“Lemons, carrots, potatoes, please..”

“Lemons, carrots, potatoes, please..”

She repeated this chant over and over, walking by the side of the road, her voice muffled by the handkerchief she had tied sloppily over her mouth. Shopping for groceries during the lockdown had become a favourite pastime of hers – it gave her a chance to go out, not have to answer to anyone, and it was better than her step-mother’s constant yelling over everything she did wrong. She only got a chance every ten days to set things right with her.

“I must not make mistakes today” she reminded herself, “or Mummy will be so angry.”

Clutching at her empty stomach, almost tripping over a crater-sized pothole full of muddy water, she walked to the grocery store, hoping to gain back her breakfast privileges. She shuddered to think of what would happen if she messed up today. “Lemons, carrots, potatoes, to buy.. if I get this wrong, tell my lunch goodbye.”

She had always been good at poetry, but never at the words themselves. Ever since that fateful test when she was five, followed by the hushed sessions with the mean lady she had to meet once every month to ‘talk about her progress’, her family never treated her the same. But she always took everything with a smile. “I must deserve it” she convinced herself whenever she got a beating.

Recognising the grocer by his funny apron, she approached the line, making sure to stand half a child’s length behind the last person, remembering something she had overheard on the news called ‘so-shall disc-tan-sing”. Her attention was immediately captured by a loud voice yelling at the grocer. It reminded her of Mummy.

“You are such a scamster. First you sell me those raw bananas, and then you say you won’t take them back! I don’t have the virus, you fool, I don’t need to wear a mask!” the woman said, as a ribbon of drool expelled from her mouth and onto the counter, making the grocer recoil, which she didn’t bother wiping.

The grocer, helpless and worn out, handed her a large paper bag, and beckoned the girl, who was nervously repeating her Lemons, Carrots, Potatoes jingle to come for her order. Just as the woman turned to leave, a large car skidded over the pothole, and splashed the dirty water over all over her front.

Before she could stop herself, the girl let out a loud chuckle. She immediately realised what a terrible mistake she made, and tried to look away, as if a masked icon of indifference. But the lady had already noticed her. Menacingly, she walked over towards the girl, took out a tomato she had in her bag, squeezed it threateningly and threw it at her face. Too stunned to say anything, she watched the red pigment soak into her handkerchief as the woman walked away, cursing even louder.

Gathering herself, she turned to the grocer. Quietly but carefully she said, “Lemons, carrots, and tomatoes, please..”

-Shravani Sawant