I was seven years old when I first learned that the world was an unfair one.
My mother and I were at the wet market. I don’t often get to tag along but my father was umpiring a badminton game between two high schools so I got to follow and help carry the groceries.
I remember complaining a lot because the ground was muddy, and even as a kid, I hated dirt. (You might well wonder, “What a strange kid, to hate dirt”, and I would be forced to tell you how my relatives used to show my cousins my bedroom to give them an idea of how neat and tidy children could be, if they only put their minds to it.)
Still, I was excited. If I got to follow my mother to the market, I could make sure she bought me some oranges, which I loved, but wasn’t always bought.
Usually my parents would say we got all the fruits we needed at home, what with our rambutan and mango trees, but I was adamant: Only oranges would do.
Finally, after far too many stops at the other (far less interesting, in my opinion) stalls, we arrived at the fruit vendor. There were pineapples and papayas, apples and guavas, even yellow-fleshed watermelons, but no oranges. My mother asked the vendor and he told her they didn’t have any this week.
I cried, of course.
Now you might smile at this memory of mine. How silly, how cute, how pampered, you might say. How awful of this child to cry in public, over some fruit, while his poor mother had to pull him away, after buying some apples instead, and swiftly walk home while strangers stared.
Or, you might remember a similar incident in your own childhood, and nod your head: Been there, done that, life sort of sucks in that fashion.
If so, you might have well done the same thing as me and blamed your parent, blamed the fruit vendor, his supplier, the whole supply chain, heck, why not the weather while you’re at it?
It’s very easy to feel sorry for yourself.
Things may not go our way but there’s always an excuse, always someone else to blame. This, if we allow, is a solution of sorts for all our problems. This, if we allow, could become a habit, a character trait, and shape who we are.
Imagine going through life just wanting and demanding things. Imagine what happens when reality hits and we realise we don’t often get what we want, however much fuss we make.
I didn’t often get oranges, truth be told. Not only that day, but most weeks, really. For one thing, the rambutans and mangoes are free if plucked from our own trees; for another, we weren’t rich and there wasn’t always extra left over after buying the necessities to buy imported fruit.
Children think the most awful things about their parents, they do. I thought mine were most frightful scrooges. There wasn’t anything intrinsically wrong about rambutans and mangoes; they were simply not special because I could have them any time I wanted them.
Oranges were special because they cost more and weren’t always available. Scarcity, or the law of demand and supply, as understood by a child. And parents are wonderful or horrid, depending on whether they got us what we want or not.
We never see the other things the people we love do for us, the less glamorous and immediately gratifying things, till much later, if at all.
My parents and I live in different places now. Every time I return to my hometown, there is a process. I call home a week earlier to let my parents know when I’m driving back. I call again on the day itself, right before leaving my carpark.
They tell me to be careful, drive slowly, don’t rush. When I arrive, my parents will ask me how the drive was, am I tired? The same things, over and over. It’s a process.
And then my mother will say, almost as an afterthought, “If you want some fruits, I’ve cut some oranges. It’s in the fridge.”
And I know that while we don’t always get what we want, some of us are fortunate enough to get what we need, and that’s a blessing like none other.