, racism etc are examples of such fear manifesting itself in worst ways.
Bond wants people to develop a sense of patience and calm when dealing with people of diverse appearances, behaviours, beliefs etc. Such understanding will help us to look deeper into them and develop a mutual understanding.
Only if we can allow room for understanding we will discover that we are all the same deep inside, at our core. The story also explains that isolation and disconnected living is unhealthy when it comes to human beings and their society.