I vacationed in my mother’s hometown one unusually hot summer. The searing day temperature led me to crave for a refreshing treat for some relief. I let my mother know that I was going out for some ice cream. Having no grocery or a convenience store nearby, she suggested that I settle for a local cold treat which is a mixture of shaved ice, sweet preserved beans, jackfruit, sweet yam, sliced sweetened plantain, and pounded dried rice. This mixture, usually served in a tall glass, is topped with ice cream. She recommended a peddler from whom I could buy the treat.
I went to the peddler my mother had told me. The “store’ was a woobly wooden table placed under a mango tree. The leaves of the tree serve as shade from the angry rays of the sun. The peddler was a girl who was about 12 or 13 years old. In the country where I come from, some children her age do odd jobs to help their parents earn a living.
I ordered one serving of the cold treat. The girl took out a shiny metal ice shaver and started to shave the block of ice. She then proceeded to take out small amounts of the ingredients which were inside the jars laid out in a row on the table. She put the shaved ice and the delectable ingredients into a glass and topped it with a scoop of ice cream. The glass started to perspire and the scorching air started to melt the ice cream. I started to eat the colorful concoction.
“How old are you?” I asked the girl, wishing I was wrong in thinking she was 13 years old.
“I’m 13,” she answered.
“So next year you’ll be in high school,” I said.
“No, Ma’am. I’ll only be in 5th grade. To be honest, I do not want to go to school anymore. My family is poor and parents couldn’t send me to school. Sometimes I am embarrassed when my classmates tease me that I smell like the goods I’m peddling,” she told me.
“Why, this sweet, filling cold treat isn’t smelly. Do you peddle other things?” I asked her.
“Yes, in the morning I sell vegetables and fish. I peddle them on the streets before I go to school,” came her reply.
The scorching air suddenly became a little cold. Suddenly there was a rush of memories in my head.
“Well, you shouldn’t give up, you know. You shouldn’t be embarrassed because you are doing a decent thing. And it is pure hard work. You should be proud of what you are doing,” I said.
“But sometimes I get tired. Of waking up very early in the morning, peddling, and getting myself embarrassed by some classmates,” she explained. I noticed tears were starting to well in her eyes.
I told her a story about another girl, who once peddled on the streets when she was young. She peddled native delicacies, including this sweet, filling cold treat. She was also teased from time to time by her classmates. At 13, she went to the city and worked for a rich relative who paid for her school fees. The relatives weren’t really so nice to her, but she endured everything just so she could continue studying. “Do you know what she’s doing now, all grown up?”
The girl shook her head. “She has finished college. She is now working with a big company and she is also teaching children to read.”
“Really?” she said. “How do you know?”
“Oh, I know everything about her because that girl was me. So just keep on, okay?” I smiled at the girl, handed her the payment for the cold treat, and started walking home.
When summer was over, I prepared to leave my mother’s hometown. On the way to the airport, the car stopped at a pedestrian lane in front of a school gate to give way to children who were crossing. It was the first day of school. I saw a familiar face among the children. It was the peddler. She smiled at me and shouted, “I am going to school now!”
As the car bounced violently over the rutted dirt road, I looked in the rearview mirror after we passed by the school. I saw the girl waving her hand.