Sunday, 16 October 2011

6. SOAP BUBBLES

‘….I’m  so sad… I’m so unhappy…’
      ‘Nga Thu! You’re at it again! Turn that racket off! How many times do I have to tell you? Keep the noise down. Do what I say, turn it off!’
      I’m sick of it. Every time I switch the cassette player on, my mother tells me to turn it off. Can’t she see that I want to listen to it? Even if I only turn it up a little bit, she yells ‘Turn that racket off! Stop making so much noise!’ It’s not me playing the music loud that’s making a racket. It’s her. I bet she doesn’t even know what she sounds like herself.
      There’s so much I don’t understand about her. There are three of us, my older brother and my older sister. But it’s always me that gets the blame for singing too loud or for playing cassettes. My brother and sister are crafty. When they want to listen to music, they tell me to put the cassette on. And when we’re singing, they always stop as soon as they spot Mum coming.20
      Because they’re older than me, they get pocket money. If I nag them enough, they sometimes buy me sweets. They’re worried that if they get told off, they’ll lose their pocket money- that’s why they make me put the music on. In fact I do it because I want to listen to the music myself, not because they tell me to. And if I sing, it’s because I feel like singing. But then my mother yells at me. I’m sick of it. She won’t give me any money for sweets.
      So I’m always plying music, she’s always yelling at me, so it goes. I can’t figure it out. Maybe she’s jealous of me or something.
      It’s not as if I do it while she and Dad are praying in front of the Buddha shrine. So I can’t see what she gets so upset about. But even if it makes me mad, I can’t shout back, because I’m her son. So I just hum instead.
      ‘…I’m so sad …I’m so unhappy… Always being told what to do, what not to do…I’m so sick of it…..’
      ‘Hey Thu Thu, I’m off to play marbles outside. Why don’t you ask Mum if you can come too?’
      He’s smart, my brother. He’s the one that wants to play marbles, but he gets me to ask Mum.
      Still, seeing as I want to go out too, I wink at him and give him the thumbs up.
      ‘Mum..?’
      ‘What is it now, Thu Thu?’
      ‘Can I go outside and play marbles, Mum?’
      ‘Oh. For goodness sake! I’ve already told you to keep the noise down. Now you want to know if you can go out and play in the road in the blazing sunshine. Why are you bothering to ask? You know I’ve told you. You’re not allowed to play in the road. Why can’t you be a good boy and stay at home quietly? Why do you always want to go out? Why won’t you behave yourself? Why don’t you ever think of your poor parents? All we do all day is scrimp and save. Do you have any idea how many ties we’ve had to go down the pawnbrokers to get enough money to feed you and your brother and sister? And all you ever think about this playing games. Next you’ll be asking me again for a bike. Sure, I’ll get you a bike when we can afford one. So stop asking for one the whole time. Any little thing, you start to moan. Well if you keep on like this you won’t get a bike at all. I’m telling you. Now look at you, you don’t have your bike but you’re still try to go outside, marbles, badminton, and football. I know you. You spend your whole day plotting how you’re going to slip outside; all you ever want to do is go out. I bet if I bought you a bike, I wouldn’t see you from one day to the next. Don’t you realize how hot that sun out there is? It’s not moonlight, you know.’
      ‘Yes, Mummy, I know it’s hot out there. But all we want to do is play marbles. I’m not asking for the moon.’
      ‘Don’t try and be smart. I know what you’re up to. Well you can’t go out. You’re going to stay inside. Go over there and sit in the corner. Be a good boy and sit quietly and if you stay there for an hour, I’ll give you five kyats to go and buy some sweeties.’
      ‘But Mum, can I play marbles if I sit here quietly first?’
      ‘Won’t you give it a rest? OK, OK, yes, once you’ve stayed inside, you can go out and play. But first you go to sit down and be quiet.’
      ‘You won’t break your promise. Will you Mum? You’re a grown-up. Grown-ups21 have to keep their promises.’
      ‘Thu Thu, go over there and sit down. Don’t get up for an hour. I don’t want to hear another word from you.’
      ‘But what about if I want to go to the toilet? What happens if I get thirsty? Am I allowed to sing? Can I do something drawing?
      ‘Just don’t say another word, Thu Thu, or you’ll find yourself getting a smack, OK?
      I’m fed up. She’s always doing this to me. Then she goes and tells people how much I annoy her. She’s always telling our neighbors across the road and in the house next door how bad I am and how I’m always upsetting her. That’s the way she is. Whatever I do, she moans about it to them. She’ll bring up all sorts of things, which are irrelevant, like complaining how I used to keep her awake at night when I was a baby. On and on like that. Of course I love her- she’s my mother. But I don’t love her when she’s carrying on like that.
      Like just now- all I did was ask her if I could go out and play marbles, and she starts complaining about me wanting a bike. It’s her who’s been telling me for ages that she’ll buy me a bike, but she hasn’t. That doesn’t stop her from telling her friends that her sons keeping nagging her to buy them a bike and there she is, working all hours to save up for to buy one for us. She doesn’t mention the fact that she hasn’t actually bought us one, so her friends think we’re the bad ones. That really annoys me.
      She’s smart, my Mum. She sees me get upset when she shouts at me so she stops shouting and wrestles me to the floor and rolls me around and talks to me as nice as pie and tries to bribe me like she did just then. If I sit quietly for an hour, she’ll give me five kyats for some sweets. Sometimes, if I want to buy sweets I’ll do what she says. But I get bored sitting doing nothing. Of the three of us, only my sister knows how to sit quietly. My brother seems better behaved than me. But that’s just because he’s sly. In fact, he’s only good when we’re indoors because he knows that’s what will drive Mum mad. As soon as we get outside, he’s much naughtier. And just now- it was his fault I got bawled at. That’s why I’m sick of him too.
      ‘Ko Ko’s a smarty-pants’, I wrote on the brick wall outside. I drew a picture of him and then a big cross sign over it. I was about to add ‘Mum’s a liar’ when: Whack! I felt a blow on my head.
      ‘Thu Thu, what do you think you’re doing? What did I tell you? Now you’re messing up the brickwork again. Do you think this wall’s here just so you can write whatever rubbish you want on it? Look at it! I bet it won’t come off now. Look what you’ve done Thu Thu, the bricks are covered in white scratches, it’s a mess. You’re always writing this rubbish and drawing these pictures on pieces of paper too. Who tells you to write stuff like this? Look at it! Why can’t you sit down and learn the Five Precepts22 like I keep telling you to? Why must you always go round scribbling ‘Mum’s a liar’, ‘Mum’s a nag’ all over the newspapers and all over your books? What’s that meant to mean? You know I don’t like doing it. If I catch you doing it again, I’ll rap you over the knuckles, do you understand? I can’t see why you need to read or write anything apart from the Five Precepts and holy books. If you want to write something, just copy those out, OK? Do you understand what I’m saying? Eh?
      I was upset, but I didn’t say a word. She goes on at us like this, and then she goes and tells my aunt next door that she’s been telling us to learn the Five Precepts. I told my aunt what she really said, and my mother beat me. She said I should stop interrupting when grown-up were talking, and that there was no need for me to repeat what she’d told me. She said that grown-ups said things like that and it wasn’t my job to interrupt when I didn’t know what I was talking about anyway. I didn’t reply because I couldn’t get a word in edgeways. But I didn’t understand why she was saying all this.
      So I am always bored. I’m not allowed to play outside. I have to sit here like now, inside doing nothing, getting bores.
      ‘Thu Thu, do you want to blow some bubbles?’
      My brother is mixing up some soap and water. I’m so bored I reckon blowing soap bubbles will be better than nothing so I make a couple of wire rings for him and me.
      ‘Hey Ko Ko, don’t stick your grubby fingers in the mixture, you’ll make it dirty.’
      ‘Thu Thu, this is soap water, it’ll clean my hands, and anyway, so what if it gets dirty?’
      ‘It’s not meant for washing your hands with, it’s meant for blowing bubbles.’
      ‘Stop nagging. No wonder Mum gets sick of you, you’re always whining.’
      ‘No wonder I get sick of her too, then.’
      ‘Shush, keep your voice down, or she’ll hear us.’
      I laugh at him. He’s such a coward.
      The soap bubbles come out of the solution, one after another, red, yellow, blue and green, all colors of the rainbow. Seeing them makes me happy. But one after another, they disappear with a pop! I keep blowing to keep them coming, one after another, round and gleaming.
      The bubbles remind me of my mother. She scolds me and nags me and then suddenly is as nice as pie. Just like the bubbles. A bit likes me too. I’m miserable when she scolds me and happy again when she’s nice. I smile when I think of Mummy and me as bubbles.
      I smile and watch the bubbles and because I feel in a good mood, I start to sing my favorite song, the one by Hema Ne Win: 
      ‘…..I’m so sad…….I’m so unhappy…..’
 
 
 
 Ma Thida (Sanchaung)
First published in Youq-shin-amyu-te magazine, November 1989. Reprinted in the ‘Mo Mo Inya Commemorative Collection of Best Burmese Short Stories, Volume 2’, August 1992. Its inclusion in the collection was significant as this was the first piece by Ma Thida to receive permission to be published since she and a number of other authors were blacklisted in October 1991. Volume 1 of the collection, which appeared in December 1991, had four previously published stories ripped out because their authors were either in jail or banned. In this story, the narrator is Burmese people agitating for democracy, and the mother represents the SLORC government, punishing them, and trying to give them a bad name.
That was translated by Ko Sein Kyaw Hlaing and edited by Vicky Bowman.

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