On the way home there’s a man who makes sugarcane juice which, I am always surprised to find, is the best I’ve ever tasted.
I walk everywhere. I can’t ride a scooter, I don’t like buses or autos and my bike was stolen 5 years ago. So I’ve no option but to walk. I’ve come to like it. I walk 10 km every day, the distance doesn’t matter anymore I only look at the amount of time it will take me to get where I want to go.
The earlier college ends the more inconvenient it gets. The heat and lack of trees along the footpath makes the road home a death sentence. Usually I try reading a book on my phone. If the chapter is good and the battery can sustain the brightness needed to read from a screen while the sun boils above you, I fail to notice the heat. Every day I realize I have forgotten to refill my water bottle. The water from the college purifiers might always taste funny, like they have someone’s medications dropped in them, but thirst makes me do crazy things.
Back when I was a kid my father would always stop at every little road side stall and buy something. He’d ask me if I wanted some juice. I’d always say “no need”. He’d buy two glasses anyway. I hated it. The fact that my father would insist on not having any sugar or anything other than pure juice in the glasses didn’t make it any more tolerable. Memories of me gagging, every time someone asked me if I wanted sugarcane juice, come back to me every time I drink sugar cane these days.
The man who sells sugarcane has his little setup next to the empty bus stop on Berlie Street which is always crowded on the way to college. He seems to follow some seasonal pattern, like those trees with purple flowers on the way home. I don’t know what the trees are called but they have this ability to stay unnoticed until they decide to, for a short period of time, shed their purple flowers and colour the road purple. I still haven’t figured out his annual pattern of disappearance though. I wonder where he goes for all those months. How does he manage to pay his bills if he keeps disappearing every other season?
I always hesitate when I see him. I don’t like giving away the ten rupee notes I have. I feel terrible about giving him a hundred, the guy always need change. We give each other a knowing nod. Sometimes I feel obliged to buy juice if he notices me. Sometimes he seems to resent the fact that he has to put away his paper and start crushing the cane. I’ve never heard him say a word, but he wears sly smiles on occasions.
He isn’t always by his stall. Occasionally he sits in the bus stop. You’d think he was a regular who had no business staying there for more than a few minutes. The loud tin box where he stores his crumpled, moist notes always remains neglected on his little stall. On other days he sits and skins the huge bundles of cane that he keeps against the trees that shades his stall. There can be no doubt about his popularity if he really manages to sell all that cane. On some cloudy days I see him sitting with the man who sells chaats on the other side of the bus stop. He never says a word to him either. He has never shown any interest in going back to his stall and selling cane on those days. He just stares, maybe telling me I don’t have to buy anything today.
Every time I drink the Sugarcane I’m surprised how cold it is, how relaxing it is, how it makes me realize that I’ve been walking all day only to make me forget a second later. No matter how many times I remind myself about how great it tastes, I’m always surprised by how it manages to blow me away. These baffling moments are when the Sugarcane guy puts on one of those sly smiles.
His little stall has green plastic pipes in it. The one you’d normally use to water plants. They look like they play some important role in his strange homemade contraption. You can’t really see them, until you realize he doesn’t have room for his legs behind his stall. Every time I try to see what they do, he makes a little hop to the side and hides the pipes. It’s a little suspicious, and road side stalls are shady enough. But the always surprisingly amazing taste makes up for any suspicious pipes and sly smiles.
His stall is green just like those pipes and looks like any other. Those pipes are the only things that stand out. Most people don’t even seem to notice the pipes. The juice serves as an excellent distraction and you find it hard to care about those little green pipes. I can’t help but wonder if there was some great genetic modification that made sugarcane taste better. Was it even sugarcane I used to drink back when I was young? I don’t know and realize that, like always, I have chugged everything down too fast for me to savour the taste. I don’t regret it though. I’ll just buy some more some other day.
His unending silence, the good taste that just doesn’t make sense till you drink it, the mysterious pipes and smiles, and his seasonal disappearance makes me wonder if he’s a genie.