Tuesday, 16 February 2010

My Father Was a Travelling Salesman

My father was a travelling salesman. That is what he told me. I cannot remember him ever making a sale, but it is true that he and I travelled far and wide during the not many years that I was with him. I was only a child, and I did not understand much of what he did.

My father was not a tall man, so when we entered a new town he would climb up on to a roof in order to establish himself in the minds of the populace. Sometimes the owner of the roof would shout for him to come down, or even throw rocks, but he would not dismount until he was certain that everyone had registered his appearance. Once he was certain, he would spring off like a gazelle and hit the ground running, sending up clouds of dust that choked many passers-by. I would have to chase after him, because he forgot himself when he was running, and it was possible that he would keep going for hours. It was my job to call out to him, so that he would eventually come to his senses.

After that, the two of us would retrace our steps and set up a stall in the town square. I had the honour of working on the stall, attempting to sell the handicrafts that my father made from the refuse that we picked up on the roads between towns. He would construct little angels with beer cans for bodies and cigarette butts for arms, ‘rain slippers’ from punctured footballs, and various other paraphernalia. My favourite thing he made was a knight’s shield, which consisted of a discarded hubcap with a leather strap for a handle. I begged him to let me keep it, but he sold it to a little blind boy for half a dollar. As soon as my father had turned his back I kicked the blind boy in the leg, but I did not take the shield back--even then, I respected the sanctity of a completed transaction. Also, my father would have seen me carrying the shield and punished me.

Our life as travelling salesmen was hard, but we were lucky enough to meet many kind people, who sheltered us and gave us food. I still remember a fat woman who let us stay in her house during the rains. She called me ‘Onion’, because my smell made her eyes water, and she let me sleep on a rug in the corner with her dogs. She loved the dogs very much, so I knew that she loved me, too. My father shared her bed, which looked big and comfortable, but the two of them did not get much sleep--they spent all night groaning and moving around. Eventually, I got up to ask what was the matter, but my father slapped my face and made me go back to the corner. When I got there, I found that one of the dogs had died, and the other one was eating it. I was curious, so I took a bite, and just then the woman looked over to me and screamed. My father and I had to flee from that place, and I don’t think he ever forgave me for leaving the beer-can angels behind.

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