There are refreshments other than tea that Indians enjoy. Thank goodness for that because Rao needed a change. His tea stall was sold, the removables packed up and the customers left unsettled and a little lethargic. Although he was grey and old, his tastes kept him from feeling his age. They dictated his way of life, kept him working hard even at 64 and took him on a cycle to the beaches of Calicut, selling ice-cream.
The sound of the cycle’s bell beckoned everyone whiling away their time to stop and have an ice-cream. Or two.
Every afternoon just before lunch when Kozhikode was most crowded, Rao would ride its sands, ruining good appetites. Despite the sun’s peak the beach was filled with people. What people do for pleasure and how they vacation are not for us to question. Rao certainly didn’t, he was happy that it all fell in line for him.
Aadhira was on vacation too, spending more time at the beach than with her grandmother whose house overlooked it. Typically nine years old, she was indistinguishable from any other. After cooling herself in the water and when the findings in the sand lost its novelty for the day, she would wait for Rao at the spot she knew he’d stop. She’d have two ice-creams despite being given money sufficient for just one. The second one was free. You see, summer vacations last long enough to build friendships and set routines. Rao loved watching her, as he approached, patiently waiting. Even from a far distance he could see her smiling. It was another reason he made a shift to ice-cream – the faces that need tea are much different from those that want ice-cream. That and the conversations – discussions over tea include such unsubstantial assessing of life. And Rao had been exposed to enough.
She was the first and last customer of his afternoon shift. While he worked, Aadhira would sit on the sand just in front of the cycle looking out at the infinite stretch of water eating ice-creams. The beach was hers, as we feel is every place with a view. He would join her later when everyone finally retreated for shade, and they would speak. About just the beach. And although they knew nothing about the other’s life, they knew each other. Aadhira understood Rao in the way a nine year old would. This is how he enjoyed her company, and she his. There’s a certain type of acceptance that only a child can give. It’s because they accept themselves first.
He handed her her second ice-cream and sat two feet away from her.
“It’s so bright but I can’t see the sun only,” she arched her back and looked up far behind to find it.
“It burst,” he replied nonchalantly. She immediately looked at him suspicious of a lie. He avoided her eyes afraid of giving in to them. But they persisted, and conquered him.
The sound of the waves drowned their giggles.
The days of Aadhira’s vacation rolled by and soon, away.
It was a new week, Rao cycled to an empty spot. He wondered. Seemingly, she had vanished, like a new moon. Illiterate and ignorant in such matters, it didn’t strike him to think about her schooling in another city, he had simply assumed she shifted or some other such alternative, or she was just late. And she didn’t think a goodbye would be required – he would be there next summer. Things are quite inconsequential at nine and sixty-five; at one you’re oblivious, at the other you’re lenient with life.
He kept an eye out for her through his day. Patrons came and went but none of them were regulars. He even waited beyond his usual hours, not with the hope that she might turn up but with the fear that she will. He went over his thoughts of asking around about Aadhira’s absence, but decided against it. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t, because while their conversations included the spotting of birds and the intruding crabs and the chipped shells, they were too shy to enquire about names.
But had they, he would later come to realise how apt hers is.
Picture Credits: Nitish Singh