My intention to stroll over to the park and indulge in a spot of quiet reading is not going to plan. A young mother with an oldish pram is seated on a neighbouring bench with three of her boys, two of whom are not in the pram. They are aged maybe five and four.
I read one page, then another before becoming aware that I am under observation. The four year old has walked over and with inclined head is looking me up and down. When I raise my head and catch his eye he gives a smile and a look that says, “Oh, oh, I’ve been found out.”
In the background the mother is saying in a voice of gentle censure, “Now Dermott, you cannot have all that chocolate for yourself.”
“You have to share it.”
“With your brother.”
“But I got it first.”
“You still have to share it with Davey.”
“Aw mum, can Davey have another chocolate?”
“There’s only one, Dermott. Now that’s enough, give the rest back to me. That’s Davey’s share.”
Dermott starts up a cry of protest accompanied by tears and a gradual rising in pitch and volume. Davey says from where he’s standing, “I don’t want chocolate, mum.”
“Oh well, you will later. Dermott’s had his share. And come away from there, leave the man alone.”
“It’s all right,” I say, “he’s just being curious.”
“Don’t you like chocolate?” I ask, and for an answer Davey runs away.
My own brother, I realise looking back, when we were young, was nearly always first to things like food. It’s possible that he, being second born, had learned his lesson and grasped what it meant to be speedy. When our family grew to four children mum took to apportioning shares so that the four of us got a quarter of whatever was going around. We took to bartering away our likes and dislikes as in, “I’ll give you my share of this if you’ll give me your share of that when mum makes it the next time.”
Occasionally there would be lapses of memory that had to be encountered and negotiated. “I can’t remember saying such a thing!” Or, “I’ve now found I actually like such-and-such. Let’s make a new deal.”
In school I used to have my rather ordinary fare taken off me by my schoolmate Anto, who ought never to have been doing such a thing seeing as his mother cooked some of the most delicious food. Yet he’d give me his lunch quite happily. What’s Anto bringing to school today, I’d wonder, awaiting the luncheon hour. I don’t think Anto ever contemplated what I’d brought, it was usually the same unvarying weekday school lunch. It’s hardly surprising that in later life Anto took the one job and held it for decades although many of us felt he’d have made a fine research chemist.
Back in the park, Dermott has ceased his wailing, perhaps I think because nobody has really been paying him much attention and he’s cried himself dry. When I peer over the top of the book, however, I see he is standing behind a large tree, screened from his mother. His brother Davey is beside him and Dermott has Davey’s chocolate in his hands tucking into his brother’s share while his brother looks on, not one bit grudgingly.
It’s almost as if he too is enjoying the ruse of hiding from their mother while he gives away what is rightfully his. With a flash of delayed insight I realise mum and dad never made six portions out of the sweets and savouries mum cooked; only four for their children. They themselves must have the crumbs if they ate any. That, and Davey now, offer me a fresh perspective into the term compromise which as we all have come to understand is, ‘an agreement where both parties get what neither of them wanted’.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.