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Childhood tales

Sheila knew exactly the kind of backpack she wanted for her new school year. She took a pencil and paper and started to draw. And then she remembered she needed her crayons too because the bag must have all the nine colors of the rainbow.

Now you might say that a rainbow has only seven colors. True, but not for Sheila. Her rainbow must have nine colors because she was nine years old. And she also knew what the extra colors must be—pink and gold.

Sheila tapped her pencil on her stubby nose. The bag must have a secret pocket. Allen had one in his bag, and he brought many forbidden things to school—the wooden handle of a knife, the broken shells of a lizard’s egg (that’s what he told it was), pebbles that he claimed were valuable finds, and loads of candies. Sheila wouldn’t fill her secret pocket with such silly stuff. A secret pocket should be used only in emergencies—like when one’s best friend gives one a secret gift.

Other than these, the bag should be waterproof and must have holders for her book bag, lunch, snack, and water bottle—all very reasonable needs. And oh yes! Enough rings for her keychain collection.

She looked critically at her drawing. The bag looked a bit wonky, and the rainbow colors were all mixed up. But it was enough to give her father an idea of what she wanted. She ran to him, with her curly black hair bouncing all around her face.

“No,” her father said in a calm voice. “Your bag is quite new.”

“But we bought it last year, Pa,” said Sheila. “That isn’t so new.”

“Is something the problem with your bag?”

“It doesn’t have a secret pocket.” Sheila glanced sideways at her bulky black schoolbag that was resting beside the couch.

Her father laughed out loud. “What are you going to smuggle into school?”

“Nothing,” said Sheila. “But it is good to know that there is a secret pocket in my bag.”

“You can buy one with a secret pocket when this one is completely worn out,” said her father, “Or else, you can dig into your pocket money.”

“But you don’t give me any pocket money.” Sheila’s voice dropped.

“Earn it,” said her father, and with a final nod, returned to his work.

That got Sheila thinking. Wouldn’t it be lovely to earn one’s own money so that one can buy whatever one wants?

But how could she earn money? Her neighbor Mrs. Stirrup had promised her two euros a week if Sheila would help clean her small yard and water her plants. But that would take her more than ten weeks to earn enough money for the bag, and school would reopen in five days. The yard was really tiny. She couldn’t ask for more money, could she?

Still in thought, Sheila went to her mother. “Ma, how much money will you pay me if I clean up my room and fold my clothes?”

Her mother assumed a thoughtful expression and then asked, “How much money will you pay me if I go to work?”

Sheila was smart enough to know a lost cause when she saw one. So she went straight to Mrs. Stirrup and offered to clean her yard.

Week one went well. Mrs. Stirrup was a kindly old lady, who had difficulty walking. She stayed reading in her chair after instructing Sheila to rake the dry leaves. This, Sheila did in ten minutes and presented herself before Mrs. Stirrup.

“Hmmm … You are quite fast,” said Mrs. Stirrup and gave her two euros.

Sheila thought this was a compliment, but as it happened, it was Mrs. Stirrup’s way of saying, “I could give you more work.” Accordingly, Mrs. Stirrup had lined up for her the following tasks in the second week—remove weeds, rake leaves, and water bushes.

It was a hot sweltering day, and Sheila was so happy to get a chilled glass of mandarin juice that she left Mrs. Stirrup’s house without collecting her two euros. But she did return five minutes later to claim it.

Weeks passed, with more raking, weeding, trimming, and tidying. That was when her class went on a field trip to the Adventure Kingdom. Children could bring their pocket money. By the end of that day, an older and wiser Sheila had realized that she shouldn’t have taken her whole earning with her. However, when the day began, she was still young and ignorant. Thus, she took her hard-earned twelve euros with her on the field trip.

Sheila had a lot of fun that day. She got on the Dragon Wheel ride, did ziplining, went on a boat ride, bought ice creams for her friends, had a picnic lunch, and wandered around the gift shop. When she returned to the school bus, she clutched a big-eyed unicorn and a scented pencil case in both her hands. And that was when she remembered that only a few cents remained in her purse.

Sheila did not talk to anyone the whole way back home. She will have to wait for many more weeks to earn enough money again. If only she could return the unicorn and pencil case and get back her money. She sniffed the pencil case and hugged the unicorn. No, she wanted to keep them. They were hers—bought with her hard-earned money. She just had to make more money quickly.

Next Sunday afternoon, Sheila promptly presented herself at Mrs. Stirrup’s house, determined to refill her purse as quickly as possible.

“The yard doesn’t need any attention this week,” said Mrs. Stirrup, and Sheila’s shoulders drooped.

“It is going to rain for some weeks, dear,” Mrs. Stirrup continued in a soothing voice. “Cleaning and watering will be quite useless.”

“Is there something else I can do for you, Mrs. Stirrup?” Sheila asked.

“Er … mmm … yes. I could do with some help with my weekly shopping. I find it difficult to push the cart around. And then to carry everything back home.”

“I can help with that,” said Sheila, brightening up.

At the supermarket, they first went to the stationery section, where Mrs. Stirrup was hunting for a gift for her niece. Sheila’s mouth fell open. Arranged around her were schoolbags of different shapes and sizes—in colors that were not even visible on the rainbow. Also, a sign above them read, “BAGS WITH SECRET POCKETS.”

Sheila stepped closer to an aqua blue bag with gleaming stars and examined it.

“I was thinking of getting you a gift, Sheila,” said Mrs. Stirrup from behind her, “for being so kind to me. Do you like that bag?”

Sheila felt as though she was in a dream. This cannot be real.

“Did you hear me, Sheila?”

Sheila did not respond. She was thinking about taking that bag to school and of whipping out something special from its secret pocket and boasting to everyone that she bought the bag with her hard-earned money. No, that wouldn’t be true.

“Sheila?” Mrs. Stirrup called again, impatience creeping into her voice.

“Thank you, Mrs. Stirrup,” said Sheila. “But I don’t want a bag now.”

“Alright. I will think of something else later.” Mrs. Stirrup moved on to household supplies.

Sheila went behind her, pushing the cart and throwing a final glance at the array of bags. Yes, she would buy one, but with her own money, no matter how long it took. That is what would make her happy.



Click to read other Childhood Tales

Read The Hedgehog Trail.

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