The Old Bitter Lemon Seller!
The Old Bitter Lemon Seller!
The Bitter Lemon Seller Image.
From The Book – Short Takes – Between Us Only!
Long time ago when we all used to stay as one family in one house, some of us with our wives too (I mean there were more than one married each with his wife, not one with many wives – ha! Ha!) In this small house in Hamriya. Each married couple had their room, and that included the late Great Dad and our still living Mother! The boys were in one room, and the girls in another. Looking that now and in hindsight, it was a miracle that we managed to live together as one and in harmony and love! Not now, we meet once a week (Friday night) in Mother’s house, and if each one can go home in peace without a squabble and in-fight, than that is where the magic and miracle is!
Years later after building my Villa in Qurum, thanks to that good company of mine – I had invited my parents for lunch. I do not consider it as invitation, as that word does not exist in the Great S Family, we sometimes just drop in, or say at short notice ‘just come!’ So the good wife says to me – Dad likes Fresh Fish, so go and buy some (she too calls him Dad, one Religious guy guest was very angry – he said that than you are brother and sister? That is another story, another future topic perhaps?).
So I should have gone to the Muttrah Market (in those days! – now everywhere!). Instead I go to the Super Market and buy some defrosted ones (how can one tell the difference I ask you, but that old man always does (May Allah Grant him paradise – Amin!). So Poor Late Dad takes a bite and says – This fish is not fresh – why do you like to buy frozen things, especially fish? (I thought he was the guest?). I said meekly in defense – Yes they are fresh. He said No! I said again Yes! Then angrily he said – why don’t you just admit it, you lied to your wife again? To which the great madam wife shows out all her teeth in elated joy! What one can do with family, and what we can do without them?
When I was staying in that all-of-us-together-in-one-house-family, it was left to me to go every Thursday and Friday (days off in PDO since then!) to go and buy the Fresh Fish in Muttrah Souq. The other days dad went himself, because he must have-them-as-fresh-fish-to-be-eaten-daily thing! That way and no other way too. Nothing fried but just boiled, with lemons and other items. That is it that is where the lemon thing comes in!
Then lemons must be bought also, though why Fresh till he went to his grave the old man never told us why either. So I always go to those in the front line, and nearer the fish. I notice one old man in the back row, no-one goes to him. He is always mean, cross, angry and moody. He never gets along with even his fellow sellers! What about the customers than? One time one young lady felt so bad, she cried and left the lemons – though she had already paid for the purchase.
Believe me; I felt sorry for that man, I do not know why! Call it gut feelings or whatever; I was drawn like the butterfly to the lantern thing. So I asked him the prices, after normal greetings and compliments. He just gives one-word-answers. Part of me says let-go and leave that man alone. It is not your problem why customers are not going to him. Buy your lemons from the same other peoples, and go home! But it was good I resisted the temptation, because his lemons were real good material. Even Dad complimented that the ‘fish today tasted better! Mom said it was the lemons.
So next time I go to him again. He is still his sullen and moody self. But I do not give up on him. Then one day he finally asks me – how come you come only on Thursdays and Fridays? The old man was opening up for me, so to speak! Then I tell him why. He gets angry – why do you let your father do these things, why don’t you take time off Office and do it. I tried to explain – Senior job, very busy and cannot take time off! But each and more explanation is met with more disapproval rating!
I was about to scream – none of your business, old man! Thank God I resisted the evil in me prompting me to say those things. Besides, I could not find the relevance at all here! My explanations should have made him understand and appreciate, but it was having (strangely!) the opposite affects! It all became transparently clear after awhile, bear with me!
Then one day he was not there. I asked around. Where is the old man? Nobody seemed to know or want to care or feel. You want lemons? We have lemons! A time passed. Then one day I saw that old man again! He looked more feeble and weak. Then he told me – he was operated on in hospital (hernia). I then asked him how he felt? He offered coffee and said sit down, why the rush? This was the first time I was offered coffee by him. I left him a bigger tip than normal. He got angry. Is this for the coffee? I said No old man, you have misunderstood me. Take your money and go, he said. The others looked at me, saying it without saying it – we told you No? I felt so bad. I was about to utter obscenities, when I decided instead to leave him.
Coincidentally 2 days later I came with dad. Surprise of surprise, that lemon seller knew dad. Then dad introduced me to him (not the other way around?). He told dad – your son is a decent and gentlemanly son. You are lucky to have such a son. Then he asked me – do you take care of your father and mother – and take care of your parents? – to which a favourite question to which to Dad a favourite answer. We drank coffee together. Tell him about my only son – he told dad. Not here but in the car back home. And here comes the punch line. You can then appreciate why that old man was cranky and angry.
It seems that old man had only one son. He had other girls too, but they were all small and with his second wife married far later in life. He put his son in school etc. You know the story, the rest. Father tends and looks after son. Son ends in College abroad. Dad still looks at son with pocket money etc. Son returns home. Son gets married new beautiful bride! Son forgets and ignores dad and mum. They are an embarrassment to him and his friends. Mother later dies. Son got better excuse – he is angry Father remarries with other children. He is illiterate. Do not fit the big Villa home scenario. Now that new tiara for my wife – is all the son thinks for himself!
Years passed I moved on to Qurum. One day I pass the place. The old lemon seller is not there, they told me he had died. Was it by heartbreak? Sadness and disappointment? Let-down and betrayal? Possibly – what else. I do not know that son, never found out. May Allah save this son from His Wrath and Anger – Amin (Amen).