The first day in John’s memoir is the 18th August — the Independence Day of the country where John was born. While the country celebrates oneness after achieving independence, the situation is much different in John’s family.
After two centuries, the country has become independent of foreign rules. The entire country is celebrating with flowers and fireworks. One page newspaper — Telegram, showing pictures of the new leaders, are distributed free in the streets. Telegram is best means of communication from new leaders to the people of the country; TV sets haven’t been available in the market yet; even radio sets are available only to very few. Offices are closed, even trams and buses are not plying, the whole country has come to a stand-still, relishing and rejoicing the independence. John, hardly 3-year old, is looking at the pictures in Telegram; his sisters Millie and Sallie are reading the paper and explaining the pictures and photos to John and to each other. Another sister, Gaylene, 5 year old, is standing at the window, looking for revelation in the street. Martina, John’s mother, was doing something in the kitchen; a few minutes ago Millie was there too; 10 year old Millie has learnt how to arrange wood sticks, coal and charcoal in a coal-fired stove. 7-year old Sally has not started cooking yet; she has been showing the pictures and photos to John. 14-year old brother Jack is not home; at this hour he is playing with his friends.
As Sullivan returns, Martina is a bit surprised. ‘What happened?’ she says, ‘Didn’t you go for the tuitions job?’
‘No, they won’t take any lesson today, the country has become independent, and so they would enjoy a break.’
‘Why don’t you go to the shops, and bring some grocery?’
‘I have no money, Martina, do you have some?’
‘No, I don’t. I’ve given you yesterday whatever I had.’
‘I’ve been expecting the tuition salary today, but got nothing because students want to have a holiday.’
‘Shall I take off my gold ring, you might get some cash by pawning it?’
‘Those shops are closed too.’
‘But I need to cook something, what would I give these children today for lunch, for dinner? I have some rice, which I shall cook, but I have nothing else, not even lentils.’
‘Do you have any money, left anywhere with anyone of these children? Have you ever given them anything to keep in their purse?’
‘No Sullivan. I can’t think of anything.’
‘What could we do? Should we fast for the day?’ Sullivan’s eyes are wandering around the house to get anything, anything to buy food with. He noticed an improvised carom board; Jack plays carom on that; on that board nineteen pennies are resting, as Jack uses these pennies as carom coins.
‘Look, Martina.’ Sullivan raises his finger to point at those pennies.
Martina and Sullivan walk to Jack’s carom board, not far from where John, Millie and Sally are engrossed with the Telegram.
As Sullivan bends to take the coins off the board, Sally cries out, ‘Please don’t touch Dad. Jack will be very upset. Yesterday, he scolded me when I touched the coin with red chalk marks.’
Martina says, ‘leave these coins if you can, everyday Jack plays with them.’
‘I would have, if I could.’ Sullivan says, ‘I’ve nothing else to buy groceries now.’
* * *
John could never forget the day his home country became independent, nor would any of his brothers and sisters — Jack, Millie, Sallie and Gaylene, nor would his parents — Martina and Sullivan. Since then, whenever the Independence Day was celebrated, John remembered that day and the coins being taken off Jack’s carom board.
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