It was a hot Tuesday afternoon in the month of October. The geography lesson was interesting but Sharmila was getting restless waiting for the class to get over. The ice candy man had come some time ago and his day’s quota would soon get over.
He visited the school every Tuesday and Thursday to sell his delicious candies that the children waited for eagerly, every week. It was always a struggle for the teachers to hold on to the students’ attention during the last period of school on those two days.
Though the ice candy man came every week, this Tuesday was very special for Sharmila for she had got a two-rupee coin from her mother to buy one ice candy.
Twelve-year-old Sharmila was an intelligent student and serious in her studies. Her father had died of snakebite when she was three years old. It had been very difficult for ma to bring up her only child. Though ma had never told Sharmila about their problems, she understood everything. Mother and daughter: their worlds revolved around each other.
That day as she prepared for school, ma called her to the puja room. The room was clean as ever and filled with the smell of dhoono (incense). The framed photograph of the deity was glowing in the light of the little oil lamp.
“This is your puja gift” she said with a shy smile on her face and placed a little paper bag and a two rupee coin in her palm. She knew how popular the ice candies were in Sharmila’s school. This reticent and restrained quality of ma made Sharmila feel special and cared for.
The spirit of Durga puja was all over the little village of Bolepur with small deities of the goddess being carried in cycle rickshaws and the air echoing the distant beats of the dhaak being played by people accompanying the deity.
Ordinarily, these activities never distracted Sharmila but today was different. She could not help looking out at the people outside, especially at the clerk whose duty it was to ring the school gong, to end the day in school.
She could almost feel the excitement of holding the candy in her hand, feeling its iciness caressing her face and slowly melting in her mouth. She could almost feel the cold crunch her teeth. It brought back fond memories of the day she had had a similar candy at the wedding of the local zamindar or landlord’s daughter.
Since her father’s death, affording a candy had become difficult, which is why this day was special. Sharmila had made up her mind to have a lemon candy and not an orange one; it would colour her teeth and she did not want that.
She was trying hard to concentrate, when the bell rang suddenly. Everyone stood up, wished the teacher and went out in a single file. Sharmila’s swarthy face and her black eyes glowed even more against the golden rays of the sun.
The ice candy man had already begun digging away into his icebox. Soon, a huge crowd surged toward him. It was the last day of school before the puja break, thus the crowd was bigger than usual.
Sharmila was in no hurry. She took her time and enjoyed every moment of the wait. Soon, the crowd had lessened considerably. Sharmila took out her carefully preserved two-rupee coin and asked for a lemon candy. The thin paper cover on the candy was soaked with the juice of the bar. It looked a lot like the sweat-soaked shirt of the candy seller himself, thought Sharmila.
She removed the cover effortlessly and the icy air that she had imagined not only felt nice but also smelt good. The first bite was like a dream come true. Sharmila did not want to think of anything at that point of time, but could not help recollecting the radiant face of ma.
After relishing the first few licks of the candy, she turned towards the gate to go home when suddenly the picture of her math exercise book lying on her class desk struck her with force. She took a sharp turn towards her classroom.
She had hardly taken two steps when two boys running towards the school gate, crashed into her. The ice candy fell on the ground with a silent thud and was soon covered in a fine coating of dust. The dust granules became more and more distinct as the candy started melting.
Sharmila stood petrified at the spot, totally numb. As the surrounding dhaak sounds faded out, the face of ma slowly began to blur as Sharmila’s eyes welled up with tears.