"For a Chocolate Bar" by Sara Siddiqui Chansakar
For a Chocolate Bar
“Renu, get ready for the Big Bazaar,” Memsahib’s stern voice rang out in the Sunday afternoon quiet. That day, Memsahib’s voice brought a smile to Renu’s face because she loved pushing the shopping cart at the Big Bazaar while Memsahib dropped packets of daal and spices into it.
Renu also looked forward to watching the Qutab Minar from the car’s window. She made a mental note to tell her Amma about the Qutab Minar’s height and beauty in the monthly telephone call on the 15th.
She quickly finished ironing Memsahib’s starched blouse and pulled out the plug. Rest of the pile will have to wait.
She ran to her tiny 7.5 x 8.5 ft. room and pulled out her dented tin trunk — once blue, now a dirty black — from under her rickety folding bed and fished out the lemon-yellow dress that once belonged to Memsahib’s 11-year-old daughter, Diya, a year older than Renu. Renu was the natural and humble recipient of Diya’s hand-me-down clothes.
She had her eyes on the golden buttons of this yellow dress since the day Sahib brought it for Diya’s birthday, two years ago. The hems were frayed now, the color paled, but the buttons still glinted in the sunlight that filtered in through the window.
She hungrily slipped the dress on, tied her hair into two plaits with pink ribbons at the ends, applied copious amount of kajal to her eyes, and smiled approvingly at the mirror. Memsahib always instructed her to be tidy and presentable when accompanying her outside the apartment. So she dressed like it was Diwali for each trip.
Memsahib sped past the Qutab Minar that day, so Renu could get only a quick glimpse of it.
At the Big Bazaar, she expertly steered the cart, as Memsahib did her grocery shopping. She bought rice, bottles of shampoo and conditioner, bars of soap, spice powders, tea bags, and biscuits. Memsahib’s shampoos always smelled heavenly; Renu opened the bottles to inhale their smell when cleaning the bathroom.
“Memsahib, broom and mop?” Renu said. “The old ones don’t clean well.”
“You must use them mindfully. You know how expensive they are?” Memsahib quipped.
And then Memsahib picked up a Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate bar from the shelf and threw it into the cart. That was unlike her − it was always Sahib who brought candy for Diya and then got pelted by Memsahib’s sermons: healthy teeth, weight control, sugar consumption.
Memsahib also made Diya run on the treadmill because she thought girls should be skinny. Renu wanted to tell that to Amma too but couldn’t on the phone. This would have to wait for when she visited Amma, but she hadn’t in two years.
Renu’s thoughts drifted to her family’s tiny hut with its thatched roof, dripping in the rain. Babuji always pulled a plastic sheet over the roof and secured it with big rocks, while Amma held out a lantern for him.
Memsahib’s phone rang and broke Renu’s reverie. Memsahib started an animated conversation with her friend, Sharma Memsahib — discussing the upcoming kitty party with the green theme. Green saris, green cutlets, green napkins. Renu shivered at the thought of all the adamant pink, red, and mauve lipstick stains she would have to scrub off the cups and glasses after the fête.
Renu stared at the Cadbury’s bar in the cart. Two years ago, when she was leaving her village in Bihar, her Babuji had bought a golden 5-Star chocolate bar for her. “You will earn many more in the city, my big girl,” he had said, placing his callused hand on her head. She could still feel the chocolate’s silky sweetness in her mouth.
The Cadbury’s cover was purple and glossy. Her heart thumped violently as her trembling hands grabbed one Cadbury’s chocolate bar from the shelf and slipped it under the bulky basmati rice packet in the cart.
Memsahib was still on the phone, and she gingerly swiped her credit card at the register without noticing the extra chocolate bar.
Once back in their building’s parking lot, Memsahib ordered Renu to empty the trunk of the car and carry the groceries to the apartment as she traipsed inside, wrapping a scarf around her head to escape the relentless New Delhi August sun.
Renu pored through the bags and slid one chocolate bar under the plastic cover of the trunk. She then grabbed the grocery bags in all fingers, wore some across her slender wrists, and ran to the elevator.
That day, the bags seemed weightless to her.
Minutes later, she walked out of the elevator with a dust cloth and the car keys to clean the car. The chocolate had melted and leaked. She licked it off the trunk floor with the dust.
sara siddiqui chansakar
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle-class family in India and will forever be indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. She now lives in the United States. She is a Pushcart nominee for 2017, and her work has been published in Ellipsis Zine, formercactus, Lunch Ticket, Star 82 Review, The Cabinet of Heed, and also in print anthologies. She blogs at Puny Fingers and can be reached on Twitter @PunyFingers.
Photo Credit: Marta Huo