Shopping with mum
Helping a mother with her shopping
Being the eldest of two other siblings, I had some serious family responsibilities. When I turned ten, my father was posted to a remote town. I became the man of the house by stealth, albeit at that tender age. Our family was large with two grandmothers living in our home. Running a large household was a big business in a village in Sri Lanka in the sixties. I helped my mother with many things in the household.
On weekends, I accompanied my mother to go shopping, helping her to carry the shopping bags. We went to the markets and clothing stores together. I was her travel companion in a country dominated by men. Probably her guard.
I loved going to the Pettah market in Colombo with her. We took the trip, a ten-kilometre ride from our village, by bus. The groceries, fresh fruit, and vegetables from the main market in Sri Lanka were bound to be cheap than in the local town centre.
The Pettah market was a busy joint, bustling with buyers, traders, middlemen and workers. Dark-skinned bare-bodied men, wearing knee-length sarongs shuttled up and down the streets with cargo on their shoulders. Some men pulled their long trolleys, overburdened with gunny bags of merchandise. Lorries plied the roads, bringing fresh produce from country towns in Sri Lanka. Slow bullock carts slowed the traffic movements on tight and narrow roads. Everyone jostled in the tiny spaces in huge mass movements.
The market had everything, groceries, fish, dry fish, vegetables, and fruits. Everyone haggled. Many men and women from all walks of life, city and village folks roamed the narrow streets and tight passageways, picking vegetables and groceries. The mixed strong smells of fruit and vegetable with labourers’ sweat were heightened by the tropical heat in Sri Lanka.
For a small boy, watching the market was a lesson in commerce, both wholesale and retail.
Amongst these commotions, I helped my mother to carry the shopping, walking close to her on the narrow paths in the busy market.
My mother held my hand in case I lost my way as she jostled with the crowds, navigating the tight passageways among a myriad of humanity in this constricted market, where personal space was a novel idea.
An unforgettable thing happened one day. I was looking at toy cars at a vendor, as my mother was buying vegetables. I got carried away and drifted admiring the toy cars, a boy’s wonder.
After a few minutes, I looked around searching for my mother, but I could not find her. I panicked. It was the fear of my life. I walked up and down to find her, but she was nowhere to be found. I worked in my head, on what I could do to go home on my own, but I had no money.
My mother had instructed me to go back to the last place in case I was lost. So, I stayed put around the same place near the toy vendor, hoping my mother would turn up. I looked up and down, everywhere, hoping to see a glimpse of her or her saree.
To my absolute luck, my mother turned up after a few minutes. I felt it was a lifetime of waiting. She gave me a blast for not staying with her. She was red with anger. She nearly hit me that day and I was lucky to escape her punishment. Nevertheless, I was happy that we found each other again. she must have seriously worried about losing her eldest boy.
As I was still reeling from my shock, my mother took me to a drinks stall. She bought me a cool falooda drink. It was the tastiest drink I had ever drunk, after those few minutes of angst only a short while ago. Maybe, that was how my mother expressed her joy in finding her boy.
I learnt my life lesson and never drifted from my mother when we shopped in from that day.
As I got older, I shopped alone for the family, but in my local town centre. My mother gave me ten rupees and a list of things I had to buy. My mother was always organised, with a list of things. She knew the likely prices of each item.
I went to the shops, fish stalls, vegetable stores, and groceries with her list. I learnt the art of negotiating prices with the vendors. I rode my bicycle with a huge bag of groceries on its handle for the family.
I continued to help my mother into my teenage years, often shopping with her at the weekend markets in Colombo. I was bigger now, and I could carry a bigger load. I had earned her confidence so much that by the time I was fifteen, she could send me alone to Abdul Raheem’s, the famous appliance store in Pettah to get an iron for the family.
I loved being her helper and her proud shopping companion.
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