To be honest, Piyali’s throat felt a bit funny. What was worse, she could not clear her throat without turning red in the face, or attracting attention from the other children in the school-bus.
Drat it, she had done what she had always been forewarned not to. Aanchal was to be blamed for it. She had spoken in glorious words of the joys that resided in the cart outside the school gate. “There are all colours you can imagine. Red as bright as tomato; yellow as bright as the sun! I like the orange the best though.”
Mamma was insistent on staying away from that cart.
Forever the good girl, she in turn turned a deaf ear to the welcoming jingle of cart-bells. Although Mamma did keep some money in her schoolbag, she knew it was for an emergency. She never felt the need to spend on canteen food; her tiffin box was always packed with delights. She usually brought bread, fruit and cookies – much better than the sticky noodles and cold rotis that several other children ate.
“We shouldn’t eat stuff from the road, Piyali.” Mamma always told her. The two of them would turn up their nose when hawkers beckoned to them on their evening stroll to the park. In winter, though, they would buy hot groundnuts. Those were amazing.
The school-bus grinded to a halt. Piyali looked outside the window and saw Mamma smiling at her. Gosh, the driver had never driven with such speed! How had she reached home already? She picked up her bag and cleared her throat as silently as she could. Did she look red in the face?
“How was your day, Piyali? Did they declare New Year holiday yet?”
“No, Mamma. It starts after tomorrow.” Piyali was sure she sounded weird. The red one must have been bad. Mamma was never wrong.
Across the street, her grandpa waved to her from the balcony. He must have brought chicken today; he was saying so in the morning. Little did he know that her throat was giving her trouble because she had done what she shouldn’t have. The chicken wouldn’t taste as delicious, for no fault of grandpa, or of Mamma, who must have spent hours cooking it just the way she liked it.
Piyali’s face was flushed with guilt; her throat dry with trepidation.
“What’s the matter, darling? Is everything okay?” Mamma was worried.
“No, Mamma.” Piyali looked down at the ground, before blurting out at top speed: “I had a red ice lolly from the cart outside the school-gate!”
With that, she wrapped her arms around Mamma and hid her face amidst Mamma’s dupatta. Her throat no longer felt funny when Mamma laughed, stroked her hair, and told her it was alright.
*Written as a part of Kinley and Indiblogger’s “Kitna chain hota hai na sachchai mein” initiative (“what peace there is in truth”)