In twenty-four years she will not remember the name of that candy. Hard to imagine now; it is her favorite, she decides as she tears the top off carefully. Not too far though. Just a little slit, the three-year-old knows now from experience: A bigger rip will cause the little beads of candy to spill a rainbow out onto the floor.
A rainbow is accurate; a childish sketch of it is even drawn on the pouch, itself rectangular and red, just a little larger than her palm. Inside, each little morsel is in one of six colors and tastes accordingly:
Red is strawberry, her favorite. That is why she leaves it for last. Yellow is tricky: it could be lemon or banana. The latter she is not fond of. Knowing that, she examines each carefully for a sign before popping it into her mouth.
Orange is self explanatorily orange. Purple should but does not taste like grape. It tastes more like cough medicine, so she eats it all first to get it out of the way.
Blue actually tastes blue, if such a taste can be described so. Sometimes she imagines it tastes like sky. Clouds. Sometimes cotton. Sometimes just blueberry.
Green tastes like kiwi, her mother always says, and she takes her word for it. The three-year-old’s life so far has been spent between the nursery, bomb shelters, and home; she has never had a kiwi before. There are no kiwis in wars.
Fresh produce in general is hard to come by. As are perishables like bread, eggs, and cheese. Perhaps that is why scrambled eggs on Sunday mornings are such a celebrated treat.
Milk, fortunately, never runs out; it is powdered. As is juice. And instant coffee. And soup. Just add water and mix. Actually, clean running water is the real luxury these days.
Somehow, though, dry biscuits, candy, and potato chips, to all the children’s delight, can always be found, shelf stable, inexpensive, in every store in the country. Perhaps because they are manufactured locally by factories that have not been shelled, delivered on roads that have not been destroyed. Yet. But she does not know that.
She knows why there is no chocolate though. Her mother told her: it melts. No electricity from six in the evening to nine in the morning, sometimes longer. Perhaps it is a good thing there is no bread or cheese, or meat usually after Tuesday.
Well, today is Wednesday, and the clock on the wall in the playroom says three fifteen. She knows how to read it as of last week, and practices now as she waits.
Her mother is late. She is never late. Most of the other toddlers have left, their stuffed animals and little lunch boxes swept away by tense and distracted grownups. But she knows she must be patient and quiet, and has candy, so all is well.
One more green, an orange, a red. Back to the blue, and then a wild card: yellow. Lemon! A smile.
Why is her mother late? Outside, the sirens blare. They grow tiresome after a while. During naptime and nighttime they make it impossible for her to fall asleep. It makes her mother cross, she thinks, as she licks yellow lemon off her the tip of her finger. Her teacher says Mother is just scared of air raids. Poor mother. Is that why she is late?
A purple one she missed! Quick, then undo it with a blue. This one definitely tastes of cloud, she decides. And that the air raids do not scare her. They just make her jump, that’s all.
Only three colors left: two strawberries and a kiwi she saves for her Mommy. She slips it back into the now empty, still red rectangular pouch, that she folds and puts neatly in the left pocket of her uniform. The latter is navy blue, well ironed and, she observes proudly, still clean. Her mother will be happy when she picks her up. She eats the last red piece of candy.
The taste will not last long on her tongue and she will not have another for years. Her mother will not come, not even when the raid ends. Her teacher will drive her home. The next day she will not wear her still clean uniform to the nursery. Later, much later, someone will wash it and forget to check the pockets first. The red from the pouch and green from the candy will bleed into a rainbow in the fabric.
Twenty-four years and two oceans later, on an overnight bus to Boston, the name of that candy and memory of that day will be hazy and unimportant. Like the pain, watered down into faint stains of color on a uniform or old aquarelle.
Until the stranger across the aisle offers her a piece of candy. To pass the time and make conversation. She will politely accept. He will reach over, holding a red pouch. She will reach her hand out. He will pour a piece out, at random.
Thank you. One is enough.
Red. Strawberry. And instantly, like an explosion, that afternoon.
Her mother and the kiwi and the nursery and the clock shaking madly on the wall. The fear, the war, and the little girl eating candy on the carpeted floor. The sound the bombs make, and the clock, upon impact when they crash into the ground. The shattered glass and the minute needle frozen forever just before three sixteen.
Strawberry on the tip of her tongue, and the name of her favorite candy. Both will taste faint and will soon disappear. The bus will keep rolling.