When she saw me hanging around after getting ready for school, amma knew what it was for. She would then give me 10 paisa - for toffee which I bought from the tiny pan shop like makeshift affair just outside the gate of the school. The shop owner Babychettan knew all of us. As soon as he saw me, he’d put his fair hairy hand (it used to be a yucky sight for us kids then) into the bottle and take out 5 toffees which I shared with my friends.
On certain days my friends used to bring the 10 paisa. On those days, I put my 10paise in the piggy bank, and asked amma for my regular quota the next day.
Once, Daisy (name changed) who was not part of my sweet sharing inner circle but nevertheless was a good friend of mine, came up to me and asked me for 25 paisa. It was for the boat fare to Vypeen. I told her I didn’t have that much money.
“But you buy sweets for your friends everyday”.
“I have only 10 paisa”, I told her, my heart sinking at the thought I’d have sacrifice my sweets for the day. That was something I really used to look forward to. None of my friends had brought money that day.
“10 paisa will do. I’ll borrow the rest from someone else”, she said.
So, reluctantly, I parted with my 10 paisa, and in the entire afternoon session, I kept thinking of the the toffee I was forced to deny myself.
On reaching home, I complained to amma. I thought I saw her face change in a way I didn’t quit understand. The next day, she gave me 35 paisa and asked me to give 25 paisa to Daisy. She sternly warned me not to buy toffee for the whole amount.
When I gave the 25 paisa to Daisy, she looked incredulously at me.
“Did you steal the money from home?” she asked in a conspiratorial, scared voice.
“No, amma gave it. She said she will give it everyday”. She put both her hands on her cheeks, her eyes grew large and wet, and she was crying and laughing.
I didn’t quite comprehend her ecstatic reaction. I was too young to realize that money was hard to get for certain people.
For the rest of the year, I gave her 25 paisa everyday. I did it discreetly ‘cos both amma and Daisy had insisted that no one else should know.
This practice went on for the rest of that year in the Fourth standard. I do not remember now whether I continued it in the fifth standard.
Years later, while I was doing my Masters, I was sitting in the bus at Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore (we had relocated by then). Ten more minutes for the bus to begin its 40 minute journey to Whitefield. As I sat there looking out, I saw Daisy. She looked the same, except that she had grown tall and beautiful, and was wearing a sari instead of the blue and white uniform. I got so excited I shouted out to her from the bus. She looked up. Her eyes rested on my smiling face for a minute. Did I see recognition there? Or was it puzzlement that I saw?
I jumped out from the bus and ran after her, ‘cos. by then she had started walking away. I ran up to her and put my hand on her shoulder. She stopped, turned around and looked at me blankly.
“Don’t you remember me, Daisy? I’m Molly. We were together in school?” I said eagerly.
There was no recognition in her eyes.
“You’ve made a mistake”, she said in an expressionless voice.
“Aren’t you Daisy?” I asked.
“No. My name is Merly”.
But she spoke Malayalam in that same accent of the people who live in Vypeen.
AS I was sat in the bus on its way to the suburbs, I caught myself trying to swallow down that lump in the throat.
Maybe, it was Merly and not, Daisy I consoled myself.