As a Sri Lankan woman, I am doubly obliged to like kids. I feel like South Asians give white women a tacit waiver, accepting that many of them ‘choose’ not to have children but of course ‘regret it when their maternal instinct kicks in’ or ‘when they’re 40 and alone and miserable and their husband hates them because they are barren, pau aneh’. Yeesh. As a Sri Lankan woman of course, when something whose age is still counted in months is carried into the room, I am expected to goo and gah over it. If I stand away continuing to talk politics with the men, I feel as though I’ve let someone down. So I walk over, pretend to be interested for as long as other women appear to be, and try not to commit too far to this baby-loving persona in case I accidentally touch the thing and set it screaming. I swear infants know when you abhor them. I couldn’t look my nephew straight in the eye until he was about 2. One day he was in his play pen and we made eye contact. His gaze tore through me, saw that there was nothing happy there (I was in a rut those days) and screamed as if to exorcise me. However, now that he’s older and capable of rational conversation, I love the critter to bits. I’ve just never felt this automatic appreciation of babyhood as a general phenomenon that seems to afflict other human beings. I do believe it’s mostly out of fear of not knowing how to handle or physically manoeuvre such delicate things. So what’s my excuse for kids between 3 and 12? Nothing. Except some of them are just plain evil. Think I’m being melodramatic? Of course. But here’s anecdotal evidence anyway:
I was on a train from Jaffna to Colombo, an express that takes 6-7 hours that gives me time to be with myself, to meditate and read. When I got in, I realised the front of the train was occupied by a group of children, backed by their equally loud-mouthed parents. I resigned myself to doing some light reading and perhaps watching some videos to block out the noise. There was one child screaming for the fun of it and no adult was making an effort to sensitise the kids to the presence of other passengers in the cabin. I started texting, complaining as usual when I face these unbearable confrontations with unruly children and as I looked down, the group of children moved closer towards me until they were seated on the opposite aisle, a row ahead, on four seats facing each other. One child, the youngest about 4 years, was leaning into an aiya’s (about 11) tummy and hitting it and screaming into it. He then looked up at his aiya and screamed into his face. The aiya was unperturbed, entertaining malli’s antics. Malli screamed harder, into aiya’s stomach, chest, face… and I stared at this kid, a mixture of disgust and wonder, perplexed as to what environmental influences created this thing that thought this screaming behaviour was ok. I stared, gobsmacked, and suddenly the boy whipped his head around and saw me staring at him. I was caught. Our eyes locked and I couldn’t escape. In that moment he registered what I was feeling: shock, disgust, apprehension about what he would do now that he had caught me. And then he did it. He looked at me dead in the eye, understood my fear… and shrieked. He shrieked like he was trying to pierce my soul. The cold shock of his scream shook me out of the stare-lock and I fumbled around trying to find my voice recorder on my phone. I had to document this because no one would believe how awful it was. So here is a clip of the horror: http://www.audiomack.com/embed4-large/ades/kids-scream-in-train
Minutes later, when games amongst the children had ceased and they were walking around the cabin like it was their living room, I noticed something hovering near my seat. The passenger seated next to me had vacated a while earlier and I placed my bag there to deter the kids from sitting down, so great was my apprehension of another confrontation. I glanced up and saw him walking side to side, hands out trying to touch the seat and my bag. He didn’t though, but I know he wanted to. He looked at me curiously, clearly amused by something that’s either not smitten with him or emanating a feeling (anger, irritation, downright hatred) that he was unused to. Whatever it was, he steered clear of my safe space, and resumed playing with his friends. For the rest of the train ride home, I endured the racket of this holidaying family, afraid to seek help, chilled by memory of that boy’s scream.