Chocolate can bring people together — as Ena Ganguly found when she stopped at a store in her hometown.
Earlier this year, we put out a call for your stories about overcoming differences — true stories about finding common ground.
Working with the Austin Public Library and The Library Foundation, we collected the submissions and helped writers shape their stories into pieces to read for the radio.
Ena tells about an encounter with a stranger at the store.
Read Ena's story:
There it was. The grocery store of my adolescence. Where my mother dragged me once a week, only to dictate all that got put into the shopping cart. She ruled over what I ate, creating in me this dream: to live indulgently. This desire dug deep into me through the years, until I had my own shopping cart. The ability to make my own decisions about what I cooked made me feel powerful. Creative. Though I moved away, I never stopped visiting my mother in the suburb I grew up in. On one such visit, I brought the love of my life, Liza, home with me. On our way to my mother’s house, we had to stop by that grocery store to get one of the absolute essentials for human survival: chocolate.
We stepped into the store and made our way through the familiar floor plan till we reached our destination: the Isle of Sweets. I eyed the different brands, noticing some familiar ones. Cadbury, the first chocolate I ever tasted as a baby in India. Hershey’s, my first chocolate when I arrived to the states. I thumbed through the various thoughtfully crafted chocolate wrappers to see their different cacao content. Some as high as 90 percent. So strong, I could almost tasted its bitterness. There was no one else on our Isle. It was just me, my girlfriend Liza, and endless possibilities of candy to choose from.
Or so I thought.
A young man about my age, dressed in a pizza delivery uniform, interrupted my thoughts to ask: “What kind of chocolate do you like?”
Instinctively, my body inched closer to Liza. The taste of fear suddenly, surprisingly, seeping into my mouth. Reason told me this was a friendly question. Intuition told me to be careful.
I looked at the girl with him, thinking he might be talking to her. She gave me a half tight-lipped smile back. My body, still tense, inched back to where I stood. I tried to keep calm without letting my guard down.
“I’m serious, what kind of chocolate do you like?” He asked again.
“It’s okay. You’re okay.” My spirit whispered as my mouth now began to taste contemplation.
“What kind of chocolate do I like?”
With my partner beside me as witness, I said “Anything with wafers in it. I’m a sucker for crispy things in chocolate.”
My eyes turned to him, slightly embarrassed about my initial reaction. “What about you?”
I don’t remember what he said. Maybe he said he liked caramel. I was still nervous.
Protective. Cautious. Ready to fight. That’s how he had caught me feeling. Until he handed me a few dollar bills and said “The chocolates are on me.” Immediately, my wariness melted, not unlike how chocolate melts when met with a warm and waiting mouth.
“That’s so sweet. Are you sure?” I glanced back at his friend again. This time she gave me a full-on grin. “Yeah of course! Enjoy it.” And I wondered if this was his tip money for the day. Without further explanation, they waved goodbye.
On my way to pay for my chosen sweets, I swear I caught a reflection of younger me. Grinning from ear to ear. Getting chocolate from a kind stranger in the same grocery store where, all those years ago, I felt nothing but yearning. Wanting my decisions about food to be heard. Wanting nothing more but the freedom to choose.