A Splinter in The Family
Subject: A splinter in the family
Place: Timaru, Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand
Eyes burning into me
I could feel their eyes burning a hole in me. I turned round and there they were. Six glaring eyes, set in bulging faces framed by Peruvian hats, knitted bobbles swaying in the wind. A silent family tableaux sitting in a blue bulbous tent. Staring out of the door. At me. They sat on three legged stools. And stared. They stared at Matthew and Cameron as they bed danced. They stared as I locked the bikes. They stared at Stuart as he went for a shower. We were out stared and went to the pub to get out of their gaze.
There is no need to stop and stare
Cameron was awake early crying for milk. Shivering, I hauled myself out of bed. Jump, jump, jump, I crossed the lino floor dressed only in my sleeping bag, like a naturist in the school sack race, shoulders bare, clutching the sleeping bag to my chest. I quietly slid open the door to retrieve the milk for Cameron’s bottle and there they were. In their tent. In their Peruvian hats. Still staring. Still on their three little stools. Wide awake, wide eyed and watching my every move. Pulling my sleeping bag to me with one hand, eyes down to avoid theirs, I grabbed the milk, and jump, jumped back into the cabin. Then I twitched the net curtains to get a better look at them, and caught their attention once again.
Even through the net the older woman’s gaze bore through my skin. She was bulky and squat, the loose skin around her face and jaws gathered in by the flaps on her colourful knitted hat. Long blond straggly hair hung on her shoulders. Next to her, balancing his lower half on his ridiculously small stool, sat a round faced man with a belly to match; and next to him a grinning woman in her forties with the hair around her hat viciously cropped as though with gardening shears. Two hours later while we packed up, they were still staring, and as we left they recorded our departure on video.
“What are they staring at? Haven’t they got anything else to do with their sad little lives? Nosey buggers. Look at those stupid Peruvian hats.” I muttered irritably as we cycled away.
When travelling, there are some people it’s a pleasure to see again while others are worth cycling long distances to avoid. We hoped to put a few miles between us and the Starers.
Not you again
We drew up at Lake Tekapo two days later and stopped for supplies. A familiar car was in the supermarket car park with three bulging faces staring out through the windscreen.
“I don’t believe it. It’s them. Quick, look the other way.”
“What way? Who is it?” Stuart asked, swerving to avoid me and hitting the kerb. Crunch.
Three Peruvian hatted heads moved forward to get a better look.
“Who the hell have I just crashed to avoid?” Stuart asked impatiently.
“The Starers.” I gestured towards the car.
“Oh bum. Lets go.”
We checked in at the campsite and were assigned our pitch, with a great view of the Lake and immediately opposite a bulbous blue tent with three stools outside.
No place to make a scene
There is little privacy on a campsite at the best of times. As cyclists, we are unable to retreat to a car if things all go pear shaped, and after a long days riding it’s not unusual for one of us to have a tiredness induced temper tantrum. I have always found my children’s public tantrums pretty embarrassing and do anything to avoid one but this one was unavoidable.
Matthew had a splinter lodged in a finger and was screaming at the top of his voice, “It hurts, it really hurts, get it out Mum.”
All attempts to grab his hand and examine the problem were met with roars of pain. As Matthew refused to move into the tent, Stuart went to get the first aid kit, while I tried to calm my son down knowing we were in for trouble. While Cameron takes every knock and bruise cheerfully, Matthew is the opposite. When the kids had their vaccinations, Cameron was happily sucking a lolly two minutes later, while Matthew was still upset about it after several hours.
Stuart returned with the first aid kit. “Where are the tweezers, they’ve gone. Have you been plucking your eyebrows with them?”
“Nope,” I replied pulling out a tube of Savlon as Matthew screamed louder.
A small crowd of onlookers circled like gulls attracted by the commotion, the Starers towards the front.
“You’ve taken them out of the medical kit haven’t you?” Stuart shouted.
“I told you I haven’t.” I shouted back, struggling to make myself heard above Matthew’s roar. I searched the bag for a needle or pin.
“Oh for gods sake, do they look as though they’ve been plucked?” I replied angrily.
Stuart examined my eyebrows while I located a needle in the bottom of the first aid kit.
“No, they’re all over the place.”
“Shut up then.”
“Shut up, you’re stupid and filthy,” shouted Cameron, his face pressed into mine, as Matthew stamped his feet and roared.
“It really hurts, get it out.”
The operation begins
The three stools seemed to edge nearer. A small group of campers behind them shuffled forwards. Around the arena furtive glances, tutting, whispering and pointing while a bold little girl from a nearby caravan just walked right up for a ringside seat.
“Look Matthew, hold still, I’m just going to take out the splinter.”
“No. No, NO, NO, don’t touch me, DON’T DO THIS.”
I shivered at the thought of having to hurt him further with the needle. The onlookers exchanged disapproving looks as I instructed Stuart to hold Matthew while I stabbed at his finger with the needle. It was a prolonged operation as Matthew kicked, screamed and fought. Cameron, never averse to a punch up with his brother suddenly grew protective.
“Get off my brudder,” he joined in the wailing, pulling at my arms.
I could see the Starers’ eyes almost popping out of their Peruvian clad heads in disgust at my child beating. I cursed them sitting in judgment over me.
“Stop it, stop it mum DON’T DO THIS.” Matthew beat his fist into me.
I began to get angry with him. It was only a splinter and my son was a big girl’s blouse. “It’s a splinter that’s all. Just hold still will you.”
“Stop it mum, STOP IT,” wailed Matthew.
“Stop it you’re stupid and filthy,”shouted Cameron.
“They’re the stupid and filthy ones,” I gestured to the Peruvian hats, while digging the needle into Matthew’s skin.
“I’ve got it; it’s out.”
Just staring not judging
I walked to the tent, shaking with embarrassment, trying to avoid the campers’ stares.
“It was a splinter. In his finger. I had to get it out,” I tried to explain when they caught my eye, “He’s just a drama queen, very sensitive. That’s all.”
Tears welled up. I paused at the tent to regain my composure, and a brightly knitted hat popped up from a stool. I looked up with contempt, awaiting her condemnation of my parenting and surgical skills.
“I once had a splinter in my foot. Made my toe swell up. Blister had to be popped by the doctor. Very painful, green stuff everywhere.”
The youngest Starer was smiling excitedly.
“Nasty things splinters. You did well to get it out.”
I could have kissed her. She had not judged, just stared. Embarrassed for my judgments about her family, I unzipped the tent where Matthew was happily examining his new Bob The Builder plaster as though nothing had occurred. Outside, the stools were lined up as the Starers returned to their tent. Suddenly I felt like they were watching out for us. Guardian angels in knitted Peruvian hats. Staring, not judging.