Sometime ago, I read an article about a Cambodian woman who survived the Pol pot regime. Even though she has a good job and all the securities associated with living in a western country, she still hides food (canned) in the nooks and crannies of her home. She said her past defines who she is now and that all the securities she has now can never take away the fear she endured.
I didn’t want my past to define who I am.
My mother is an incredibly smart woman and she wanted to ensure that I ate the lunch she packed. So she talked to the lunch room supervisor of my school and made a pact with her that I must show my empty lunch container to the supervisor each day before I leave the lunch room. It wasn’t an easy task. I didn’t want to eat the food amma send and I couldn’t escape the supervisor. But then Amma also send pappadam in a yellow colour round plastic container to keep it fresh. I transferred the rice and the curry to the pappadam container, victoriously walked to where the supervisor was standing, showed her my empty lunch container and once I was outside, I fed the crows from my pappadam container. The only hitch in the plan was akkachi, for she had to wash the pappadam container that now had the leftover lunch bits. Akkachi never told Amma the truth and when Akkachi left, I washed the lunch container as soon as I came back home in the pretext of being a wonderful and caring daughter who did her part to help her mother. I never ate the lunch that my mother packed.
But there was always this fear of getting caught. Each day I worried that Amma will find out that I was the reason the crows near my school were well fed. And then there was the guilt, for wasting the food Amma packed. On my way to the school, I had to walk by the illegal skip used by the restaurants to dump their leftover food and there were always people scavenging for the food. I even had a friend there. He must have been a year or two older than me and everyday he would harass me by asking for my name and I ignored him and until one day the official branthan of kottayam ( he had dreadlocks that the nuns in their quest for moral and social duty wanted to cut while they gave him his annual shower ! they never succeeded)decided to scare and chase me. As I took off running shit scared, My friend shouted not to get scared because the branthan’s leg was broken and he can’t run. The next day I told him my name and I asked him where his family is and he said,he ran away from home and he never wanted to go back. He probably gave me the hope that one day I could really run away from my home. I know I was writing about the guilt and got side tracked. Anyway the guilt was that I didn’t have to scavenge for food and still I didn’t appreciate what was given to me, what if I was punished tomorrow for being so arrogant? What if I ended up in the streets, would I then regret all those days I never ate the good food ( sic) my mother send?
I didn’t want my children to feel what I felt. I told them from the time they were young, if you didn’t finish your lunch, you don’t have to toss it at school, bring it back home and I won’t scold you. Yet I did just that. Technically, I didn’t scold them, I punished them by not making their lunch because instead of tossing it out at the school, they brought it back home.
You just can’t run away from your past.