|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
10 - 16 January 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Those were the days
A long time ago, I decided never to lie about my age. There is a very good reason for that: I have a bad memory. To shift my history to a different decade would have required much more skills than I actually possess. It would mean that whenever someone mentioned the Second World War, I could not make the mistake of admitting that I clearly remembered the sound of the sirens and the bombardments that had scared me to death as a child. I would have had to forget my memories of King Farouk, change the names of my teachers at school, graduate under a different system and marry at the tender age of 13 unless I proceeded to change the ages of my children as well. How could I be sure not to blunder? Clearly, it was too much.
While renouncing the lie and, consequently, plastic surgery's various improvements, I began to think seriously about old age. When exactly does it start, I wondered. I had missed out on feeling a grownup in my 30s, and it seemed that I would be deprived of the realisation that, past 60, I had become a senior citizen.
A minimum of exercise seems enough to defy the general pull of gravity in many women my age and their mind shows no signs of serious deterioration. They don't even lose their keys often enough to become alarmed. Granted, one forgets more names and faces, but I for one have suffered from this unfortunate handicap since I was in my teens. So when exactly does one feel old? "When you stop enjoying the music that your grandchildren are playing," said a helpful friend. I already disliked the music my children were listening to, so that has nothing to do with age, I told her, but rather with the quality of the music. I proceeded to make a list of the singers my generation liked who have endured, while hundreds of the newer ones have been promptly forgotten. "When you begin remembering your childhood too often," offered another friend. As a child, I used to record the good and bad moments so that I could have a store of interesting memories for later. Many young mothers I know rely on recollections from their childhood to bring up their own children. They always come in handy when junior comes down with a cold. Besides, I cherish my memories and again refused to consider this as an indication of seniority. Furthermore, I argued, school stories are always a welcome diversion when the conversation begins to wane.
Finally I decided to do my own thinking and came up with the theory that one's age becomes respectable only when one loses touch with the rising prices of life's necessities. Elderly people always remember the price of a kilo of meat in 1950 and shake their head incredulously, wondering aloud what the world is coming to, when told how much it costs to run a household nowadays. "Young people have lost their sense of values," they say.
Since many over-60s I know take price hikes in their stride, clearly they do not yet belong to the geriatric ward. The thought was pleasing, and I played with it for a while until it brought to my mind the story of a devoted son who wanted to stimulate his ageing mother's appetite. "Isn't there anything at all you would like to eat?" he asked her. "I will get you whatever you think you will enjoy."
At first, she claimed that her taste buds were not what they used to be, food was no longer palatable, and besides, everything she ate made her sick. Finally she admitted that she was hungry for shrimp, but she had inquired about the price, and never, not in a million years, would she pay what the fishmonger was asking for. "But mother," said the son, "you can afford shrimp ten times over, why do you deprive yourself?" The mother explained that, more than a matter of money, it was the principle that she was upholding. She never encouraged thieves and this was highway robbery, no less. There was no convincing the old lady, who simply would not understand the mechanics of inflation. The son, however, bought the shrimp himself and had it delivered to his mother's home. As soon as she received the package she was on the phone. "How much did you pay for it?" she asked him suspiciously. "Because if you paid what I think you did, then I won't eat it. I told you, it is a matter of principle." The son did not miss a beat, telling her at once that he had found a fishmonger of the old school who did not care about making a profit and only wanted to please his customers. The good merchant had not raised his prices and sold the best shrimp for 12 pounds a kilo. Of course, the man had asked for 15 pounds at first, but he had managed to tempt him by making a large purchase of a whole kilo and the fishmonger had agreed to lower the price following the promise that he would be selling a similar amount once a week.
An hour later, the mother called him again. Hearing her voice, the son hoped that the shrimp had not made her sick. He was in for a surprise. "I thought that such an honest man should be rewarded," she told him at once, "and I am bringing him a lot of business. I called all my friends and told them about your discovery. They immediately placed their orders. For tomorrow we want 15 kilos -- and that is only the beginning!"
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