My memory of the first day of summer holidays.
Leave school at the speed of light. Cycle past the main guardroom, the big maidan, the cycle repair shop, the one and only theatre, the big board saying married quarters, down a thick tree lined avenue, gulmohors, imli, guava, mango, banyan…and finally our gate.
Painted white, with my fathers name and rank painted in a blue square. Go crunching down the gravel driveway, stones flying under my cycle wheels.
Run up the steps to our porch, dash through the big doors, with half lace curtains.
In to my room, throw my bag on to my study table. Dodge my mom’s questions on how did the exam go. Okay, fine, good, standard response.
Then grab the library cards from the table in the study room. Again dodge my mom’s furious “Change out of your uniform before you leave the house.”
Big shiny tears in my eyes, look at her from under my fringe and say, “ Please ma, the library will close at 12. Let me go…please, please.”
My mother, who’s not an easy to melt sort, would look disgusted and then say, “okay, but only today. Because it’s the first day of your summer holidays.”
Fly back on the cycle. Past all the other houses painted white, past tree lined roads, right through the children’s park, through the overgrown patch, where someone saw a king cobra last summer holiday, pick up speed over the kaccha rasta, bounce on my seat, through the gate that says Officers Mess. Jump off my cycle near the squash court, throw it down on the tarred road, and run in.
Cool corridors that smelt faintly of smoke, and stale, and beer and anda bhujia. Run down the threadbare red durrie like carpeting. Stop at the door with a brass sign - LIBRARY.
Turn the brass knobs, enter a silent room. Fans whirring, the smell of books and old newspapers and beer, always the beer. Head straight to a metal cupboard painted military green with a paper sign plastered on it - KID’s SECTION.
Find famous Five Off to Sea. The librarian takes the card out of the book, stamps it, and takes a maroon cloth-covered library card from me. I scrawl my shaky signature that’s still to form on a register, and tip toe out.
My father, the night before, who loves all plans to do with libraries and books, tells me,
“If you go to the library, go get yourself a cold drink.”
So I tiptoe into the bar. Red carpet, black sofas, the drawing of a woman in a bathtub. Again, the smell of peanuts and beer. And the sign - Children are not allowed in the bar unaccompanied. But this is an afternoon, and all the uncles are still at work, and the aunties are at home. So I stand on the metal railing that skirts the bar, and I look up at the barman and I say “Bhaiya…ek goldspot…nahi ek ice cream soda…”
Bhaiya grins. He knows it’s a big sacrifice I’m making. All us kids beg him for Gold Spot crowns, for the Jungle Book stickers. He’s already an authority on who has which character and who we can swap with.
He hands me my Bijoli Grill Ice Cream soda. And two Gold Spot crowns as a bonus.
I stick the drink and the book into a bag. Strap it to my cycle carrier. And I’m off. I don’t feel the blazing summer heat of Bengal. I fly down the road, smelling mango trees and dry leaves.
I arrive home, slip in through the door and quickly open the bottle. All this before my mother can even figure I’m home. Before she can get me to wash up, or change, or eat lunch.
Then I lie on my bed on my stomach, open my book, and lose myself to the Famous Five, and the clear sparkly taste of Ice Cream soda.
Sigh. Sometimes it’s no fun growing up. I want my summer holidays back.
Do you believe in magic in a young girl's heart
How the music can free her, whenever it starts
And it's magic, if the music is groovy
It makes you feel happy like an old-time movie
I'll tell you about the magic, and it'll free your soul
~ The Lovin Spoonful
Picture credit: www.allposters.com