haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2007, vol 3 no 2

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Patricia Prime

The Gift

Beautifully packed in a cylinder: three identical pink soaps stamped with an image of an indian elephant.

I was about six years old. Didn't like washing. My mother would lift up my long dark ringlets and pull down my collar. Point her finger at the tidemark separating the clean part from the dirty.

There was no scented soap in those days. We used a large bar of yellow sunlight soap to wash the clothes and mum would cut off a slice for our personal use. But it got rid of the dividing line between the area that got a splashing every day ("go and wash your hands and face"). The rest of our bodies we scrubbed once a week in a tin bath in front of the fire.

The gift box with its three soaps was from my favourite uncle who was serving in the army in india. When i opened the parcel and saw the perfect miniature soaps (the soap inside wasn't nearly as interesting as the packaging), i murmured, "it's so pretty." and asked, "is it from the black market?" "no", said mum, "it's from your uncle edward and it comes all the way from india."

But i didn't use the soap. It stayed in its box on the dressing table i shared with my three sisters. Sometimes i'd take one of the soaps out of its tissue paper and hold it in my hand. Smell it. Look at the stamped image and wonder where india was, and if i'd ever go there.

In the snapshot
A tent flap
Shades the writer