Long ago, a little boy in school was distraught because his best friend Hameed (name changed) had been warned by his mother to keep away from him.
Hameed’s mother had come to school and complained to the principal that she did not approve of the friendship between N and her son and many of the misdemeanor on Hameed’s part had been instigated by N.
At lunch break that day, N stood under a tree feeling unhappy. He watched Hameed go off with other boys, shunning his company, as per his mother’s orders.
A kind of wildness seized him. He was hurting badly inside, yet he decided to put on a show of bravado and nonchalance. He wanted to do something to prove that he did not care if Hameed was his friend or not.
An ice cream seller was at the gate peddling colourful ice lollies. The man was not allowed to come near the school premises, but he came anyway, against orders. N ran up to him and bought an ice lolly. It was nothing but coloured sugar water, frozen on a lollipop stick. Those days it hardly cost much. Probably thirty paise. It was called stick ice or kuchi-ice in our vernacular.
N licked his ice lolly and then not to be found wanting, he bought ice lollies for his other class mates hanging around the ice cream seller, even as Hameed watched longingly from afar. It was N’s childish way of proving to Hameed that he was not his only friend. He had so many friends.
Suddenly N realized one terrible predicament. He had no money to pay the ice-cream man.
He had forgotten to take his daily quota of money from his dad that day and his pockets were empty. He was terrified. He did not want to be shaken by his collar and shamed in front of his school mates. He hesitantly told the ice cream seller, that he could pay him the next day only.
The ice cream seller was a good soul and was used to kids eating his ice cream on credit, promising to pay later. “Not a problem, son. You can always pay me tomorrow.” He said.
But how was the poor man to know that his ‘tomorrow’ would come many years late.
The next day and for days after that the ice cream seller never materialized at the school gates, even though N was careful to take the required amount to pay him back. The school authorities had taken a vigilant stand against vendors selling snacks or ice cream to their school boys and no one was allowed to peddle their wares, anywhere near the school gates.
A year later, N was shifted to a boarding school in Ooty and he did not see the ice cream vendor at all. The incident became just a memory.
Years passed by. N grew up to be a successful businessman. He was also a well-known philanthropist who was revered by everyone in his hometown.
The now middle-aged N, loved the outdoors and would often drive down to the river that ran through his town, park his car near the bank and sit quietly contemplating. This solitude helped him admire nature, ponder over his day and reflect on his business and other social activities.
That particular day, the river was in spate and was overflowing its banks. N had to park his car near the road, along the river. As he stood leaning on his vehicle, looking at the swelling river, he heard the tinkling of cycle bells. It was a very old man, pushing a derelict cycle, which had an old tin box tied to its rear carrier. On the box was painted the picture of a stick of ice and the name of the ice company. Obviously the box was a freezer box containing ice sticks.
N was excited on seeing the man’s face.
The man was none other than the ice cream seller of N’s school days! The vendor was almost in his nineties and he was still continuing his old trade.
Without divulging his identity to the man, N picked up a conversation with him. The man told him that his family had made these ice lollies at home, like a cottage industry for many years. He was both the manufacturer and the vendor. He would target schools during morning recess and lunch break and would come in his bicycle with the freezer box to sell his wares. He said that though he did not make much money, the work had kept him busy and happy.
The old man also said that he did not want to be a burden on his family at this advanced age and was trying to be active and helpful. Also, he wanted to make some money for his grand-daughter’s wedding.
N admired the man’s good spirits as he had admired his magnanimity on that hateful day, long ago. He pulled out his wallet, took out a sheaf of currency notes and without even counting how much it amounted to, he put it all into the old man’s hands.
The man stood stunned. His hands had not held so much money ever in his life.
As he stared amazed, with a wondering, questioning look in his eyes, N got into his car and drove away, happy that he had settled his childhood debt.
It took the man many minutes to come back to reality. He wondered if his benefactor was human or angel and why he had been gifted so much money.
Poor man, he would never know that it was not a gift. The money was payment (with interest many times over) for the ice lollies, that he had given a dejected school boy on credit, all those years ago.
Only, he had received his payment very, very late.
Almost forty years late!!
Retro Flat Ice cream : Image courtesy of zirconicusso at
Sketch of a man and bicycle: Image courtesy : Arnontphoto at http://www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Stack of 100 dollars Image courtesy: Yodiyim at
Story By Mr.N-Written by Gulsum Basheer on talkalittledo.