Fairy tales often began with, “Once Upon a Time” But then, I like scores of others often oscillated between belief and disbelief as I grew out of my childhood. Over the years, this belief kept taking a beating. But when 2020 came around with its pandemic, lockdown, and anxiety-riddled life, I stopped believing in fairy tales. Caught up in the endless chores of working from home when the work ate into my personal life and the pressure to perform and meet targets was incessant. I was like scores of others caught in the ever-blurring line between professional and personal life and the work-life balance went for a toss. Worrying about the performance was taking its toll and I had just managed to land with a coveted project that made an enemy of my erstwhile friend, I came to my first-floor balcony to take a deep breath before tackling the new role. It was truly a man-eat-man world out there in the corporate sector. The win had left a sour taste in my mouth but then one can’t climb the ladder of success without beating the competition. I knew that my colleague was more competent than me and if anyone deserved to head the project, she did. I felt ashamed that I had not played fair. But then….
My reverie was broken by the deafening call of the vendors selling their produce in the small window they were given by the government before they headed home. I had removed my noise cancellation headset as I stepped onto the balcony and hence the noise was resounding. Idly I watched the boy scream,
“Seb Do sau pachas!”
“Organic Apples at two hundred and fifty a Kg,” screamed the freckled youth. His light-blue, checked shirt was half-tucked into his trousers of indeterminate color, faded with frequent wash and drying out in the sun. I watched as people gave him and his brightly painted cart filled with juicy apples, a wide berth as his mask neither covered his nose nor his mouth. He reached out to people and that scared them more. The pandemic made people wary of human beings and this aggressive boy seemed to have scant regard for this unknown enemy which was in its second wave galloping towards the third.
Most customers made a beeline to the quieter boy who not only had his mask on but also had a sanitizer next to his cart. Best of all, the price on a card proclaimed that the apples came at just two hundred per kg. Ignoring the boy in the first cart making noise that his apples were organic, the customers who were on the lookout for a good deal made a beeline to the other cart which was just a few meters away.
The small-built boy in his faded, tattered jeans and a T-Shirt which had seen better days was diffident in his body language. His attitude and his nervousness stood out in stark contrast with the aggressiveness of the first seller. Moreover, his cart was decrepit though the apples were of similar quality as that of the first apple cart. He looked as if he needed the sales more than the first boy except for those customers who went by the belief that better quality products come costly. Apples were hitherto considered expensive and out of reach of most customers. With increased awareness on the subject of healthy eating combined with surplus leftovers from not ‘eating out’ anymore, most families could afford to buy apples along with locally grown bananas and guavas. The pandemic had been harsh on many and people started frequenting the local vendors more and avoided shopping in a closed environment like the up-scale supermarkets. I watched for some time wondering why the boys were within yards of one another. Wouldn’t it have been sensible if the first boy had set up his stall in the neighboring street rather than the same? Foolish to expect to sell when your apples were priced more. I had to go in for a meeting but I did wonder if I could just nip down and impart some tricks of the trade to the first boy for I did feel that despite his making himself hoarse by shouting, the sales from his cart was far from decent. Having marketing experience, I not only knew how pricing worked but also the psychology of customers. The boys were not too far away from my mind. I found myself stepping once again onto the balcony with my cup of green tea to see how the boys and their carts of apples were faring. I thought by now one of the carts would be empty and the T-shirt-clad boy must be on his way home. Much to my surprise, I found the second cart still full of apples with many customers selecting apples from the same and the boy in the blue shirt continuing to badger customers. With narrowed eyes, I noticed that his cart was far lighter than it was in the morning. It took me a moment to realize and I burst out laughing with sheer admiration.
The wise boys decided to work together rather than be in competition with one another. Tapping on the natural tendency of people to get a good bargain, they came up with this modus operandi and I caught on that they shifted the apples from the unsold cart to the other and shared the profits.
As I watched, the two boys entered the tiny alley leading to their respective homes. They bought themselves a bottle of coke and toasted each other for the two empty carts.
The money earned today would not only help them buy more apples tomorrow but put food on the table in their respective families. The good friends parted ways after exchanging a fist bump and a grin before calling it a day. Tales still had the “happily ever after” ending, I suppose. It just depended on how much you wanted to re-create the fairy tales in your life.
I took out the phone and made a call to my boss. I realized that I needed my colleague to bring this project to its fruition.
This was published here:
image credit too from the published story.