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Hidden treasure in Ali Agha's store

Sima Asgari
July 31 2004

My primary school was located in a residential area. Actually the school building itself had previously been the house of a rich family. It had two playgrounds a large one right behind the main entrance and a smaller one behind it, and several rooms in two stories that were used as classrooms.

All the floors were paved with bricks. I cannot forget the lovely smell of soil when the old caretaker, Tahereh Khanoom, sprinkled water with a hose in the hope of preventing dust from spreading around.

There was a small crooked shop across the street from the school. Other than stationary, Ali Agha, the kind shopkeeper, used to sell a wide collection of young girls' favorites from lavashak, gharaghooroot and aaloo-khoshk to fish and rooster shaped candies, shokolat-keshi, and colorful stickers.

But in one of those years, when I was in second grade, a new product hit the market and became Ali Agha's best seller.

Actually the product itself was nothing more than a small paper wrapped cup-chocolate costing one rial, but it had a main difference with what we had ever seen. Some of them had shiny new one-rial coin hidden inside them. I remember discovering this sweet secret felt like winning the lottery. From that day our adventures started.

Everyday, at four o'clock in the afternoon when the bell rang and announced the end of the school day, almost all the students ran into Ali Agha's store. They queued up outside the shop and waited for their turn to try their luck. Occasionally you would hear roars and clapping followed by a happy face running out of the store with a shiny coin. Those with a desire for gambling would pay their win for a second try.

If one day a girl won several coins, it would be top news the next morning. We kept records of winners. If we did not know the winner of the day we would go to meet her during break hour and if she was a friend, we would feel proud for the whole day.

One day amazing news jolted the whole school. The story was that the previous afternoon a girl, who happened to be Zari my friend and neighbor, had found a 20-rial banknote inside her cup-chocolate.

Oh God, how was it possible? We had to find out. That morning the whole school gathered in Zari's class. We wanted to see how the banknote could fit inside such a small chocolate. I still remember the banknote very clearly. It was folded carefully into an almost half an inch cube and was covered with scotch tape all over. The process of detaching the tape without damaging the banknote was a story by itself. The way everybody watched and gave advice was as tense and exciting as disarming a land mine.

A few weeks passed and the fad faded like fashion out of season. It was time for the next big thing -- and it happened.

On one of my unlucky days, after eating my chocolate without finding any treasure, I noticed a tiny hole on the paper cover at the bottom. It looked like a thin needle had been skillfully stuck into it. This occupied my mind the whole afternoon but soon I found out what it was. The girls had invented a new way to increase their luck.

From that day on every afternoon at around 3:45 everybody started to sharpen their pencil -- some girls more than one. If you looked at the crowd going to Ali Agha's you would see each holding a shiny sharp pencil in her fist with pride liek an army of coin diggers. We would stick the pencil inside the chocolate; if it hit a coin we would make a deal otherwise we would say, “Ali Agha this is not good; give me another one”. And Ali Agha was so kind; he would play along and change it for us.

Time passed and many things changed:

* Ali Agha changed his business to selling household goods; perhaps he made a fortune from cup-chocolates. Later on I heard that his son had been executed for political activities. He closed the store and disappeared.

* The old school building gave in. On my last visit it was still there but has been abandoned for many years. I looked inside the playground from the cracks on the gate. Everywhere was covered with weeds.

* One-rial coins have disappeared and become collectables.

* And... I grew up and the chocolate never tasted the same again.

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