Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ice Cream (a short story) by mahani zubedy

Mahani has started a blog on conscious parenting. This article is from her blog

The trick is to let them have it whenever they ask. Just straight away bee line for the nearest store, stop the car, give them the money if they hadn’t taken it from your hand bag already, and sit and wait for them to return, unwrapping and licking. Don’t say: “Wait till we get to the store near the house.” Don’t say: “Oh, we’ve passed the store already,” and if you have passed the store, turn around. Don’t tell them: “You guys have had too much ice cream,” or, “You don’t need ice cream everyday,” and never, never think that they cannot have ice cream because that is how life is: that you can’t have everything you want every time you want it, because you can.

When I was a kid growing up in Malaysia I didn’t get what I wanted. We were poor, my father didn’t care, and my mother believed that life is not for getting things you want. Poor people don’t get what they want because things cost money. But nobody told this to my even poorer cousins, and it didn’t stop them from happiness and going to school with sixty cents tuck shop money, or riding bicycles that were used but the ‘in’ models. The one P.Ramlee rode in the opening scene of Ali Baba. First you see his head, shoulders and a flowing cape, sand dunes in the back ground, and you thought he was on a camel. When you see the rest of him you realize it is better than a camel, it is the bicycle you would never own.

My mother taught me that some things in life you plain don’t get: bicycles, princess dolls with curly, cascading hair, dresses with three layers of petticoats already sewed on, a husband who’s always by your side, and heaven on earth. “Bukan senang,” she would say, it is not easy. You must suffer. You must bite on yourself and everyone around you, especially the ones you love most. Bite and keep biting. Bite on your little brother’s arm and see the red “O” formed by minuscule droplets of blood spurting. Bite on the inside of your own lips and suck your salty, intoxicating blood. Bite your nails and pull them back till they bleed.

Have a cigarette. At first butts your father handed to you to throw away because he was too lazy to get off the couch. Then a full stick you bought with the five cents you stole from your mother. Gold Leaf. Matterhorn.
Ice-cream? No ice-cream.

When I was thirteen I had a dollar and something cents. Enough to buy a brick size bar of Walls ice cream. I had dreamed of a day when no one was home, had saved that dollar and something cents—to know what it would be like to eat one whole bar of ice cream without sharing—all by myself. I bought. I ate. I got a cold that lasted a week.

On Eid Fithri, the culmination of the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims visit friends and relatives and eat as if making up for the month they fasted, Mother bought us a durian popsicle each. During the lull between my eldest uncle and family who arrive right after prayers for breakfast, and the rest of the relatives who show up a little past lunch; we sit sucking durian ice-cream. Mother, me, Adek, Rosli and Hussein, all of us except Father who was out, not at the mosque, that ended hours ago, but at the house of wife number two, otherwise known as perempuan jalang, whore-slut.

Creamy, yellow, thick and yummy durian ice-cream. One year I decided on chocolate. At the last minute I threw the durian back in the box of rising cold and picked the chocolate; same size, same brand, same price; but it wasn’t durian, and it was the last year we ate ice-cream on Eid Fithri.

Why can’t they have ice-cream? Let me say that my children can eat all the ice-cream they want and it will not dent our bank account. So, why say no? Why deprive them of cool sucks and creamy licks that soothe parch throats and lift the anticlimax of the end of school. What better way to celebrate that time of day? What else is there to do in the car for the forty-five minute drive which should only have taken twelve but for the traffic. How else to face the traffic on a hot afternoon?

Play God. That’s it, because I want to play God. That’s why they can’t have ice cream. God says: “Today no ice-cream, so there!” And today, even if you beg God, she will not relent. God is not happy today, God screams: “No! How many times must I tell you N.O! What is it with you lot? Everyday after school you must have ice cream.”
“So mean,” my daughter hissed.

Yes I brought my baggage. Don’t we all? I got married and had kids so I could right my wrong childhood. Hah! Guess what? I am repeating the cycle, with a twist. My mother had no idea what she did to her children, not a clue. Me, I know. I know precisely the mental agony I inflict on my children (and myself). Hahaha! I know. But you think by knowing I can prevent it? I can’t. You could say looking at the bright side, I’ve evolved a step from my mother, but where does it put my children? Does it help them? Will they be better adjusted? Will they make better citizens of this planet? Will they come to more than me?

“I’ll get durian for you Mom,” my daughter said as she pushed the car door opened, note in hand, followed by her brother and sister. I watched their backs as they trooped into the store near our house.

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