The shop was a labyrinth of high shelves stuffed with colorful boxes of different sizes and shapes. Pretty blonde Barbies, lovely cloth puppets, finely detailed silver cooking utensils, shiny golden heroic robots, the latest pocket-size TV games, miniature grand pianos, exquisite model Benzes, Toyotas, Hondas, Mazdas, Fords … Laughter from excited children filled the air, along with their parents’ caring gentle voices and Christmas carols—how sweet! The place was undoubtedly a paradise for children, except for me perhaps. instead of hugging a newly bought toy out of the shop, what I brought out was disappointment, jealousy and tears.
One cold Sunday noon before Christmas, I went shopping with my family as usual. To be more accurate, I should rather say ‘hanging around’ instead of ‘shopping’. My dad didn’t buy me anything—no clothes, no toys, no sweets. He said that since I was a primary three student I shouldn’t make any more silly requests for toys and I had to behave myself. Was I too big to own toys really? I wondered. Every Monday, my classmates had the habit of comparing what their parents bought them on Sunday. I kept silent whenever they discussed this topic.
As we stepped into this wonderland, I lowered my head and stared at the floor.
“Mom this way, see what a nice mini-supermarket! With a cashier, notes and coins., cans and corn … I want this!” said my younger sister.
“Oh child, this one is too expensive. Look at those doctor’s instruments, you can play with your little brother…”
“No, I don’t like doctors, they always give me bitter medicine!”
“Who says you are going to be the patient this time, you are the doctor my girl! You can give medicine to you brother, sisters and father…”
“Yeah! I want it, I could prescribe a dozen super bitter pills to little brother. He hit me yesterday! … and I could give him a very painful big needle as well…ha ha”
‘My elder sister stole my sweets yesterday; can I have a toy gun or a bomb for revenge?’ I whispered to myself. Surely, I never wanedt a toy gun, but if dad would have bought me one, I would have welcomed it. At least, it would have been a toy, a gift … it would have been something.
On my other side, little brother was grasping a corner of my daddy’s shirt, trying to make him buy the latest TV game.
“TV game, TV game, I’m bored with Brother Mario, and I want Adventure Island!”
“See, you are addicted to TV games!” my father complained.
“I want it! I want it!” This time my little brother used his ‘always win strategy’. He blinked his eyes fast and sniffed. With a deep breath he opened his mouth wide and began his artificial cry.
My elder sister stood outside the toy shop alone. She looked satisfied as she kept peering inside the paper bag that contained her newly bought dress. I didn’t understand why she preferred a dress to a toy. But she did have her own Christmas present, and my younger sister and brother were going to have theirs.
Standing helplessly in the center of the shop, my mind was struggling: “Should I ask dad to buy me a toy? My brother and sisters have theirs, why couldn’t I get one? Is this reasonable? Fair enough… Go, go ahead okay? Okay, okay … but dad always turned me down… It’s Christmas time, right? … But…”
My mind wasn’t made up yet, but I saw my dad had already made the purchase and was going to leave.
And at that time, I knew that I had no time to lose or else I wouldn’t have my gift. I ran in front of my father. With my head down and body tensed, my nervous voice asked “Dad, can I have my Christmas gift too? Can I have a toy as my gift?”
“Why didn’t you say it any earlier? I’ve made the purchase already. You are being troublesome! Leave now, why do you like toys so much, you are such a big child, huh?”
Definitely, I knew these were excuses. And my dad continued his harsh murmuring while leaving. Unintentionally, I took a look at my dad’s face. It was strict, angry, cold and harsh. Why did he face me with such an expression? What was wrong with asking for a Christmas gift? My siblings had got for theirs already. His serious look and frightening eyes were blaming me as if I had cheated on an exam, stolen in shop, been caught by police or even murdered somebody. “Why is that? Why is he so strict to me only? Why?” I shouted inside my heart. My eyes became watery, obscuring my sight, and tears rolled down drop by drop. I tried to keep my lips closed tight to avoid an outburst of crying, and I tried to stop shaking.
“What a barbarian you are, you know? Cry for toys, how shameful! I’ve never seen such a bad child…”
I couldn’t suppress my feelings any longer. I cried.
Though, I covered with my hands, from the gaps between my fingers, I noticed some attention from the passers-by.
“What happened to that girl? Crying so hard, so poor!”
“Why does she cry in the street, she looks like a good girl, doesn’t seem naughty…”
See, strangers took pity on me too, why didn’t my dad? Didn’t he realise that he was too harsh on me? I couldn’t stop my tears. Mixed with spots of sweat, little droplets of liquid kept dripping down. I wished I had never raised my silly request. Most probably, anger had conquered my mind and I wished illogically that I could have the courage to run away from my family, or to fight with my father, or to pick up a stone and break the glass of a shop-window, in order to vent my anger. I hated myself, I hated the fact that I was not brave enough! Why was I always weak and useless? Why didn’t I dare to say and do what I desired?
Exhausted by minutes of crying, my mind was blank. I felt dizzy. With my sensation, I heard my mom whisper to my dad, “Tell her you will buy her a toy, tell her … tell her now…”
Eventually, my father spoke again. “Go and choose one,” he said with his softer tone. My mom pushed me into the shop again. Actually, I didn’t want to ‘receive’ a toy in such a way. If I had my own choice, I would have refused the offer. But I knew that I shouldn’t act against my father’s command.
I glanced at the paradise again, but this time with blurred vision. My mom asked me “Do you like that mermaid puppet? She’s lovely!” My elder sister advised me: “How about that funny looking puppy? You like dogs, let’s get it!”
If my mom had known what I was thinking at that time, she would surely have been angry. In fact, none of the toys in the shop attracted me! I didn’t even understand myself. Perhaps I wanted a gift because my siblings all had theirs. Perhaps, I wanted to try the taste of being proud and showing off in front of my classmates what my parents bought me for Christmas.
At last, I randomly picked a silly looking Miss Rainbow fairy as my gift for Christmas.
When the shopkeeper gave Miss Rainbow to me, she knelt down and said to me with her sincere smile “No more tears girl! See, your father is buying you a toy now, he wouldn’t reject you, right? Smile again, don’t be silly!”
Though, I disagreed strongly with her. Still, I returned a tiny smile to her, and then left the shop with my ‘Miss Silly’.
The following week, my family went out shopping again. When we arrived at the toys department, I turned away. I went and examined the cookery utensils at the next counter. Then my mom came to me, “Choose a toy, girl, I’ll buy you one this time. Wanna take this lovely pink rabbit puppet home?”
I nodded my head thankfully with mixed feelings, Secretly and soundlessly, I said “Thanks mom! Is this compensation for my experience last time?”
With a little smile and a tiny tear in my eyes, I watched as she bought the toy for me.
~Jess Yim Ka-mei (Hong Kong)
Return to Bloodlines: Poems and Stories about Family by Young Asian Writers (Asian Voices)