On Christmas day, I am sitting in the living room surrounded by my mother's relatives - an annual event that I endure only because I love my mother dearly, but which is worse than having my soul sucked out by Dementors, I swear. Everyone is talking at the same time, but above this Babel, I can hear a piercing, shrieking sound that is emanating from the centre of the room, but which, surprisingly, nobody else seems to notice.
It's only my cousin's son who is throwing a tantrum of epic proportions for undetermined reasons.That's all. His mother is only a few feet away from him, but amazingly enough, she can hear nothing, even though I feel like my eardrums will split any second. Nobody else seems to be able to hear anything else either. I, on the other hand, seem to have developed, like a dog, the ability to hear this child's screeching above everything else.Probably a frequency-related thing.
Afraid that I might lose my sanity, I decide to go and 'discuss' with him what was wrong. I go and sit directly in front of him and ask him in a cheerful manner "What's the matter? Is there something you want?"
He stops for a split-second, and then resumes his tear-less wailing with renewed gusto. I try again.
"Are you hungry? Or thirsty? Do you want to go to the bathroom?" That usually covers all bases.
"I want balloons! When are we going to cut the birthday cake?" he squeals.
I blink, not quite sure of how to answer. Balloons? Birthday cake? Huh??
So I ask him, " Er...whose birthday is it? Whose cake were we supposed to cut?"
"Jesus H. Christ!"
OMG! This little tyke is just about 5 years old and is swearing already?
"Who taught you to say that?" I asked him, incredulous.
"Daddy!" he shrieks.
"Yes! I heard Daddy saying to Mummy- Jesus H. Christ, Annie! We're already an hour late! "
Aware that I am ill-equipped to deal with almost-five year olds spewing cuss words, I try again.
"Could you please tell me why you're crying?" I ask in the most polite tone I can muster.
"BECAUSE THIS PARTY IS BORING! When I go for other birthday parties, it's fun. We go to McDonald's, and we have Happy Meals, and we get free toys, and return gifts, and there are balloons. And at Trisha's party, there was a magical clown!And Mr. Bean! And Pocahontas!" he rattles off.
"A magical clown?" I ask meekly, because, quite frankly, by now I'm feeling aplogetic about this Christmas party that I didn't even organise.
"Yes! A clown who did magic tricks for us. He took an empty party hat and pulled out Ben Ten watches for everyone!"
Really? When did magical clowns learn to do that? When I was little, all magicians did was turn a handkerchief into a bunch of paper flowers. And technically, this kid was right on the button. This was a day celebrating the birthday of a man widely considered to be the saviour of the human race, and all we were doing right now was sitting around gossiping with fake smiles plastered on our faces. My pervy Uncle Teddy was even looking down my mom's best friend's blouse, while she tugged at the hem of her skirt that was way too short. This, compared to spoilt little Trisha who celebrated her birthday party with magical clowns and free Ben Ten watches.
"OK, so here's the deal" I tell him, with a glint in my eye. "I know this party sucks, so why don't you and I go and flush all the guava cheese down the toilet and go and ring all the neighbours' doorbells and run away, because that seems right up your alley."
He considers this for a moment, and then says "Okay!" Phew!
So he and I did all that, and even locked the cat in the bathroom so that it jumped out and scratched Uncle Teddy on the face when he opened the door, and that's my story of how I made it through Christmas this year. Aren't you glad it wasn't you? Next year, I plan to break an arm or a leg, or fake my own death, if need be to wangle my way out. Just please don't tell my Mommy, okay?