My father is not a market person,
not a wanderer amongst the trinkets
unless he’s committed to the whim of others
and, in good humour,
is going along and taking that measure
of alleviation which you do when
doing things others enjoy.
My father is not a market person,
he’s a scheduler and surgical shopper
dashing into complex after complex
to get his collection
of pre-ordered things. He has
a standing order for music magazines
and when he collects them
he gets select groceries
from the shop with good pork chops;
and, until she died,
some mad health-shop woman
used to get abrupt phone calls,
every month, because she
hadn’t yet tossed his bag of pills
over the garden wall.
My father is an unlikely grandfather;
my brother’s son not mine.
My father hasn’t met the kid
who is about to turn one.
I haven’t met him either,
but I’ll get there;
entrenched in work schedules for years to come,
probably will not.
But he wanted to give his grandson a present,
to maybe show my brother he cares.
And my brother isn’t sure,
can’t see the man with the schedule
who’s not really “dad” material;
my brother being dad, and
our father being only man.
Welded into my brother’s mind
is the idea of being a good dad,
which he’s struck on
because his own father was not there,
and so no marker
of what a father is to his son.
My brother had no example of man
and created himself in the image
of man who wouldn’t be an absent dad.
My father loves my brother
and wishes to see him like a man,
my brother wants to feel love from my father,
but can’t see he does, always did,
for it’s the love of not dad but a man.
And my brother may be giving up, not looking,
but loving in return.
But who can know a thing like that.
So the son, the grandson, must get a present:
a signal of love, a minor reach across continents,
which will keep this frail bond frail but kept.
My father didn’t know what to send.
I suggested he find a rattle,
or any African toy that’s made by hand
which, for all the kid’s million toys,
will be the only such one.
To the market my father and I go on Saturday,
while work waits in abeyance for us both.
We are an odd pair among sunned folk
at home in the weekly jumble.
We look around and pick up things.
I get a frown when I suggest that the stick
that makes the noise for the wooden frog
is choking size and one of those
Hand-knitted toys draw our eye.
There’s a wonderful fox and something like a badger
but my father shakes off these over-priced orphans
and yips with delight when he spots the name
on the vintage wooden box which holds them.
“Bashews! My God!” he beams, “I haven’t seen Bashews in years.
They were cold drinks from the fifties and sixties.
I haven’t thought of them in years.”
He asks the stall woman from where the box comes.
She shakes her head and tells him she thinks
they sell the actual drink at a stand just over there.
He doesn’t register, this is too far from possible,
the box is ancient and he hasn’t thought of this stuff
in fifty or so years.
He thanks her, and smiles as one to whom
a foolish lie has been told,
and minutes later I spot the coloured bottles.
Bashews, they say, dark and bright sugar colours,
red, green, orange, brown and cola black;
and I think of my brother who loves sweet shops
and will spend an hour filling up a bag of
tempting candies and jellies,
surgically selected as if each jar
was its own shop within a complex;
each one a delight and surprise,
the same kind of delight my father had
when he saw that box.
“Look,” I say to my father, “there they are.”
Now he just nods and smiles. The thrill has gone
and there’s something worse about finding them;
they symbolize what should not have been brought back;
a fracture in the nature of nostalgia:
that precious cavern for minds in their last decades,
into which they slip and want not to find that
the jewels down there are still sold in rude time.
“Would you like one?” I ask.
“No!” he sneers. “They’re absolute rubbish. Horrible stuff.”
©2012 This work is the property of the author.