Sunday, 11 May 2014

Happy Mothers Day

White frangipani trees were always planted above graves in the island where I grew up. Catholic missionaries some four hundred years ago would plant them near churches and graveyards; nothing says "I mourn your passing, brother" more than the year-round shower of blossoms on a final resting place. Frangipanis would be known as pansalmal in Sri Lanka, jepun in Indonesia, kalachuchi in the Philippines. The temple flower in the English tongue. You probably know it-- the tree's pale bark looks like crumpled paper; flowers have thick white petals that gradually turn yellow as it nears the center. If you scratch the flawless white petal with your fingernail, the scratch turns into a brown scar. You can write your name in flower petal scars.

We had these trees around the Catholic school that I went to, when I was a kid. They weren't very tall, these trees, they only grew around ten feet high. The campus walks were lined with them, and the deep stone ditches too. It was all very pretty and would have looked good on a postcard if only someone took a good shot during the right time of day. The flowers would fall onto the dark green ditch-water and float around and waltz around with butterscotch wrappers. There were a lot of other picturesque walks in that campus--acacias and coconut trees, a grotto here, a pond, an old wooden building, statues with swords and missing arms. You know, old and beautiful stuff that would make you believe in magic and fairy tales and whatnot.

I was six years old, and very often bullied. Understand that you grow up with bullies the same way you grow up with friends. In small towns, this is most painfully true.

I was six years old when this one girl started bullying me. She had dark skin and her hair stuck out in all directions. It started with this one silly prank, which I shall tell you about shortly, and progressed to darker and more painful deeds as we grew older. It didn't stop until five years later, when her family moved out of town. Today, she has two daughters, six and four. I wonder if they know what a horrible girl their mother was. I wonder if they're being bullied too. A sick, twisted part of me wishes that they are--then I go out and eat some pizza and take back the wish.

I stayed late one afternoon, because I was waiting for my mom to come and pick me up. This girl came along, her uniform was crumpled and her necktie was off. She'd been running around and she turned to me and she said "Do you want to play Cinderella? You can be Cinderella."

Have you ever had to ask a six-year-old girl twice to be Cinderella?


So I gave her my right shoe, all shiny and clean, from its black leather tip to its little steel buckle to its heel. And she ran away with it, saying she's going to look for my Prince Charming so he can give it back. He can rescue me from my incompleteness and we'll live happily ever after.

Well, an eternity later (or maybe it was only ten minutes, which is quite like eternity for little girls who are waiting for their Prince Charming), she has not yet come back and I got really worried. I did not want my mom to see me with only half the number of shoes she left me with that morning. So I started limping, hopping, towards the direction where she ran off. I checked the chapel. No sign of her. I checked the classrooms. No sign of her. I checked backstage, but everybody knew only ghosts lived there. All the while, I was missing a shoe. I hopped along the school fence and on the other side, I saw a familiar head of unruly hair disappear into a cab. She was going home.

I went back to the spot where I was waiting for my mom. I started crying. I lost a shoe, the world henceforth is a dark place.

Mom came along and she was limping too.

When my mother was a toddler, there was a polio outbreak in the city. She was luckier than most--she got out of it alive and the disease only slightly thinned and weakened her right leg. But still, she walked with a limp, and she would forever take advantage of her condition. She's probably the only person I know who's happy about her disability. Her parking spots are always the best and she's always a priority in the endless lines in government offices. She's a slow walker, yes, but she compensates once she's behind the wheel. When we finally got a car, and she drove me to school, I did not need coffee for my heart to go from baa-duum-baa-duum to badumbadumbadum.

Mom came along and she saw me with one shoe missing. She sighed, asked me what happened and told her.

"I'm Cinderella."

So Mom carried me, thin as she was, with her limp and all. She carried me, my schoolbag and my lunchbox. She carried me to the school gate. From the school gate, and across the street to the bus stop. From off the bus to subdivision entrance. She carried me home.

Thinking about this now, I don't remember if I thanked her.

I don't remember children of that age thanking their parents for things like patching them up when they scrape their knees, or cooking them a full, delicious meal, or packing their bags when there's a camping trip, or getting them ice cream after the very bad visit to the dentist. Or coming to the rescue when there was no Prince Charming.

The next day, Mom dropped me off and walked along the stone ditch, on the way to the school's only exit gate. She looked up at the nearest kalachuchi tree. Among the white blossoms and green, green leaves was something black and shiny.

She laughed out loud, and proceeded to climb the tree.

Author's note: this is a work of fiction and any similarities to real events, people and places are purely coincidental. That's right.

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