“Every man’s memory is his private literature.”
We can never escape from our memories. For some of us, winter is a sweet reminder of stone candy that was sold without any licensed entrepreneurship in our village. In the lap of the tiny tea estate, every winter Mark’s Granny warmed jaggery in a wok. She knew the art of preparing the local delicacy. She would mix ginger and chunks of coconut with sesame seeds ( which I hated the most).
First she’d put some oil on her palm and roll the hot gummy warm jaggery into tiny balls. The end product of which was hard roasted sweet rock candy. We called it “Lal pathar” (red stone).
Mark’s granny lost her eyesight and later her sanity too. I think I too would go mad if I were cursed with darkness. While my house was hidden under thick squash vines, the sun was unbiased to his front yard. His birth name was Hriday, which means heart in Nepali. Our Headmaster in school found it difficult to spell so he wrote his name as Mark, the second gospel book in the Bible.
Mark had two weaknesses, oranges and Lal Pathar and beside that he had sticky fingers. To him this wasn’t a vice but something to be truly proud of. He was a strange kleptomaniac who never kept the bounty he stole. He lived for the thrill of it. So we challenged him one afternoon to fetch something from the new neighbour.
There was a new lady in our locality, she was an army’s wife. We heard she had moved in after her child was stillborn. Rumours had it that she’d kept her child’s remains in a bottle. Mark was curious little brat. He wanted to get to the bottom of the truth. The lady usually left home in the afternoon with dirty dishes and laundry to the nearby stream. She followed her routine without a miss.
Mark went in as soon as the lady left for her daily chore while Jay, Marie and I, the notorious gang waited by the hedgerow. Unfortunately for Mark, the lady returned home. We squirmed by the hedgerow in fear. Our anxiety knew no bounds. Jay threw a pebble on the tin roof to warn our leader.
The lady came out with Mark. His face was bright and his cheeks looked somewhat swollen. He pointed towards us. We thought the lady hurt him. We were about to run when the lady caught us by our sideburns. I saw that Mark’s cheeks were swollen not because he was hurt but because of a lump of stone candy he rolling inside his mouth. The lady offered us each her handmade delicacy from a tin box and warned us not to steal. I was hesitant to accept her largesse. I hid it inside my pocket. I was taught by my folks to never accept sweets from a stranger. “They’ll sedate you first with candies and spoon your eyes out” My grandmother had warned me before. Education was different in our household. Later, I gave it to Mark who happily accepted my sacrifice.
He described the house to us. He tried to look out for her dead baby but found nothing inside. To him it was a strange house. Beautiful but empty. She had preserved old vintage bits and pieces like soap covers, milk and nuts candy wrappers, white rabbit wrappers, empty coconut oil bottles and decorated her wall with photos and birthday cards.
For days, Mark kept praising the lady’s handmade sweet candy and I regretted for never getting to taste it. One evening, after that week, Mark gave me sweet wrappers. He could not stop his urge to steal. However, his face was shrouded with shame and dissatisfaction. Perhaps, this time he expected to get caught and after that somehow he stopped talking about the sweet rock candies.