On Sundays I would often go green grocery shopping with my parents. You may think this an activity not wildly anticipated by your average 5 year old. But the store where my Mother would buy broccoli and tomatoes and beans for the week was not your average grocery.
The ‘Farm Shop’ as it was unofficially known by the members of my family was located a pleasant 15 minute drive into the true countryside that bordered the suburban area where we lived. Whilst not quite an actual farm, the place had various docile animals, including a couple of chickens, a dog and a grumpy goose that would hang around the courtyard.
Once I had finished chasing these poor creatures around the yard I would join my parents inside the store and begin to graze from the ‘eating’ fruits, a stack of aging produce which the owners had deemed surplus to retail requirements. As I write these words I can’t help but pine for those simple days, when chasing a goose around a muddy yard followed by a feast of over-ripe bananas was enough to fill my heart with joy. But sometimes the simple things are not enough.
One fateful day whilst standing at the counter with my father, I felt myself gripped by an emotion which I now know to be the feeling of greed. Yes I had been allowed to chase poultry and yes I had been supplied with all the squishy strawberries I could eat. But I was not satisfied. I wanted more.
On the top of the counter were stacks of various crisps, sweets and other impulse-buy products. My eye had been caught by a packet of Foxes Glacier Mints, a brand of boiled sweets that feature an illustration of a polar bear on the label. A quick search online has informed me that these mints still exist today and that the polar bear’s name is ‘Peppy’.
Whilst my father was playing around in his wallet I stared longingly at Peppy the Polar Bear. I wanted those mints and I did not want to ask for them. As the grocer turned his back to me and I reached out and grabbed a packet, shoving them into my underpants before standing still and trying to look cool. By the time we got into the car my heart was beating so hard I was certain my parents could hear it from the front seat.
At bed time, after my mother had tucked me and kissed me good night, I reached under the pillow and slipped one of the stolen mints into my mouth. It tasted sweet. Far too sweet.
The next morning I smuggled the mints, again in my underpants, onto the school bus, where I planned to give them out to the other children. I did I not particularly enjoy their sickly taste but there was much more to it than that. The little packet of contraband had started to fill me with woe. They were a bloodied handkerchief which I must dispose of, the very thought of them down there next to my genitals causing me to shiver and sweat with guilt.
I handed the first few out with ease, giving free sweets away to children never being a particularly difficult task. I was even starting to feel popular until the boy sitting next to me, suspicious at my uncharacteristic generosity, piped up with a question. ‘Where did you get those sweets?’
Now, with over 2 decades of hindsight to mull this question over I could really have given many believable responses. But the paranoia of a 5 year old first-time thief had gotten the better of me. Had he been talking to the Farm Shop owners? Perhaps my parents had asked him to keep an eye on me? Maybe he will tell a teacher? I scowled at him and shoved the mints back in my pocket, returning them to the safe haven underneath my testicles when he was not looking.
Inside the classroom I could not concentrate. Those mints, those now very sweaty mints, throbbing, beating away like the tell-tale heart. I had to be rid of them. Excusing myself to the toilet, I found an enormous cabinet full of books in the corridor and threw them underneath. That old bookshelf had been sat there for years, it was so heavy that nobody could move it even if they wanted to. Or at least I thought.
And to cement my bad fortune, later on that morning, just when I thought I was safe, our matronly teacher Mrs Robinson decided she needed to move that fucking cabinet. She picked up the packet and showed it to the class. ‘Who do these belong to?’ I sat silently, biting the inside of my cheek.
‘They belong to Richard,’ squealed the boy from the bus, ‘Richard, Richard Jones’. A conspiracy for sure. She handed them back to me, the crotch sweat and dust from the floor now making them look far from edible. The wrapping paper around the sweets had been torn apart right up to Peppy’s image, obscuring his form slightly. It almost appeared as though he was grinning at me.
On the bus home I was beginning to feel desperate. But then lightning struck. The toilet! Of course. If it could successfully whisk away father’s gargantuan offerings to another dimension then it could surely make these damned sweets disappear.
I got inside the house and ran past my mother towards the stairs, desperate for the redemption of the flush. But before I got up the first step my mother called me back. ‘What are these?’ In my haste, Peppy had wriggled free of my scrotum, tumbled down my trouser leg and was now lying on the hallway floor between myself and my mother.
We stared at each other for what felt like hours, whilst I opened my mouth and closed it again like a goldfish, trying in vain to formulate a decent explanation. ‘Well…’ I said finally, and then burst into a flood of tears.
I never got to chase the grumpy goose ever again.
By Beirut Beat