THE PERPOOSE STORY
THE MINORITY PRESCHOOL EXPERIENCE
The Calm Before the Storm Spotlight On: A five-year-old Pakistani American kid speaking Urdu with an assortment of English words to pepper his rhetoric. Those words were limited to three:
1) “Shut up!” A phrase commonly deployed by the dictator, my mother, to silence all of my unruly verbal dissent.
2) “Uh oh Pasghettio” A fobby butchering of “uh oh spaghettio” by a portly child, which was deemed “cute” during my youth and “disturbing” as I became older.
3) “Idiot”: A loving term of endearment used by the dictator to admonish the portly Pakistani American child after any and all perceived wrongdoings.
ASCENT to Purgatory
I awoke one day to find my parental units, mother and father, casually taking me for “a ride” to a “nice place”… or so they said.
Ice cream store? No. Toys R’ Us, where a kid can be a kid if he has access to a platinum visa card? No. Comic Book Store? Sorry, but no Spiderman today. Instead, we pull into a foreboding driveway of a large, ominous brown building. Since I was a 5-year-old Fob near illiterate I missed the sign, which glared, “Child’s Hideaway.”
My spidey sense hits 3.
We leave the womb of comfort, the car, and ascend the cement steps, where sodden footprints of Children’s Pay-Less Shoes and Oshkosh Bikosh sandals are noticeable. Spidey sense at 5. We enter into a room of darkness. Slowly, angelic faces marred by sadness and confusion turn toward us. It was the city of lost children. Children whose mirth and merriness was buried deep, deep under their very soul, maliciously robbed by a nefarious evildoer. My 5-year-old spidey sense kicked up to 7. Something was rotten in the state of Elementary Denmark. A large ogre enters the room. The children inhale fear and exhale hopelessness.
Spidey sense at 8.
The large ogre grunts some inaudible words with the parental units, who will now be referred to as Tyrannical Dictators #1 and # 2 (T.D. for short). The other children sensed dread, like a vulture with an uncanny sixth sense for a dying soul. The 5-year-old portly fobby Pakistani kid smiled like only a 5-year-old portly fobby Pakistani kid could. Oblivious. Confused. Scared. Hungry. Fobby.
Now I’m 4 ft above the ground and I’m flying. I look at the smiling faces of the T.D.’s waving goodbye to me. My poor body is being crushed underneath the fleshy, gargantuan armpit of the large ogre, as she carries me away to what I think is my doom…her kitchen. I thought stories of Ogres eating children were mere fairy tales made up by adults to frighten children into submission. I was wrong.
Spidey sense has just hit 9.5.
The conspiracy of adults had resulted in me obliviously being enrolled in “Childs Hideaway” (what an apt name), a pre-school/day care center. Being brown, Muslim, chubby, fobby, dorky but adorable, and not knowing any English save the trinity of “Shut up. Uh oh Pasghettio, and Idiot”, I was a minority to say the least. Moreover, my enemies multiplied. It seems not 1 ogre, but 3, ran the dungeon. They will be referred to as Leviathan, Jinn, and Cerberus, respectively.
For the first few hours of that most horrid day, I was convinced my body parts would end up in each of their bellies. These women were HUGE. So huge that I have to spell it again and with emphasis write: H-U-G-E! They were “very very healthy” as my grandmother lovingly described her overweight grandchild, yours truly, to her friends. Another favorite was, “no, he’s not fat, he just has big bones.” Or, “no he’s not fat, it’s just puppy fat.” What does that mean? “Puppy fat?” Am I some sort of hybrid canine mutant? And if I’m so healthy, woman, how come I can’t run 5 ft without panting like a 90 yr old emphyasemic? Also, do all healthy 5 yr old children wear 10 yr old clothing because their waist size is so “big boned” that no other pant can fit them? I digress. Needless to say, the women were continents onto themselves.
Escape was merely a phantom, a madman’s dream. A luxury for those suffering from delusions and overactive imaginations. It was a toddler’s Shawshank. We were condemned men and women. Life began anew. Man finds meaning even in empty, meaningless situations such as this one. Usually, mind numbing chores temporarily alleviate the crushing sense of defeat and loneliness. The 3 Dungeon Masters devised a particular sadistic yet effective chore for us. After weeping my last weep, Leviathan grabbed me wholesale, with one fleshly Leviathan arm no less, and forcefully took me outside to “The Wall.”
The Wall smelled like sand. Desert sand. A vast, endless twilight zone forever trapping the wails and tears of lost men. Our job was to placate the wall. How did the wall feel placated, you ask? Good question. Leviathan instructed me in her Ogre-tongue that “we had to make the wall beautiful by painting it.” Of course, these words meant nothing to me since she spoke English and I spoke Fob. Instead, her words came out Charlie Brown Adult style: “Wah wah wah…wah wah wah…wahwahwah.” I understood nothing. But the up and down stroke of her arm made sense. I turned to my left and right and saw patients from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Drooling, vacant eyed children smiling blissfully at the wall. I was convinced the wall is a siren, a beguiling temptress that invites man to his doom through a beautiful song. A vortex leading to perennial brain damage and paste-eating. My dissent was futile. Leviathan grabbed the paintbrush and put it in my chubby hand and commanded me to paint.
Now painting requires paint. Those are the rules. I didn’t make it up. It’s just how it goes. So, where was the paint? Leviathan placed a large bucket consisting of a watery substance next to me and made hand motions to put brush in said substance, take brush out, and finally paint wall with brush.
I did what I was told. I became enthralled. I was actually “painting” the wall with this mysterious watery substance I assumed was paint. This activity occupied my attention for hours. It was our SOMA. I willingly joined the madmen who occupied my left and right flank. Slowly, however, oh so slowly, doubt crept into my chubby head. Why did the paint disappear? How come the wall stayed the same color? No matter how much paint I put on it still stays dry. Curiosity killed the cat, but not the Desi Fob. I ventured out from my confines to see where Leviathan “refilled” the paint jars. The garden hose served as the source of this mystical paint, which was in actuality… water. The sick bastards made us paint a dry wall with water and used Korean Communist brainwashing techniques to convince us Manchurian Candidates that we were actually “painting” and making the hall “happy.” If I were that wall, I’d be suicidal.
Sirat al Mustiqim (The Bridge for the Believers)
After dropping my brush in disgust and protest, I needed a new escape. Leviathan, Jinn, and Cerberus knew I was onto their gig. To keep me quiet lest I inspire a Spartacus type revolution, they let me play on the “playground” with the non-minority children. I’m assuming these children spoke English, which served as their passport for some “outdoor” freedom. Surveying the playing field, I quickly chose my avenue of mindless distraction: a bridge. Not a bridge, mind you…The bridge. The bridge to end all bridges. The sirat (Arabic for bridge) leading to salvation, as ordained in the Holy Books. This celestial gift from the heavens illuminated the damp darkness of the dungeoneous outdoor “play area” like a lamp lit from God Himself. It mesmerized me. To my overactive, only child fat brain it represented the ultimate escape. I played endlessly on this mythical landscape, escaping to faraway galaxies and farfetched scenarios where I, the brown fat kid, would be saving my Bollywood heroine from Imperial colonizers. Other times, I just ran back and forth thinking the ogres chased me -training my body for the eventual escape from Alcatraz.
In reality, this was a filthy, limp, wooden ladder raised about 2 feet from the ground and held together flimsily by rope between two tree trunks placed 10 feet apart. To an Einstein “relative” observer, I would be deemed a severely retarded handicapped child running aimlessly like a brown ball to and fro the tree trunks for hours and hours upon end.
Days passed into weeks. There was comfort in the Elementary State of Denmark. Unfortunately, the party pooper, known as “life,” can never allow a man to truly enjoy his brief moments of peace. On a glorious, average Fremont California day, as I ran to and fro like a blurry fat brown kebob with pudgy appendages, I felt an unexpected graze. Then, I heard a thump.
A yelp? A scream? Was my mind fooling me? I stopped. I titled my fat head upward. The right shank of my “Husky” sized thigh certainly felt violated. But by whom or what? Alas, as is the way of fat kids, we don’t ponder the intricacies of life, so I just resumed my mindless, aimless running. Back and forth. Back and Forth.
A Jinn, one of the unholy triumvirate, blocked my path. Fire came from her nostrils. Steam from her hair. The Jinn was displeased. Next to her, a stereotypical Asian American boy with a Mao bowl haircut stood weeping. Woodchips from the ground cluttered his bowl- cut hair and tears mixed with muddy dirt painted his right cheek.
My husky shank inadvertently and unknowingly destroyed the only other minority on the bridge, causing him to vertically lift upward, and then violently plummet to the floor. I, being fobby, Desi, fat, and fat, ran aimlessly, lost in my hedonistic ways, oblivious to the crime my out -of -proportion, fleshy shank had committed on my behalf. The Jinn muttered nonsensical nonsense to me “Wah wah wahwahwahwah.” The Communist smiled revenge. The Jinn leered anger. The Desi Fob yelped hunger.
Finally, the Jinn turned to me square in the face and asks, “Wah Wah Wah, Purpose or Accident?!?” I stand motionless. I stare back into a sea of hideousness.
Spidey Sense is stuck on “horrified.”
The Jinn repeats, “Wah Wah Wah Purpose or Accident?!?”
‘Hmmn,” I muse to myself. “This ‘accident’ word seems quite familiar. Upon occasion, I reckon I have used it myself.” Most tellingly, when I rebelled against my nemesis, the toilet seat, and unleashed hell on the carpet as I ran to freedom, leaving my former nemesis, the diaper, on the toilet floor. When the dictator admonished me, I yelled, “Accident,” as was the custom of cartoon characters on TV. This word made some sense. The Jinn shrieks to her minions, summoning them from the pits of hellfire. She snorts. She breathes acid. She asks again, “Wah Wah Wah Purpose or Accident?!?!?”
“Hmmn,” I muse to myself. This “Pur pose” word seems alien. “What is it,” I wondered? It sounds like “purple,” but purple is a color. It also sounded like “purse,” the item my dictator spend ridiculous amounts of green Monopoly paper on. Hmnn. Hmnnnnn. Pur…pose. Pur….pose. “I wonder.” “I wonder.”
“WAH WAH WAH WAH!!!! PURPOSE or ACCIDENT?”
The Fat Desi Fob child with dirt on his shank and mud on his knees stares directly into the face of madness. The heart of darkness. His face is solemn and peaceful. He smiles. He asks:
“ Per – Poose?”
The Jinn unleashes a Banshee scream that would silence the angels themselves. The Communist grins and rubs his fingers together, relishing his Count of Monte Cristo-esque revenge. The Desi Fat kid looks around confused. He doesn’t understand. All he wanted to do was run on his bridge and save Bollywood heroines from colonialist imperialists. He never meant any harm. He was an innocent. A bholoo, as they say in the Motherland. A fat simpleton whose only crime was eating 2 more samosas and kebobs than the other kids. He did not deserve this admonishment. He yearned for days of peace and solitude, but those days, like his innocence, were forever gone.
The Jinn grabbed the Fob’s ear, taking him executioner- style to the “Dunce Corner” where he would wait for 5 hours for his 2 TD’s to pick him up. Sitting alone in the corner, wailing to himself, not knowing why he was punished. Observing the token Asian minority conquering his once beloved bridge. Being scolded by Jinn, Leviathan, and Cerberus for crimes he unknowingly committed. He sat…confused. Then, it all made sense. It was that word. That damn word! Blast that word! What was it, again? Oh, yes. “Per-poose!” The culprit. The femme fatale. The red herring. The bloody glove. The word that serves as the cause and solution to all of life’s problems: “Per-Poose.”
The Desi Fat Fob Kid sighed. He rolled his eyes. And he said:
“Uh Oh, Pasghettio.”
Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is the first major play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at https://goatmilk.wordpress.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org