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Peer closely beneath the innocent flower

Tact isn’t everyone’s forte

Gulf News

Justin is seven going on twenty, claims his mother who keeps saying — the term ‘ad infinitum’ comes to mind — “Justin appears to have skipped the teenage years completely.” Which must make other teenager parents — that is, parents with teenagers — who read this go, “Wow, if that child’s being fed some mystery brand of cornflakes we want in on it. For we have children that are seven but rooted in sixteen”. These ‘rooted ones’, of course, are going to get to sixteen eventually, so a double teen-hood, in a sense, if one may coin such a term.

Seriously, however, there’s no accounting sometimes for the occasional aberration, although we all have at one time or another come across the innocent-of-face precocious child, so the term aberration itself might be a bit of a stretch.

Well, to Justin smarty pants. When one spots him — in fact he courts observation — he is to be found strutting around with an abridged version of Shakespeare dangling from the fingertips, dust-jacket facing out for the benefit of those who might fancy a spot of speed reading (of the title) as he walks past. Other times he might place one foot on the park bench to do up a shoe lace while at the same time setting the “collected thoughts of the bard” face up on the bench.

Mary — his mother — explains that he’s merely getting into character, warming up for the big day looming.

“Is he playing Shakespeare then?” asks Barney, my prankster friend, who regular readers will be familiar with.

“Watch this space,” says Mary, lending her own air of mystery.

“I’m gonna be in Macbeth,” Justin, within earshot, pipes up.

Barney, who cannot abide precocious brats, enquires in tones dripping with mock honey, “What as, young man? The porter? Knock, knock, who’s there?”

Screen mum

Mary, who is a very close friend of Barney’s wife, lets out an imperious sniff before claiming, “There are better, more complex roles to aspire to, Barney, I’ll have you know. We have big plans for Justin.”

“Another pushy screen-mum. There goes another innocent toddler,” Barney whispers in an aside accompanied by a not-so-discreet nudge which, to indulge in my own aside, in a sense reminds me of another mate Henry back in India who used to (for the purpose of discretion) aim a tactful kick under the table and occasionally end up knocking the wrong shin or at other times, sink so low in his seat to reach under the table that everyone else was on to the move before he’d even raised a foot!

Tact isn’t everyone’s forte, unfortunately, which is why I guess the diplomatic corps was established in the first instance. Does young Justin have the making of a diplomat, I wonder idly.

The youngster has, meanwhile, ceased his perambulations and come to rest on a bench back to back with ours. Mary has wandered off pushing the pram that carries her other child.

Barney uses Mary’s departure to grumble loudly about his domestic situation. His wife, who now has a casual teaching job, has allegedly relapsed and allowed her Imelda Marcos Syndrome (her shoe-addiction) to take over once more. The family budget is crumbling under this inflation.

After 15 minutes Barney’s grumble dries up but almost magically, metallically, starts up again, word for word. We both swivel our heads around. Young Justin, a wide grin on his face is holding a voice recorder — his dad’s probably.

“Give that here at once, you little brat,” says Barney, mortified.

Justin meekly hands it over. Later, relieved, Barney enquires of Mary what part exactly it is Justin is playing.

Proudly, she says, “Oh, he’s got to learn to look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it. Doug, his class teacher who’s producing the play thinks he’ll make a good Lady Macbeth.”

“They ought to have named him Julian,” says Barney with relief as we head home, adding, “That could so easily have been WikiLeaks II.”


Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.