The ice-cream man loves his job. So do the many scores of children who await him every summer holiday in Fountainville. He has been driving through Fountainville every summer selling ice-cream for ten straight years without skipping a day or reporting sick. Once he tried to change location because he had heard that the neighbouring community of Kumasi had statistically more children than Fountainville, but in Kumasi there’s a dentist, Dr Boodah, who warned the parents of the harmful effects of ice-cream sugar on children’s teeth, and so they refused his entrance.
Summers here get really extreme, it’s as if the summer sun gets more offended every year and comes back with greater expression. The ice-cream man most often has to replace his cooler system because as the heat increases so should his equipment. The ice-cream man also increases his prices this year to fight of the rising inflation rate and equipment demands, but the children hate this of course, “Mr ice-cream man, what is happening now? O so hlanya – are you going mad? How am I supposed to tell my mom to give me an extra R1 when she is already struggling to give me 50c as it is?” says Thulani, one of the ice-cream man’s main supporters.
“Thulani that’s not a way to talk to an adult is it? Why don’t you stop buying if you are complaining, and let’s see if you and your friends will survive this coming heat wave”, he replies. The weatherman has been suggesting that a heat wave will be hitting Fountainville soon, and the ice-cream man hopes this will also boost his sales.
“I am going to make sure no one buys your ice cream Mr ice cream man, we will see where this price increase of yours will take you!”, says Thulani.
Thulani is raised by a single mother, in fact Fountainville is made up of single mothers who, the most, work as domestic workers in the nearby city-town area. Any news of prices increasing sends shockwaves from the mothers down to their children. This is the kind of community that travels to other towns only to attend freebie giveaway promotions. Thulani is distraught at the news of the ice-cream increases, devoted to his word, he spreads the news to the other children:
“Hey lona, did you hear what is happening with the ice-cream man? He has increased his prices and told me that he did it on purpose because he knows the heatwave is coming, please no longer buy from him, if we suffer than let him suffer the most!”.
The heatwave is a few days away and the ice-cream man is driving through Fountainville. All the kids are out of their houses to observe the rumoured price increases, and indeed they have. The cheapest of them all, ‘Strawberry ice’ has increased from 50c, to R1. The popular ‘apple mint’ flavour has increased from R1 to R2, and the sweetest, best of them all, the ‘Caramel choc’, has increased from a previous R2,50 to a R4. This sends the children in a state of rebellion. None of them are buying and the ice-cream man immediately knows it is because of the price increases and that Thulani must have poured paraffin all over the situation. The ice-cream man stops his truck in the middle of the park where most of the children play and addresses them, “Listen here children, I will explain something most of you don’t understand now at this age, but you will one day. There’s this thing called inflation, basically, prices must increase, it is a must, if you can ask your mothers, they will tell you that last year bread was R9 and now it is R9,50. So, me too I must increase my prices!”
“Says who?” Thulani barges in, “ice-cream and bread are not the same, when we buy bread at home, it lasts two days, sometimes longer if there is a lot of pap, but ice-cream does not last long, it finishes now when you buy it, now if you can sell us ice-cream that lasts longer than two minutes than you can increase its price, but so long it lasts instantly then your prices should not change”, Thulani responds.
“You’re a foolish boy, you Thulani” says the ice-cream man, “ you know nothing about inflation, all you know is to complain and spread the wrong information to your friends, well, the whole lot of you will suffer in this heatwave, this is the last you will hear of me, farewell”, the ice-cream man concludes. He drives off, leaving the children in a state of confusion,
“What does he mean this is the last we will hear of him”
“Thulani what have you done!”
“That serves him well for trying to rob us”
“What will we do when the heatwave comes”
“Let him die of poverty, how dare he makes himself a supermarket out of us”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Thulani shouts, “Don’t panic all, the ice-cream man will soon come to his senses and come back with the normal prices, because there is nowhere else he can go, Kumasi doesn’t want him, I say let’s relax and play, tomorrow or the day after he will be back”.
However, the next day, there is no sign of the ice-cream man, and the day after. In fact, the ice-cream man stays clear of Fountainville, till the day the heatwave catches up with the town. On that first day of the heatwave, the ice-cream truck passes through Fountainville and the children celebrate, excited that he has now come back, but the ice-cream man does not stop for anyone, he simply drives by, as if to entice the children. This sends a great panic amongst the children but Thulani stays adamant that the children must fight on, till he comes back with the conditions that they expect.
A couple more days pass and still no sign of the ice-cream man. One day, out of sheer desperation, a group of children decide to visit the ice-cream man’s house, to beg him to come back, but he refuses, leaving one last condition for the Fountainville children, “I want that Thulani, to personally come here and apologise to me, and further beg for me to come back and tell everyone there to accept the new prices,” he says.
However when the children relay this message to Thulani, he refuses, reminding the children of the reason why the prices cannot increase. “Come on guys, we have supported the ice-cream man all our lives, we have given him our lunch monies, our carry monies and sometimes we all secretly stole from our mothers, risking a beating, for his ice-creams, now he wants us to pay him more? No ways! Let him come and apologise to me, to us for that!”
The heatwave persists over the coming days, more and more kids stop playing outside, more and more kids begin to faint of heat exhaustion in the streets, including Thulani.
On his side, the ice-cream man’s stock begins to melt, he wonders whether to give up and just go back and meet the demands of Thulani. Thulani himself wonders if he should as well just go and meet the demands of the ice-cream man. The wondering from both sides continues for long, it continues till the summer heatwave slowly passes away and the first signs of winter emerge.
Needless to say, both Thulani and the ice-cream man acknowledge the pain they went through during the heatwave, but also gain a satisfaction that they stood for what was right for them and never moved from their positions. The ice-cream man looks at the waste that has now become his melted ice-cream. He has to wait several more months until he can sell ice-cream again, but lack of sales has hit him hard now because he has no money saved for the next summer’s ice-cream stock. Disappointedly, he begins to clean up his ice-cream truck. Whilst in the truck, he hears a knock on the door, he opens and behold, it is Thulani, the rebel boy.
“Mr ice-cream man, I have come to apologise for costing you business, I know this is the only thing you do, so I apologise”.
The ice-cream man accepts his apology and apologises himself to Thulani, accepting that because he’s the adult, he should have responded better to the whole situation. Thulani offers to help to clean and they get going,
“You know Thulani, this ice-cream that has melted is all such a waste, I might as well use all of this as some sort of ice-cream soup and sell it to the children there where you live”, the ice-cream man jokes, but a thought has sprung into Thulani’s mind now,
“Yes! Ice-cream soup! Ice-cream soup, ice-cream soup, ice-cream soup! Why don’t you do that, it is cold now, and everybody is drinking soup now, using the melted ice-cream and making it a soup would be very popular with my friends, with the whole of Fountainville, that way you don’t have to throw all of this melted ice-cream away, all you have to do is heat it up and pour it in cups and sell it!, yes, sell it!” Thulani exclaims.
Thulani and the Ice-cream man celebrate at the new found business idea, ice-cream man excited that he will now be able to use his stock, recuperate all his losses and save for the next summer. But one last hurdle is left for them to climb,
“So, ice-cream man, tell me, how much would this soup be?’ Thulani asks
“Well, I won’t do the same mistake this time Thulani, I will be nice, the children will this time decide the price and I will stick to whatever they agree a cup of ice-cream soup to be” ice-cream man says.
But Thulani is not pleased, “What about inflation, we have to make a profit! This is a business not a charity, if this idea came with me then we must agree I deserve at least 50% partnership, and if you are in partnership with Thulani, you must know by now, Thulani never loses! He quips. They look at each other, ice-cream man shocked as ever,
“Just joking” Thulani retorts
They both laugh, and begin preparations for this latest product on the market.
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo