I was born in a candy factory with a thousand others. Packed in a group of 60 and weighing approximately 9 oz (255 g) collectively with our plastic wraps, we waited at a candy store to be picked. The box above us was taken by a fussy grandmother, who cautioned the boy beside her that sweets ruined teeth, and he would need dentures like her. The boy said: It would look kind of cool Grandma ! She said: Ok! Ok! I will get them, but do not forget to brush everytime you eat one.
One day, a sad looking man came around to the aisle where we rested. He picked us, smelled us and caressed us. His eyes moistened and he sniffled slightly. I wondered what made him so sad. Then, I remembered seeing him before with a little girl with golden hair and blue ribbons. It had been a while since she did not come with him. Some of my brothers and sisters said that she had probably died. Some said that others had taken her away because he was a bad father. I contemplated whether a bad father would weep for his child.
It seemed like we had been waiting for ages. Even in the comfort of the store, we felt we would outlive our shelf life. Our neighbors changed. The decor of the store changed. First, it was a Halloween theme, then Thanksgiving, and soon it was time for Christmas. Chocolate reindeer and premium assortments filled up every stack. The gummy bears and worms grew increasingly thin in population. We still waited for our fate.
The day before Christmas, the store was about to close early when two girls came. A brown and a white one. The brown girl said to the white girl: It was so nice of you to get us that tree. But I am sorry, I don't have much decorations. Maybe we could pick up a few candy sticks and ribbons to make the tree look happy. They both smiled and the brown girl grabbed us while she walked fast.
'They look really neat' she said to her friend.
'They taste great too' her friend said. 'Peppermint candies always get me nostalgic.' She smiled. And they both looked at each other like they knew what the other was feeling. They soon ushered us to the counter where the lady said: $13 for the candy, $5.60 for the rolls each. Total $ 29.80. The girls paid hurriedly: 'I can't wait to see the surprise the guys are gonna get when they see the tree' and they both giggled their way out of the store.
I waited patiently while the girls tied knots with the ribbons and unwrapped a few of my siblings to hang on the branches of a Christmas tree. A few of us were still remaining in the box, when one of the girls declared : I am tired. Let's get some sleep now. Did we hang the stockings yet?
One of them confirmed and then they switched off the lights and went away. Only the tiny light bulbs danced and the fairy on the tree looked so real that I thought it would fly away. I looked at the star on the tree top and I believe that is exactly when I fell asleep.
The next morning, there was a lot of commotion. The girls kept cooking the whole day and by evening, the guests arrived in groups. Two guys particularly caught my attention. The girls seemed to pay more attention to them and giggle more often at their jokes. At night, I saw one of the guys kiss the brown girl under the mistletoe. And I realized that like us, brown or white, at heart they were all candies too.
I also learned the name of the two girls - the brown one was called Anouska or Anouk and the white one was called Lisa.
Two days after Christmas, Anouk packed her suitcase and bid Lisa goodbye. Lisa said: I wish you had stayed for New Year's.
Anouk: I know, I wanted to go to New York too. But my Grandma is ill. I will see you soon.
Lisa: Did you take everything?
Anouk: Yeah. All the documents. I have to come back to this country. My life is here. She laughed.
Lisa: Maybe you should take some candies too. Wait, I guess there are still some from XMas.
She collected us from the tea table and shoved us in Anouk's back pack. Anouk hugged her and went out in the snow.
I don't know how long we waited to see light again. Anouk unpacked us as soon as she reached her home. She said: Ma, is Hari Kaku still around?
Anouk's Mom: Yes, he comes once in a while to visit us, though he is too old to work now. And he has grown a bit weird since his daughter died. His grandkids live with him now. Even his wife is growing old. I don't know how long they will sustain. The kids are too young. Your father and a few of his friends give him a monthly allowance, but it must be difficult with that meager sum.
Anouk: How many of them?
Anouk's Mom: Three kids I believe. Two boys and one girl. And Hari Kaku and his wife.
Anouk: Will he be coming to see me?
Anouk's Mom: I guess so, when he knows - he sure will.
Anouk: What if I visit them tomorrow, the first thing in the morning?
Anouk's Mom: But a few people are invited for lunch, don't be late.
Anouk: Ok Ma.
The following morning Anouk got up early. She had a tired face and I felt that she needed rest. She put on her jogging shoes and her gym attire and looked at us for a moment. She thought for a while and picked us before she jogged out into the foggy street.
After some time, I felt a stench fill me. I tried to imagine what horror or hell was that. But I realized that people lived in that fetor. It was filth everywhere. And the houses were so small and close together that you couldn't say one from the other. I even wondered if they really were houses at all. They had canvas walls and open latrines. I understood where the malodor came from. Soon the muddy roads gave way to a brick scattered path. Anouk calculated each step to reach the only concrete house I saw from her pocket.
She knocked at the open door twice and called : Hari Kaka, Hari Kaka.
The torn curtains waved a little and a tiny, dark man came out. His vision didn't seem very clear. He had cataract in his eyes. And yet, he recognized the voice instantly.
Anouska Mamoni ! Come inside !!
Did you have anything to eat?
Anouk nodded in negative
Would you like to have some ginger tea I used to make that you loved so much?
She nodded again. An affirmative.
Her eyes brushed around the room. It gave the impression of a curio shop. A nightmare for an interior designer with even the simplest taste. Anouk had seen elaborate designs and mansions, but she knew the love these frail walls harbored couldn't be found in a King's palace. Warm tears rolled down her cheeks while she stealthily took out a bunch of currency notes and hurriedly shoved it between the sheets of the small bed.
Soon Hari came round with his wife and his grandchildren. She sleeps in the kitchen now, with Jaya. You know my granddaughter?' Anouk remembered seeing her when she was a kid. Now, she had grown up a little. She had the long sad face of her mother and those big black eyes.
Anouk: How did it happen Kaka?
Hari: What to say Mamoni, it was my fate. I couldn't pay them enough dowry and so they burned her to death.
Anouk: What??? But she had been married for eighteen years now !!
Hari: I had been giving my son-in-law something or the other before. But now, I have grown old and incapable.
Anouk: Did you report it to the police?
Hari: Your father insisted that I should. But I begged him not to. At least, they let me have her kids.
Anouk: But I am sure they would be able to take better care.
Hari: It is a good thing to think but reality is different. He is getting married again. I don't want my Ratna's kids to grow up with a step mother.
Anouk: But then....?
Hari: Don't you worry sweet Didimoni. Your father has promised Tapan - the eldest a job if he passes school this year. And he has been working hard.
Anouk studied the teenager. Did he comprehend fully the weight of responsibilities he had on his shoulders? Of his old grandparents? Of his siblings? Anouk looked away. Kakima had got her the tea in a cup and some biscuits on a plate. She wondered if this was the only one in the house to serve guests. Anouk offered the biscuits to the kids who had hovered round her. They smiled and refused. She smiled knowingly. They were like Hari Kaka.
Suddenly, she remembered something and gathered us from her pocket. ' I got these.'
The kids shouted in unison. 'American chocolates !! '
Anouk: Yes. Only they are called peppermint candy sticks and sometimes they are used to decorate Christmas trees. She offered each one and she unwrapped one and took a bite herself.
I was given to the youngest kid. A boy about the age of six. He clutched at me and ran away. I could hear the others laugh.
We are destined to please, but temporally so. We die in the mouth of our devourer and that is our ultimate fate. Or so we are made to believe. But I have lived - way beyond my shelf-life - in a small box full of hidden treasures. I share my new house with a broken compass, a stringless yo-yo, a dry leaf from an unknown tree, and a spinning top. I survived the attack of an army of ants and oppressive heat when I almost melted, before I was shifted to this abode. Maybe this was my destiny.