It was a dog's day in May. The mercury literally boiled off from the thermometer I kid you not. And since the schools can't possibly run in such torrid conditions, the school administration's hand was pressed into letting its prisoners have two months of reprieve. We simply called it summer vacations.
Coming back to that hot May day, my friend was over at my place and we hooked up the NES to our brand new Sony television and we booted up Super Contra and played like our lives depended on it. We were two kids high on adrenaline; jumping up and down; the controller wires whipping in all directions. At some point we were shouting obscenities both at each other and at the screen.
It was an age before the word fuck had permeated the greater consciousness and made itself part and parcel of our lingo; a sort of cuckoo's egg in a nest of innocence.
The accusation sprang forth from me as my partner in gun crime was trapped at the corner of the screen, barring me access to the rest of the level. We had to work as a team and the idea was to keep moving or else we would ganged up on by the endless siege of 2D henchmen. Alas one shot sealed the deal for me and that left my inept buddy well on his own. A grim smile on his face, he sprang forth like a flower from a bud and started a killing spree on screen. Realizing that his plan was to off me and then rule free, I let loose a sigh and headed out to the divan to watch the pavement sizzle in the blistering heat. And then the distinct sound of a bell in the distance caught our attention and held it. The unmistakable bell of an ice cream vendor's cycle. He paused outside my gate and gave me a smile and a wink. I rushed in and reached for my wallet and extracted two crisp ten rupee notes, slipped on a pair of sandals and purchased two "Joy" ice-creams. One for me and one for Attila the Hun inside. Ice-cream, video games, unsupervised and not a care in the world, save for summer homework. We truly lived in those days.
I finished up a bit of work and was walking home when I saw the ice-cream man with his purple shorts and shabby white full-sleeved shirt. It was another May day and I stopped him and asked him in my most innocent voice for a "Joy" ice-cream. Without batting an eyelid, completely unfazed by the absurdity of the question, he told me,
"They don't make them no more. That was ten years back. All I have now is the W____ brand."
I searched deep into his eyes to see if the sparkle was to be found. The fun loving ice cream man of yesteryear no longer knew who I was and his eyes weren't the same that made the playful wink.
Memory is indeed a strange thing. Like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, memory works differently for different people. I still remember vividly the exams that left me cold afterward, the lunches under the trees at the parking lot at school, the kid with the foul mouth and the girl that set everyone's pulse racing and let loose imaginations. However like a fading mural, some colors are lost: the name of the kid who borrowed and lost my first ever Archie comic book, the little girl who lent me her eraser on my final exam and the reason why I hated my Hindi language teacher so much.
When I think about it, all I can do-no, what we can all do- is to marvel in the colors that stand the test of time; preserve what we have and enjoy the grandeur of the incomplete mural before the tides of time wipe it all away. To the ice cream man, that summer day a decade ago and the joy he brought to a young child with his “Joy” ice creams was a color that was washed away.
Image credit: Click by Andrew Reilly. Used under CC -NC 2.0