“What’s that one, momma?” said the child in her pajamas as she pointed to the chilled box. The agitated flies quietly buzzed around the drab store. The mother turned to look at her daughter.
“That’s chocolate, sweetie.”
“Yes. It’s the nice one you have on special occasions. Do you wanna try some?”
“Hmmm...” she hummed as she shifted to see another glistening container. The mother followed her gaze.
“That’s vanilla. It’s the one you eat at home all the time, after you eat your veggies.”
“Mmmmm. I’ve had that one a lot.”
“Do you like it?”
“It’s nice. What’s the pink one, momma?” she said, pointing to a third container.
“The one with the berries?”
“The red ones, right?”
“That’s daddy’s favorite, right?"
The child’s face was pressed against the box, her round eyes flitting across the range of available flavors, and when she stepped back, her cheeks left a foggy imprint on the glass. She rubbed her forehead with her stubby fingers to block the sweat sliding down her nose and to shoo away the fly crawling over her hair. Even with the conditioning in the store cranked up to the highest setting, the air was sweltering.
“I’m thirsty,” she said, licking her lips.
“Do you want vanilla?”
“What about strawberry?”
“You only want chocolate?”
“Yes. Chocolate’s nice.”
“So you’re sure you want to have chocolate, sweetie?”
“Yes, momma …?”
“Pleeeaaasssse,” the child said, bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet. The mother smiled.
“One chocolate and … one vanilla, with strawberry please. She’ll have the small, I’ll have the large,” she told the server. He got two cardboard cups and a sharp spoon from the register and the child watched as he effortlessly scooped the brown and pink and white globs out of their containers, leaving three wet holes in the perspiring frozen yogurt. The server gave the two cups to the mother, who gave the smaller one to her daughter. As the mother reached for her credit card, she instead chose to pay with cash and while she counted the crumpled bills, the child strolled outside to eat in the little shade provided by the strip mall.
After about five minutes, the mother came and sat beside her daughter on the bench. The parking lot in front of them was vacant save for a sedan, which was still equipped with rusty license plates from Texas.
“Do you like your chocolate, sweetie?” said the mother.
“It’s really good,” said her daughter, smiling with chocolate-smeared-lips.
“Sweetie, please don’t eat so messily.” The mother pulled a napkin out of her purse and wiped the spare chocolate off her daughter’s face. Her yogurt was beginning to melt, the vanilla and strawberry running into a bright pink confection. She didn't notice. She was looking at her daughter who was slurping her own melting dessert with childish gusto.
“Where we going, momma?”
“We’re going on a trip, honey.”
“Just a trip a little aways from here. It’ll be fun, like an adventure.”
“Is daddy coming, momma?”
“No. No, he’s not, I’m afraid.”
“At least, well not for some time.”
“Well, sweetie,” she replied. “He’s … he left last week and is there already. That’s why he’s been gone.” As she said the last few words her eyes became watery with tears and she quickly turned to wipe them away, huffing slightly under her breath.
“So where is daddy right now?”
“Oh, he’s doing fine.” She paused for a moment before adding in a tender voice, “He’s at a resort, high, high up in the mountains.”
“Yeah, in snowy mountains far from here,” the mother said, looking at her little girl gobbling up her little dessert. “Do you like your chocolate, sweetie?”
“Yes, momma,” she said, baring her wobbly teeth as she yawned. The mother wiped some more chocolate off her nose and chin.
“I’m sorry to have woken you so early, but we had to hit the road to get there by nighttime.”
“I miss daddy.”
“I do too, honey,” the mother replied. She briefly gazed into the desert beyond the highway. “But we’ll see him soon, we’ll see him again in a while, once we get going again.”
“How long, momma?”
“How long till we see daddy?”
“Oh, the trip will be short, honey. It should be quite short. Very short.”
“Will there be more ice-cream there? I really like ice-cream!”
“It’s not ice…yeah, it’s ice-cream, honey. And there’ll be much more of it where we’re going. I’m sure of it,” she said.
The two sat on the bench and together watched the road in the distance. After a little while, the mother decided to go back inside the store for another quick breather.
She walked to the counter and politely asked the server for another drag before she and her daughter left. He gladly gave her what remained of the crumbling cigarette they had lit up after she gave him the money for the froyo. She sucked the smoke deep into her lungs before exhaling, “Thanks,” in a hazy breath. She was walking back outside when the server said, “Do you want to take some?” He was holding a packet of cigarettes that he’d hidden behind the serving spoons. “You know, for the road?” She looked at him, she looked at the pack, and then she took three for the trip before returning to her daughter, who was stretching her tiny tongue to lick the last drops of chocolate in her cup.
“It’s all gone now, momma.”
“Did you like it?”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes!” she jittered.
“I’m glad you liked it,” she said, taking the trash from her daughter.
“What about yours, momma?”
“What about mine, honey?”
“Did you like it?”
“Oh yeah … of course I did,” the mother replied, striding over to the wastebin and throwing her untouched, liquid froyo straight to the bottom.
“C’mon, sweetie. Now hold my hand. We need to cross.”
The child waddled up to her mother’s leg and held her mother’s hand as they both stepped into the afternoon heat and walked to the parked car in the middle of the lot. Behind them, a swarm of flies had begun to nibble the pooling white and brown and pink leftovers, all the while scurrying over the large and small paper cups.
Written by Abhinav Tiku
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