So, there was this one time…
“Show me — don’t tell me,” my brother always warns me. He, himself, is a performer and a painter; so his stories are visual. But the recipe works though, I’ve tried it: My storytelling works best when I paint a picture instead of lining-up some words.
So, there was this one time, when motha had decided to bring home a coconut…
Motha sucks at storytelling. When younger, she was anxious to teach me how to read, so I would stop bugging her for bedtime stories. Nowadays, she tells me stories all the time, and she tends to tell the punchline long before I can wrap my head around all the characters and their histories.
And when it comes to jokes, motha — is the absolute worst. She cracks herself up, and it is impossible to make out a single word through her roaring and yelping laughter. She tilts her head back, as if in the midst of some exorcism, and soon enough things around her start flying onto the floor while she flails around her arms, utterly unaware of her vanity. And it is also impossible — not to laugh with her, in return.
So, there was this one time, when mother had decided to bring home a coconut. We were living in the Soviet Union at the time…
I’ve got a lot of stories, but I suck at delivering them. I would much rather write them down. When writing, I can relive them. I can get the details out. I can get them right; or even fix them, now that I know their endings.
But I am not really good at reliving stories in front of others. Unless, of course, they are someone’s else stories, then I can perform them: “show, not tell”.
Anyway. There was this one time, when mother had decided to bring home a coconut.
We were living in the Soviet Union at the time, and coconuts weren’t much of a typical occurrence on our dinner table. No, it was all about potatoes instead: Fried potatoes, boiled potatoes — with skin and without. Roasted potatoes, potatoes in a soup. Early spring fingerling potatoes in a salad. Potato pancakes. Mashes potatoes: Those motha always insisted on mixing with bits of semi-fried onion, and I would spend more time picking it out than actually eating (which didn’t thrill my mother much). And even when we would go camping, potatoes would appear in various formats when it was time to eat: Potatoes baked in foil, roasted over an open fire potatoes. Potatoes in a soup.
A serving of macaroni would spice things up a bit. Macaroni usually meant my parents got paid, and we were living it up for a while. But then, the macaroni would be recycled too: Macaroni swimming in milk for breakfast — fried macaroni for dinner.
But this one time, mother had decided to bring home a coconut. She had been trying something out, with the family:
“A Piece of an Exotic Fruit — per Month,” was the name of the program motha had come up with.
The Soviet Union was on its way out. We didn’t know it at the time, but the country, as we knew it, was over. The economy was in the crapshoot: Folks not getting paid on time, the worth of pensions decreasing down to laughable proportions. The price of bread was growing every single day; and food was being sold in rations, according to a monthly handout of coupons. But to get that food at the market, one had to show up right after its delivery. Because, for whatever reason, there was always fewer rations than the actual people, in town. So, we would have to line up by the store, hours before it would open.
It helped that I was finally of the age to stand in some of these lines. I would get there before motha, often right after school. Later, she could take my place, and I would go home to do my homework — not to play — then, start prepping dinner. Because I was definitely past the age of innocence: I had long stopped bugging her for bedtime stories.
Sometimes, I would stand in line for long enough to get to the front of it. Soon enough though, the cashier would start announcing the lowering numbers of rations.
“Citizens!” she would holler out. Somehow, she was alway chubby and shiny; and so obviously in love with finding herself in a position of an authority. “We only have enough for twenty of you!”
People complained, shifted on their feet uncertain if they should keep on waiting — or just go home defeated. The frontrunners gloated in their places. Quickly, the last of the fortunate would be counted off. Oh, how it would suck to be standing right behind her! (I say “her”, because most of the time, the job of standing in lines was allotted to mothers.)
Still, even then, most people would keep standing, holding their place in line. Because hope dies last, doesn’t it? It can even outlast despair.
The cashier would start getting annoyed:
“I told you, citizens: We don’t have enough produce for all of you! So, don’t linger!”
She was obviously getting off. But people stayed.
They stayed! Perhaps, it took an incredibly unreasonable amount of denial to survive in such conditions. But they chose not to hear the abusive remarks by the shiny cashier; and only the ones at the very end would start chipping off, muttering, complaining:
“What is this country coming to?!”
“Mama?” I would think at that moment, wishing she would get there and relieve me from my post. I may have been long past the age of innocence, but I wasn’t yet ready to give up on my childhood.
So, that one time, when motha had decided to bring home a coconut, I didn’t even wonder if she had to stand in line for it.
“Where did you find this thing?!” I asked instead, while clutching the coconut to my chest. It felt prickly.
I knew she must’ve gone to some fancy store in the capital. She had taken a bus, and probably a couple of trolleys; and then another bus, packed with other mothers, in order to bring this thing home: A coconut!
In the midst of the last days of the Soviet Union, she had brought home — a coconut!
In response to my question, motha would start telling me a story. But motha sucks at storytelling; so, she would laugh and flail her arms around, dropping things to the floor. I would keep clutching onto the coconut.
And despite the last days of my innocence — the last days of my childhood — it was impossible not to laugh with her, in return.
(To Be Continued.)