I must have been 9 or 10. My baby sister was at daycare — “creche,” as the snooty owner-manager called them. The air was humid, grandma was snoring softly from her daybed, and I’d just discovered a jar of Nutella hidden behind some wheat crackers. The afternoon suddenly looked brighter.
Now, cousin Jay was my reading partner, advisor, and pretty much the coolest kid in the neighborhood. And since I was two years younger — and quite impressionable — I’d wait with bated breath as he tossed me whatever book he’d just finished.
“How was the book?” I’d ask with the devout humility of a groupie. And he’d respond, “It’s ok. A little amateurish, to be honest. I guessed the villain’s secret identity pretty early on, so after that, it got boring. You’ll like it.”
He would smirk, and although I resented the condescension and power imbalance, I would humbly accept the book, vowing to guess the villain’s secret identity myself. Between the two of us and one Rs.15 circulating library membership, we’d go through almost 50 chapter books a month. Twice that during summer break.
And infuriatingly, I always got the second pick.
So that afternoon, when I came upon a mint condition of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it felt like a sign. Here was a book that had somehow fallen into my lap first, and who was I to refuse such a gift? My eyes gleamed as I plotted. I would read it, reread it, make pointed references, and weave it into every conversation. Until Jay got exasperated enough to ask, at which point I would toss him the book in a huff and sneer. “You haven’t read this yet? It’s one of my favorites.”
Ooh, what a power trip!
So I found my favorite easy chair, grabbed the jar of Nutella, and got to reading.
Now, for those who’ve read this book, you know what sugar-laced ride it is. Page after page detailing the taste and texture of every type of candy possible. I shoveled large globs of Nutella and kept turning pages, leaving tiny chocolate marks in my wake. The pages blended together into a warm, caramel-y haze. I hugged myself, thinking how utterly mad Jay would be.
The next thing I remember is being shaken awake. I opened my eyes to find my grandma and mom looking at me with concern.
And the mess! Oh, the mess!
A half-eaten jar of Nutella lay askew on the book, whose plastic cover was now generously coated with chocolate. Entire pages were gummed together, giving the once pristine book the look of three-day-old trash. My sticky fingers trailed a telltale line of chocolate down my chin.
And dear cousin Jay was standing a few feet away, his face positively convulsing with laughter.
Two things I learned that day:
- 12-year-old boys can be merciless in their teasing.
- There is no glory in victory. Only an epic tummy ache.