"It's all they had." Shaune handed me the bottle.
"Not even diet?"
"Nope and it's not cold."
I took a sip out of necessity. We'd been walking for an hour, looking at the mundane artefacts meant to represent the pioneer days of Canada. The dust in the desert-like July air had absorbed the moisture in my mouth, so that the sweet syrupy liquid had no thirst quenching properties except to cover my tongue in its slimy coat. And its prickly descent down my throat took me back to that first time it was the only beverage available.
The taller man with the onion breath and brown shoes walked over to where we stood at the railing, watching the green blue torrent.
"Cola?" he curled his fingers around a make-believe object.
"Is he saying kala?" I looked over to my sister to see if she understood.
The man nodded vigorously. "Yes, yes, cola" His face was red again, a strange thing that happened to both the men when they became excited.
"Yayss" We both said, nodding our heads for good measure, in case he misunderstood. We'd heard the White Woman at the NGO use that word, when speaking to Ma. Her Bengali was broken and had made us laugh. Our mother shushed us, apologized to the woman, and continued discussing, what I now realize was, our future.
The man walked back into the cabin of the ferry boat; came back a few minutes later holding a slim glass bottle.
"Where's the kala?" I asked my sister. She shrugged.
"Here." He handed me the bottle. I was confused. It was cold to the touch. What was I supposed to do with this?
As if reading my thoughts, the man gestured, again curling his fingers around a make-believe object then lifted his hand to his mouth.
"He means for us to drink it," My older sister, always the wiser of us, muttered.
"And then we'll get the kala?" She shrugged again. The other man, the one with the beard and light eyes, walked out of the cabin holding a bottle like the one I'd been given. The man in the brown shoes gestured to him excitedly. They exchanged some words and the bearded one stepped into the centre of us, took a long swig of the dark liquid, patted his belly and smiled.
I handed the bottle to my sister. She was the brave one. Let her try it first I thought. She took a quick small sip and handed it back to me. I did the same but sputtered and coughed. The prickle hit my throat and nostrils simultaneously so that I was forced to spit the awful concoction out.
Both men burst into laughter. They laughed for several minutes before one of them grabbed the bottle from me and dumped it over the railing into the Bay of Bengal.
Embarrassed, I began to cry. The sobs choked me, not only because I thought the men were laughing at us, or that I was overly sad about not getting my kala or banana as I would know it ever after, but because it was sinking in that my mother was not going to be waiting for us at the end of this journey: that these tall white men were taking us far, far away from the life we’d known. A life that would one day find me Googling the Bengali word for banana because English had become my only language.
I'm joining the Red Dress Club in writing about a sound or scent that takes me back to my past. Constructive criticism is welcome, I'm learning so much from your helpful feedback.