“Your mother is a thief. She stole the kalos from our fanua and put them in your legs” – Anonymous (Or I may have heard it from Aunty Tala lmao)
When I was 7 years old, I stole someone else’s lunch.
During class, I excused myself to go to the toilet. As I made my way through the cloakroom, I passed the line of schoolbags hung on the hooks. I saw one particular bag with the main zip wide open and popping out was a lunchbox, the one with the lid that goes ‘click clack’ when you close it and the container was transparent. From where I was standing, that lunch looked yum! I saw bright colours and more importantly, it was jampacked! I thought of my own lunchbox – if you can call it that – it was the old Tip-Top icecream container with the sticker label still attached on the lid as if to say to me: ‘look in here! I’ve got yuuuuuummmmy food for you’. Knowing full well that the contents of my own lunchbox was sparse I approached the open schoolbag, took the lunchbox out, sat down on the cloakroom floor and ate as if I was having a party of my own.
The food inside included a ham sandwich on nice soft bread, a tub of chocolate yoghurt – spoon provided! – a nice juicy orange which was already peeled and divided into pieces and a red box of raisins. I was amazed – how come my lunch wasn’t like this? I had the same lunch everyday: 2 jam sandwiches in bread that wasn’t always soft. If I was thirsty, then water from the tap.
While my classmates were in the room next door unaware of the legal activity being carried out, magic was happening in the cloakroom. After I ate, I simply ‘click-clacked’ the lunchbox, popped it back in the schoolbag then went about my business (suddenly, the need to go to the toilet was for real). It’s funny how I can remember these details, it happened in my second year at primary school (which was like…not so long ago).
Lunchtime came. The teacher learned that a student’s lunchbox had been cleaned out (minus the red box of raisins – they are so yuck). Since I was the only one who wasn’t hungry, she asked me if I knew anything about the lunchbox and I confessed – I don’t remember crying that I was found out, or being sorry that I upset someone else. I mean, I was happy to give the girl my lunch but I’m sure the lunchbox itself would’ve put her off. The girl cried and I could only stand there and say ‘sowweeeee’ but I really wanted to say ‘thank you, that was soooo yum!’.
The next day, my mum and I were in the principal’s office. Mum was informed about my new extra-curricular activity and was bawling her eyes out while I sat there just watching her. She didn’t really say much to the principal, I thought maybe she couldn’t because she was crying so much, blowing her nose into her hanky, head bowed. But now I know why. She didn’t really speak English, and could only nod her head and say ‘sorry’ to the principal for my wrongdoing.
When we walked home from school that day, my mum didn’t really say anything to me. She didn’t even tell my siblings about it. She was quiet and looked a bit sad.
A few days later, mum got a part-time job. This meant that after school my siblings and I would have to walk home on our own. It was a 30 minute walk home and my brother had the house key (he was 8). More importantly, we started taking cool lunches to school everyday! Yep, I still had the same lunchbox but inside was a meat pie, a chocolate milk carton ‘zap!’ and a packet of twisties. When we got home from school, there would be 3 lots of snacks on the table for us to enjoy while we waited for dad to get home from work.
But now I feel so stink about the whole thing. 25 years later and I finally got the punch-line (sigh).
Back in 1985, the day I stole someone else’s lunch, I must’ve made my mum feel like she was a failure and whatever lunch she prepared for us just wasn’t good enough. That day must’ve been real hard as she had to sit there and listen to the principal explain that the reason why her daughter stole the lunch was because she wanted yummy food. You see, when my mum took that job, it was as a cleaner for the high school next door (Tangaroa College). When we walked out of school gates, she would be standing there waving at us before she walked on to her job. Later on, she worked full-time and then after that, worked 2 cleaning jobs. When dad got made redundant she stayed on as the main breadwinner for our family. She was a working woman until the day she died.
She left us so suddenly that I didn’t get to say to thank you. I really have no words that could ever express the gratitude and respect that I have for this woman, Akenese Fia’aluifo Seumanutafa. Thank you for being THAT mum. I love you afro-lady.
Ia manuia xx