Candy Wrappers

September 05, 2021 - 6 min read

The day was ruined. Oscar ran into his room, slammed the door, jumped on the bed, and, huddled, turned his face against the wall. A minute later, the door creaked and a gentle voice sneaked into the room.

"Tell me what happened," his mother asked, peering out from behind the ajar door.

"It's all Mark’s fault. We won't play with him anymore."

"What did he do?"

"He ruined our game!"

Oscar, Felix and Nina were playing shop. One was a shop assistant, the rest were customers. Then they switched, and so on, multiple times. Usually, the three of them occupied a room, dragged the heavy oak bench from the kitchen, covered it with a dark-blue bed blanket, and arranged the goods on top, like at the market, neatly, each according to its category. Some of the goods, for which there was not enough space, lay under the bench. After that, they cut price tags from paper and glued or simply placed them on top of each item.

The goods could be anything, mostly empty boxes and food wrappers: tea, biscuits, bottles, cans, NES cartridges, notebooks, toys, and anything else children were allowed to play with. The special goods were Pokémon cards and pins, Kinder Surprise toys, and other little things that could be traded for something valuable even beyond their game. The assortment varied depending on their mood and the availability of boxes not thrown away by their parents, the boxes which proliferated with no control in the closets and under the beds.

They had no toy money. In the summer, they used leaves from trees in the garden: apple trees, currants, cherry trees – all with different shapes, textures, smells. But one winter, when the desire to play was there but there were no leaves, except herbariums hiding in between book pages, they came up with a nifty alternative.

Candy wrappers.

They- pretty, small, paper, shiny, crumpled- resembled real money and gave their favourite sweets a second life. Their parents usually bought lots of candy of several types, adding enough of new banknotes of different denominations into circulation. The denomination was determined by collective decision. Oscar, Felix and Nina spent many hours arguing about how much each wrapper should be worth, swearing, fighting, tearing wrappers apart, breaking up then making peace with each other, playing again. A red shiny wrapper of the horribly sweet fudge, which no one liked but parents kept buying, had minimal value – five. The others, with birds, animals, cows, funny faces, landscapes, and folk art patterns, ranged on a scale of ten to a hundred. The most difficult thing was to decide how much should a wrapper with bears in the woods be worth, like on famous Shishkin's painting – a hundred or fifty?

Altogether, they decided that a thousand would work fine.

After deciding on the denomination, the number was written on the back of a banknote with a blue or black felt-tip pen. Handwriting showed who "printed" the banknotes. Neat numbers belonged to Nina and Oscar, ugly scribbles – to Felix.

Of course, words like 'denomination' never touched their children's ears, but that didn't stop the kids from playing. There was no competition in that game, no goal – only roles and imitation of how adults behave. An opportunity to do something serious for fun. That is how they played, trying on different roles- shop assistants and customers- playing out different situations, subconsciously attempting to understand what life is really like if you are an adult. Learning by imitation, isn’t that what people say? Sometimes they played for a couple of hours, sometimes the game wasn't going to stop all day.

But this idyll, like any other, met with an ordeal.

It was summer. For the umpteenth time, they played in the yard, bringing their stuff into a lonely gazebo, often used by teens as a smokehouse but fortunately free that time.

"Can I join?" asked Mark, a new boy to their street. Meanwhile, they were sorting candy wrappers brought by each of them into stacks before putting into a makeshift cash register, ex- carton box.

"No. You don't have any money." Nina said.

"Can I at least stand here and watch?"

The kids exchanged looks and offered Mark a role they were thinking of for a long time but no one wanted to play.

"Wanna be a security guy?"  What's a serious shop without a security guy?

"I do," Mark nodded cheerfully.

That was how Mark got into the game. For the rest of the day, he stood next to the shop assistant and the cash register, and watched, throwing in annoying questions, getting answers, understanding the rules, which, however, were not complicated at all. If any goods were running out, the price was raised. If something was out of stock, you could say that it would arrive ‘tomorrow’. If someone ran out of money, you could ask your mate to lend you some wrappers. And so on.

A week later, when they got together again, Mark also joined. At that time he was intended to participate at least as a customer. To do that, as he was instructed, he needed his own candy wrappers. Otherwise, there wouldn't be enough wrappers for the others. Better if wrappers were the same as everyone else's so that they didn't have to come up with values all over again.

"Where did you get so many 'bears'?" the kids asked Mark, standing with a five-inch stack of 'Clubfoot Bear' candy wrappers.

"From home."

"But that many?"

"Mom loves them. Me too. They are delicious."

"You're gonna buy all the goods!" resented Nina.

"And it won't be fun to play," added Oscar.

"I'm not gonna buy all the goods."

"You are. Why do you need so many wrappers?"

"You told me to bring my own."

"We didn't know you're gonna bring a stack of bears! We have few of them. They're a thousand each!"

"I can buy something. You can give me a change, I'll have lots of different wrappers."

"And then how will we give change to the others?"

"We can paint over the last zero and make bears a hundred each if you like."

"I don't want my bears to only be worth a hundred! And we already have hundreds, see?" Nina showed him the section with the hundreds in their cartoon cash register.

"How do you use your bears guys?"

"We don't use them. They're always in the till."

"What are they for then?"

The game was not going to start. The argument about bears and wrappers continued and at some point propagated onto other rules. Why does everyone have a different number of wrappers? Why does everyone bring their own? It's not fair. If your parents buy more candies, you automatically have more candy wrappers, right? Then one person, like Mark, for example, can bring more wrappers and can buy more goods. And we have to make them more expensive. And other customers won't be able to buy anything! Why do notebooks suddenly cost more than a box of tea? And where do prices even come from? Everything has become so expensive that we are constantly short of fives and tens! Why don't we turn bears into tens? Paint over the zeros as Mark suggested. Why don't we paint over you, you idiot? You are the idiot! No, you're the idiot! Why you are always a cashier? Because you have to learn how to count first! Do you even count correctly yourself? I have a caclulator! It has batteries! Let's rethink all the numbers, now that there are four of us? It'll be fairer. It's all you! You called Mark to join us. He came on his own! Mark has nothing to do with this! You are the idiot ones, I didn't even want to play with you guys! Then go away! I'll leave! Then leave! Let's play without Mark. I don't want to play with you guys anymore! Neither do I! Fine! I will play alone!

Huge thanks to Gaz for helping me with the draft.

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