Childhood Is Now a Sour Company

By Devarya Singhania, Casual Contributor

I remember visiting a mini grocery store everyday after school in fifth grade. I wouldn’t even call it a grocery store, as the shopkeeper who I used to endearingly call bhaiya – Hindi for ‘brother’ – would have the widest of varieties for every candy, every bag of chips I adored, and he would never run out of them. The actual supermarket a few minutes away from my house barely had any of the gems from his collection.

He knew my visits to his shop were a gentle secret to my parents, and even though it was a transaction of just a few rupees, his smile would extend beyond my comprehension, almost as if me buying that one packet of sour straws provided him with revenue reminiscent of a year’s earnings. I know not how those five minutes passed, nor can I comprehend how polite or conversational I truly was. All I could notice was his smile. The fool within me won, however—I never told him to smile just once again.

Home was only a few minutes away, so I had to gobble up the delicacy in minutes. I couldn’t relish it. But the thrill intrigued the child, and he sought after the adventure every day, until the weekend’s lullaby put it to sleep. Mom knew, she had to. It would be incredibly difficult to miss the confetti-like sugar sprinkled all over my face, with some gently coating my uniform. And the child knew not of another language but incessant giggling; I was always a terrible liar.

I switched schools after sixth grade and went to a boarding school in another city, in another state. Fostering memories there was a task initially almost Herculean, and pondering upon how the time lapsed, I cannot decipher the exact moment I became friends with those I hold so dearly now. Although always charming, I was young (I hope I still am). Even if I don’t need to, it would be comforting to reminisce all the memories we laughed in.

Trips to home then shortened, a few months at maximum and then we were to return. And while growing up you don’t realise how each moment you live passes by. Even if you played a board game with your friends for half an hour in seventh grade, you did not realise that the innocence and competitiveness while playing at that moment would fail to seek a revival as we bury ourselves in a life engraved with academic and personal stress.

Even though it was for a terrible reason, the first breathably long vacation I got was due to COVID-19. Two months doubled to four, and only then did I absolutely cherish numbers and multiplication. I could be languid again.

As the pandemic seemed to pacify my city, around the beginning of eleventh grade, my parents, sister, and I went for a drive around. Perhaps unintentionally, my dad drove from the road where my lionised candy shop and bhaiya resided. Only, I thought we were on the wrong road.

Fair, I seem like a stranger to the city, but even the hazel in my eyes knew that bhaiya would not simply eradicate the store from the neighbourhood. Especially knowing that their cherished sour candy purchaser would be paying them a visit after seven years.

Edgar Allan Poe is one of my most dear, adored authors, so I’m generally used to stories engulfed with gut wrenching despair, horror, and gore. Yet, my dad wove a tale to obliterate the tranquil in my ears. Three years after I had left my first school, bhaiya left too. No one from his family wanted to continue the store without him being there, and they stayed in an aloof corner, astray from the misery the city now provided.

Seventeen and numb, once ten and thriving. Did I weep, howl, or deny? I can’t seem to remember. Even the scorching blisters from the sun on that Sunday could not provide me with a remedy to deflect the solitary tear I remember weeping.

Coins don’t feel the same now. They’re metal clankings clogging up space in my wallet, and burdening my pants to provide them with a greater residence. It’s still a tale of a few rupees, but the sour straws seem too accessible in places which don’t complement them, sold by merchants who overcharge.

School’s over too, so the voyage to that road diffuses into a memory almost faded. Like the remaining scraps on the edge of a torn corner of a page, there’s an imperfect symmetry to my memory which greets me to mock me daily.

It’s a bleak gore to remember. How the loveable fifth grader’s notebooks tattooed themselves with half written songs in lieu of the crushes who seemed to change with every rhyme. He knew he would write for One Direction one day, and have Niall Horan sitting beside him on tours helping him style his hair Niall-Horan-style. Visits from relatives too, didn’t waver him. He winnowed not to their comments but the melodies infused by the rhymes in One Direction’s “Perfect”. He didn’t look in the mirror in disdain, and he still found that comforting “jacket” protecting him, given to him by the sour straws, by bhaiya.

He would be ashamed of the nineteen-year-old adult he has become. He’s let the relatives win too. The friendship with the mirror now seems like a fable once taught, now admonished. He looks onto his belly frequently, knowing not where the dissolved sugar rests, and whether the tremors from the cold outside could be fought with the jacket bhaiya could’ve given.

Seven years and not one sour straw bought. Not one. The fifth grader would be fuming knowing that I forgot to buy him sour straws or picture the serene smile of bhaiya.

I bought sour straws last week, but it wasn’t a tale of a few rupees anymore. Flaunted with dollars, the tale of my childhood now reeks of an expensive accent which bhaiya would despise. Nineteen and an adult. But no grocery store seems to have a third of the collection my bhaiya always had.

So the seven year old is starving. Lethargic, he returns home from school. His mother is waiting to scold him for indulging on the mesmerizing sugar. But the sugar’s dissolved, and the giggles emerge as a sigh of daze. Tired, he eats his fruits as homework occupies his hours.