Sweet Childhood

By Elena Neoh

    Tinkles in the distance, blanketed by the drizzle on windowpanes. Crackling newspapers paged by the thumb of a father. The soothing chill of the marble floor on my left cheek as I laid on my side, waiting for the shorter hand on the rustic, golden clock to slope down to the number 5. Even my age has caught up in the years that have ticked by.

    The ringing grew louder, signaling that time of the day in the week. My movements became abrupt. I sat up. The clock chimed five times. The high and clipped tune harmonized along to its singsong voice. Dad folded his papers, a small grin twitching on his lips. Scrambling to position, I scaled the grey door grill after Dad unlatched the wooden, square one. We waited.

    From where I perched, I could distinguish the rough figure of a light brown girl from the house that was opposite mine, my neighbor and friend, Najwa. She is a year younger than I was. Scuttling out in her mere underwear, unashamed, she flung herself past the towering, gold-and-white front gates. I waved at her with my free hand, but she had no time to lose. The ringing bell had turned into obscene clangs. The rain crashed down with an equally competitive atrocity. A motorcycle gushed past at the speed of a medical ambulance, through the road between Najwa’s home and mine. “Abang!” Najwa shrieked hysterically. She could not have missed the Indian man on the motorcycle, after all her efforts of bursting out of three locked doors. “Heeeey, abang ice cream!!” 

    Just when all hope seemed to be lost, the motorcyclist’s horn came to an abrupt halt. He reappeared, shuffling backward awkwardly, on the uphill slope. Around his motorcycle dangled countless ice cream cones, huge ones shaped like pagodas on a hilltop. His smile was a glow that contrasted his dark skin, tanned through and through by the tropical sun. Najwa was ecstatic; she was waving her brothers over. Squeals, laughter and children made their way over to the ice-cream man. He reached into his metallic freezer box. 

    As he scooped up the glossy and ridiculous shades of ice cream, children from all over the neighborhood appeared from down the street. Curious, shy, and hopeful faces crowded around. Despite the downpour, the ice cream man’s popularity was magnetic. By the time the rest of the children had jostled their way through the queue, the blue dollar note in my fidgety palms was crinkled. Mom, in her apron and overalls, coaxed me to hold it up to him. 

    I avoided his eyes, staring at my Hello Kitty flip flops instead. When I dared to face him, I found that in my hand laid three-tiers of lilac-and-white spheres lounging atop a golden cone with royally etched designs. I helped myself to the yam and vanilla that melted on my tongue instantly. I looked over to Najwa and her brothers, who were devouring theirs. She came up to me as her brothers licked the remnants of sugar off their fingers, showing off her dimpled smile and smudged magenta lips. The rain had ceased, and the ice cream man had driven off to bring happiness to another neighborhood.