The new school was far from their home. Although, there was a school bus but there was a railway crossing on the approach road to their house. Chetan and her sister Charu were the only two kids from their locality. So, the bus use to drop them some distance before the crossing itself.From there they had to take a rickshaw.
The usual rickshaw fare was five rupees. Their father use to give them seven instead, that was for the eventuality that no rickshaw puller agrees for the commute in five. Charu was one year elder to Chetan and generally more responsible, so she was made incharge of handling the money.
The remaining two rupees their father never asked them back. So, they found a good use for it. Ice candy! One rupee a candy for each kid. Although, the idea was Chetan’s, Charu the responsible one also played along.
Within a few days the kids became good at haggling and finding a rickshaw in five rupees. So, the ice candy became a routine. So much so, that they use to eat the candy even before hiring the rickshaw. The parents it seems assumed that the kids being kids were only able to hire a rickshaw in seven rupees.
This continued throughout the summers. And as winter approached, the ice candy’s place was taken by other tasty snacks like potato chat or peanuts. This very well continued till end of the school year in march.
After the results and holi vacations, the school was to reopen for next year. For Chetan and Charu, other than new school year there was one more interesting new development to look forward to. Their toddler brother Parth had graduated from his kindergarten and was going to join them in the primary school in First standard.
On the first day of the school, Chetan and Charu went as usual with the school bus in morning. Parth however went later with their father, as he had to complete the admission formalities for the little one. Once his admission was done, Chetan and Charu were even called to Principal’s office to meet their father and younger brother. During lunch they both went and met Parth in his classroom. Three of them ate their tiffin in Parth’s classroom itself.
In the afternoon, three of them met again in the school bus. While things were much more disciplined at school, the big bus was almost like a happy playground for the kids with no teacher to scold them. During the bus journey Parth told all about his first day at school to his elder siblings. He really appeared in awe slash fear of his new class teacher who had given his class a load of home work on the first day itself. Chetan and Charu fondly introduced Parth to their friends and playmates on the bus.
When they got down at their stop, a bunch of ice cream peddlers were standing right where they got out. Chetan and Charu looked at the vendors and then at each other, instantly recalling their old arrangement. However, there was a problem now. There were three of them and had only two rupees for the ice candies. Charu being the eldest and more responsible immediately said, “I won’t take. You two should have one each. Anyway I have a cold”. Chetan knew this was an excuse, as it was atleast a week since Charu had a cold. The otherwise naughty and demanding Chetan also suddenly showed sibling love and said “No, we two can share one candy and Parth can have the other one.”
So with the revised arrangement, they approached the nearest ice cream vendor. He was an old frail looking man, so they referred to him as Baba. “Baba, Give two orange candies” Charu said and placed two one rupee coins on the vendor’s fridge. The old man didn’t hear the number properly it seems, as he pulled out three candies and placed in front of them. When he saw the coins, he said “That’s only two, give one more rupee”. Chetan promptly said “No, we only need two candies”. The old man quipped “But there are three of you”. Chetan replied “Yes, but we only have two rupees so me and my sister are going to share one”. Charu didn’t like it one bit that he disclosed the fact that they are short of money to a vendor. Parth had already picked one of the ice candies. She quickly picked one more out of the two left and started walking away, also commanding her brothers to do the same.
The old man called out to them “Wait, kids”. “Now what”, Charu thought to herself as she turned back, “Why is this old man being this cheeky”.
“Give me back one of your candies” said the old man.
“But, we paid you the money already”.
“Just hand over one of them, let me show you something”
Parth had already unwrapped his ice candy by this time, so Charu handed over the one she was holding, back to the old man. He quickly took it and kept it back in his fridge, and instead pulled out what appeared to be a mango flavoured candy, guessing from the colour of the wrapper.
“But, we asked for an orange one, if you don’t want to sell, give us our money back and we will buy from someone else” Charu said almost angry now.
“Just wait one second” asked the old man, and in one quick flick he split open the wrapper of the candy. What came out was a single candy with two sticks attached to it. In another quick motion he split the candy into two, such that each half formed a full fledged ice candy in itself.
He handed over one half to each sibling who was still without a candy in their hand.
The smile on kid’s faces matched that on the old man’s and this is folks how the old ice cream vendor earned the loyalty of three customers for the rest of the season.