It was unusually bright that day. The sun was shining brilliantly down from its abode in the cloudless clear blue heaven that afternoon. Traffic was light as in those days. Cars were a luxury only a handful could afford. The taxi station across Petri Street was quiet, no passengers in sight and the few taxi drivers around were dozing off in the oppressive heat.
I stood beside the monsoon drain behind my dad’s coffee-shop. The drain around the shop marked the outer most fringe of my universe. I could only venture beyond surreptitiously and on pain of caning upon detection. My spirit was raring to breakout one more time but my feet somehow turned fluid. I squatted then just sat down on the pavement. I was bored.
Anyhow, my eyes were drawn to a cleaner in the monsoon drain. He was dark skinned, an Indian, turbaned and dressed only in a loincloth. His well muscled body glistened. He was in knee-deep water shoveling to clear some debris that had somehow accumulated, choking up the drain causing the water to spill over the drain onto the road.
I could not recall why I sat there mesmerized by the cleaner in such mundanity. He was smoking his cheap cheroot while shoveling out the debris and sweating profusely adding to the already foul stench of the drain. And I just sat there petrified despite the overpowering stench. Probably, my nose had dozed off.
Something in the drain caught his attention. He squinted for a better look. He bent down and lowered his right hand into the foul water. He waved away some flotsam and gently picked up a round copper object between his thumb and index finger. He rubbed it between them to clear away dirt and wiped it against his loincloth to dry the object.
He wiped sweats from his forehead and eyes with the back of his left palm. He flipped over the object into his left palm, both shoulders seemed to sag a little and he sighed. He picked up the object with his right hand and lifted it up against the sun. He cast a side glance at me, smiled furtively and winked his right eye. He shrugged his right shoulder and flicked the object to me.
I was surprisingly nimble. I sprang up and caught the object in mid air. It felt rather large and heavy in my small fist. I opened my fist and saw a profile of an ugly lady gazing sideway. I flipped it over to my left palm and “1” stared back at me. I had no clue whatsoever what it was as money held no meaning to me back then in my young tender age. I looked back at the cleaner. He saw a blank curious look on my face mixed with tentative anticipation. He pointed to my pocket, subliminally telling me to pocket the coin for it was his find, his gift to me and for me to keep.
I nodded understandably. I broke into my ear to ear grin. I proudly shoved my left fist into my pocket with the coin tightly clenched in my stubby fingers as I did not have a rubber band to tie the coin securely in my pocket. Things in my pocket had the habit of growing legs, leaping out and disappearing into thin air, or similar sort of sorcery, so said my mum. I swaggered awkwardly back into my dad’s coffee-shop to look for my dad with my fist still inside the pocket.
He was sitting behind the counter click-clacking away on his abacus. I looked up at him. He stopped whatever he was conjuring with his abacus and looked down at me quizzically. Carefully, I removed my fist slowly from my pocket making sure that my coin did not grow legs and leap away. Reverently, I unfolded my stubby fingers. Gratefully, my very own, my very first coin, my precious did not do any disappearing act on me. Proudly, I raised my coin tenderly to him.
He stooped down and picked it up for a closer look. He broke into an appreciative smile, a rare one for he was a strict and stern man. He ruffled my hair, patted my head and nodded his head towards the ice cream box. I knew I was being rewarded with an ice cream cone. It was a fair trade indeed one copper coin for an ice cream cone. The ice cream froze my brain, I was instantly distracted and my coin immediately forgotten lost into distant memory. Soon, I was running off to other distractions of the day. In a blink, four and a half decades passed.
Last night, I rummaged through my late dad’s old coins collection. A copper coin amongst the silver coins immediately caught my attention, as if fondly beckoning me to it. I fingered excitedly through the purse, long lost memory flooded back and gently plucked out that coin. It felt familiar, not that heavy now. I muttered silently to myself, “I know you.”
I put on my glasses to have a closer look and saw the familiar ugly lady. I scrutinized it closely and held it tightly in my palm, and yes, it felt the same. It was definitely my long forgotten, my very own first 1 cent coin. It has finally returned to me after all these years, almost half a century.
I understood why my dad kept my coin instead of returning it to me when I showed it to him. He knew had he returned it to me then, it would have grown limbs or wings and disappeared for good. Even then it was already an old coin for it was minted in 1897 and the ugly lady was Queen Victoria.
“My precious,” I purred. No, I did not prance around like Gollum with his precious at the precipice of Mount Doom. I was just grateful for my precious has revived a glimpse of my childhood memory, however fleeting and insignificant it may be. Yeah, life was so simple and care free that a mere 1 cent coin had made my day on that fateful day. Hmm, I wonder how much my prodigal Queen Victoria is worth today.