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Everything was ready for the familiar Indian ritual of moving into a new home. The only strange thing was the date of my move. It was October 31st, Halloween day. It’s been several years but I distinctly remember that day, especially the evening.
I was excited to celebrate this mysterious American holiday for the first time. There is no dearth of holidays in India, but we do not celebrate Halloween. I must have gone to the grocery store several times to get chocolates, toffees, butterfingers, sour-patch treats, candy-sticks, beanies, chocolate eyeballs, and all the crazy rigmarole of the ghostly night. Once I had enough candy to feed the entire neighborhood, I turned around and went back to the store again. This time to get a dozen spooks, scarecrows, and cobwebs.
An inky autumnal dusk was upon us, and I hurried home. I donned my Alice in Wonderland costume. Thankfully, I still had my girlish figure and as I tied a ribbon on my braids, I was pleased with the apparition in the looking glass. I turned most of the house lights off to create a spooky atmosphere and lit up my jack-o’-lantern. It sat on the steps leading into the street with a wicked orange grin. Now for the magic, I grinned to myself.
I poured myself a tall glass of cider and waited for my first visitor. I did not have to wait long. The doorbell chimed. I opened the door. Three pairs of eyes looked up at me. There were three ducklings, with a bunny on their heels, then came a “spider” infant in arms, followed by a Victorian Vampire. Then came a rather verdant Shrek. By and by a giraffe and a penguin trickled in.
Trick or treat!
Candy and laughter exchanged hands. Parents hovered at the shoulders of these marching bands of children. Helping them with their bags, as they got heavier with amassed sweets and goodies. Their eyes were uncannily bright with an anticipatory sugar rush. Their little minds counting candy in their heads. What a wonderful method for teaching math. I was worried that they were up for disappointment later. I was certain that parents would make them dump their goody bags on the kitchen table and go through everything to make sure that it was safe to consume. I know of a few parents, myself included, who are born with an overindulgent sweet tooth.
I was having a good time, I had received fifty children at my door and the candy stash was dwindling. The hallway clock struck ten. It was late, I thought I might just turn my pumpkin light off and call it a night. The doorbell rang again. Three long bells, as though someone was leaning on it. I opened the door and looked out.
There was no one there! A trickster, I thought. It’s okay, I could handle a cheeky child.
I shut and bolted the door. I put the safety latch on and turned towards my bedroom. All good children must be in bed by now, I said out loud. The doorbell rang again, followed by quick sharp knocks. Now I was anxious. It was safe those days in neighborhoods. Holidays and festivals, religious or otherwise were treated with a spirit of healthy acceptance. I braced myself and opened the door again. A laughing soot-smeared ragamuffin held out his hand. A raspy voice-over croaked: Trick or treat. I handed a box of Cheerios through the chink and slammed the door.
I turned on my floodlights and called my neighbor.
Michele answered, “Hello?”
“Hey,” I blurted out in a rush. “There are a couple of hoodlums at my door. The kid looks like he crawled out of the classic Oliver Twist and his dad is in a long overcoat from the movie Godfather. Don’t open your door. I am calling the cops.”
Silence. I disconnected the phone and with clammy fingers began to dial 911.
There was raucous laughter at the door.
“Monita! Please don’t call the police. It’s your neighbor Mike,” said the voice outside.
I was livid with rage. I opened the door and grabbed my treat back from Mike’s hand!
Ever since that night we have been celebrating Halloween together. I take my candy to Mike and Michele’s house and we pass out treats together. What is your Halloween story?
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.