Best advice I’ve ever received from my younger brother:
“Don’t cry,” he said. “Sometimes batteries die and toys break. It’s all part of the game.”
Nobody ever comes here, to this toy shop. It has been deserted for a while. I wonder what changed. I still see lots of little kids walking down the lane, accompanied by their parents or grandparents. However, they no longer insist on coming here. It’s just another shop. They don’t even glance in this direction twice. Mr. Walker’s candy store next door is always overflowing with customers. Sweets never go out of fashion, I heard the wooden sailor say.
Now if you ever walk into this shop, you’ll never be able to spot me. On the fifth shelf from the right, there’s a doll with blonde hair and green eyes. That’s me. I was returned to the shop after a naughty little girl broke my arm. Of course, that’s not what she told her mother. Her mother believed the tale and argued with the shopkeeper about selling damaged goods. I wished I could tell him what had transpired. The shopkeeper finally agreed to take me back and paid back half the cost-price to the woman. He managed to fix my arm somehow so it wouldn’t hang loosely by my side. However, I was never sold again. Who would want to play with a broken doll? But the kind shopkeeper let me stay. He didn’t discard me, like I was yesterday’s garbage. And I’m always thankful for that.
I sit in the topmost corner of the shelf so I have a pretty good view of the shop and everything else happening. The shopkeeper’s daughter played with me on her occasional visits to the shop. She always asked him why he never thought of disposing me. Each time, he’d stare at me and shrug. He was a man of few words and this was one of those questions he always dodged. I didn’t mind. I preferred staying indoors. There’s a small crack here, filled with a glass pane. It’s the only way I can keep track of time. Sunlight floods in and fades out day after day. It’s been twenty-nine years since I was returned here. The shopkeeper had turned grey. The shop wasn’t doing much business.
As I was saying, my position on the shelf helps me see things with greater clarity. In the evenings, I edge closer to my window. I used to see lots of little kids running around in the park. The numbers are dwindling. I think it’s because of those metal monstrosities. You know, the ones with buttons(the soldiers said that the latest ones worked upon touch – buttons were rare) and moving pictures and sounds coming from them. They don’t look all that appealing, if you ask me. Even with my limited experience as a toy, I think it was much better before. The children would come up with creative stories and play it out using toys. I loved meeting the toys of the little girl’s friends. I wonder why children prefer robotically dropping balls in a basket or monotonously catapulting stones at birds. How do I know? That’s because the only noise in this shop is the bleep-bleep-bloop coming from another gadget owned by the shopkeeper’s grandson. There’s more variety, the dolls say. It’s ridiculous. If you ask me, I think childhoods were destroyed the first time such a game was developed. Toys can’t be replaced. They’ll realize that. Eventually.
We toys have a remarkable memory. So I was more than astonished to see a beautiful woman with short brown hair walk in to the shop, because she looked familiar. It had been twenty-nine years since I’d last seen her. It was Riana, the little girl who’d broken my arm! I knew it from the twinkle in her eyes when she smiled and the way she walked around the place. Of course, her high-heeled shoes made a different sound as they made contact with the floor. But it was her, I knew it. She leaned across the counter and said she was looking for a specific doll with blonde hair and green eyes…me? After all these years, Riana had come for me? Now I didn’t want to come across as special, but I’m the only doll here with that description. For more than two decades, it has been only me.
The shopkeeper’s grandson looked up from his game, entirely clueless. That boy could use one of those model toy trains and building blocks rather than that mind-numbing thing that never left his hands. Just then his mother, the shopkeeper’s daughter, rushed into the shop. She was very pale and looked like she had been crying. She spoke hurriedly, “I’m sorry, we’re closed. My father just passed away. We have to go…” Riana looked shocked as I felt. I knew the old man wasn’t keeping well but… I thought he’d get better. He always did.
Riana somehow managed to communicate the message to his daughter. She looked at Riana and gave her a watery smile. “I know what you’re taking about. You’re the little girl who lived on Fifth Street. You want Daddy’s favorite doll. He wanted her to be taken good care of. She reminded him of my mother…” she choked on her last words and I thought she was going to start crying, but she composed herself. She walked towards my shelf and reached for me. She carefully brushed the layer of dust and adjusted my dress. Then she said, “I hope you’ll take good care of her. I don’t want her coming back with another broken limb”. Riana shook her head, “Oh no! My daughter is a lot more well-behaved than I was. When I tell her the story, she’ll love it despite its condition now. It’s a very pretty doll.”
“Yes, she is very pretty,” agreed the daughter. The women exchanged a long look before she parted with me. It must have been difficult for her, after realizing my significance. Riana too must have had second thoughts. As for me, all the attention felt good. It had been so long. The best adventures in life are those we don’t plan or prepare for. I’m looking forward to that part. Also, I have forever and beyond to figure things out. That’s why toys don’t have to worry about replacement. We learn that it gets worse before it gets better.