My childhood dream was to have a sofa

Catherine Aoll was a shortlisted entrant for the 2021 SBS Emerging Writers Competition. This is an excerpt from her anthology play ‘The Couch’ Between two worlds (Hardie Grant).

What were some of the things you looked forward to as a child when you became an adult? I had a few and they were: driving a car, owning a wallet with money in it, going to the movies just so I could eat popcorn, being some kind of hero, preferably one of those saving a child from a burning building, and never touching my rice and beans. Yes, having my rice and beans on the same plate but not touching each other was worth the wait. It bothered me when the adults mixed it all up on my plate. Why they couldn’t just leave the beans next to the rice is still a mystery to me.

But what I expected the most was to have a sofa. Size, color or brand didn’t matter. All I wanted was for him to be mine. I sat on it for as long as my body allowed.

You see, in my childhood home, sitting on the couch was strictly for adults, and breaking that rule was one of the domestic crimes punishable by caning. When other kids were doing bold, rebellious acts like sneaking out of the house to go to a party, my siblings and I got our adrenaline fix by sitting on the couch with one eye on television and the other supervising adults- UPS. And we were bribing Aunty, the housekeeper, with offers to do extra chores in exchange for letting us sit on the couch and not sink.

…in my childhood home, sitting on the couch was strictly for adults, and breaking that rule was one of the domestic crimes…

When the adults had their gatherings, we would take turns walking past the living room entrance just to spot them on the couch and vicariously sit through them. Some days, after a successful bribe exchange, we’d sit on the couch and get carried away by a silly cartoon like Johnny Bravoonly to be brought back to reality by the doorbell.

With a quick movement, we slid to the ground with the agility of a circus contortionist, while straightening the buttocks left on the sofa. My siblings and I were very good at this art. If by any chance you were too slow to maneuver, the rule was to take your blows like a soldier. I’ll attribute my slowness to being the eldest, as I almost always ended up landing the punches. With each beating, I forced myself to grow faster so I could earn the right to sit on the couch.

As nature would have it, I grew up and so I gained the privilege of sitting freely on the couch; okay, maybe semi-free. I used this privilege as a form of getting things done by my brothers and sisters. “If you do what I say, I’ll let you sit on the couch for five minutes.” I loved sitting on this couch! Occasionally I would invite my friends over for a visit just so they could sit on the couch, but mostly so they could see me sitting on it too, as it confirmed that I was no longer a child. . Add a pop to a glass and I’m a good adult.

Once in a while I would invite my friends over for a visit just so they could sit on the couch, but mostly so they could see me sitting on it too

One day I was enjoying this couch fun when my mom showed up out of nowhere! Instinctively, I flinched and assumed the maneuvering position; then I remembered that I had grown now too, so I sat still but barely breathed. Mother didn’t look happy. She glared at me and in a stern voice asked, “How much did you give me as a share to buy the couch?” Confused, I only shook my head in response. I was hoping this would translate to “nothing”. She took a step towards me and in a split second I was on the floor. The message was loud and clear: it was his couch and I didn’t have to sit on it. With that, my short-lived privilege packed his bags and headed out the window.

As I sat on the hard concrete floor, watching TV through tears, I set myself a goal and ran towards it. One day, I was going to buy my own couch and would sit on it all day sipping Coca-Cola. Served in a glass; like an adult.

When I moved into my one-bedroom apartment, the only furniture I had was a double bed and a second-hand ottoman. I pretended to be a minimalist while continuing to save for my ultimate childhood dream. This day happened when I was 26 years old. Finally, I had saved enough money to afford my own couch, and nothing was going to get in the way. I walked to the furniture store with a spring in my step. “That one!” I said to no one in particular as my gaze fell on a plush white leather couch. Imagine my disappointment when I was told I had to wait six weeks for it to be delivered from the warehouse. In fact, I felt weak. I was so close!

On the day of delivery, I cleaned the house from top to bottom like a mother does before bringing her newborn baby home. Then I cooked coconut rice and beans, like they did at home. Then I called my manager and asked if I could have two days off. “Everything is fine?” she asked, worried. “Oh yes, everything is fine. My sofa is delivered today and I have to be there to receive it, then I have to sit on it.

I sat on my couch all day, and all the next day too

I waited impatiently by the window, my heart pounding every time a truck passed. Eventually a truck pulled up right outside my apartment. I jumped to my feet, put on mismatched shoes because I didn’t have time to find a matching pair. I opened the door just as the delivery guy was about to knock and smiled at him. He did some procedural checks and then it was time. The moment I was waiting for was here! I followed him and his co-worker a little too closely as they brought the couch in, mentally shouting “Pivot!” Pivot! Pivot!” like the sofa scene from Friends.

I sat on my couch all day, and all day after too. I didn’t drink Coca-Cola from a glass, though; I was now old enough to know the effects of soft drinks. However, I ate my rice and beans sitting on the sofa, served side by side, not touching. All I have to work on now is become a hero.

This is an excerpt from Between two worlds (Hardie Grant).

The 2022 SBS Emerging Writers Competition opens for entries on August 16. Write on the theme of “emergence” for a chance to win the first prize of $5,000, the second prize of $3,000 or one of two prizes of $1,000. The best entries will also be published in an anthology by Hardie Grant. Visit sbs.com.au/writers to register and learn more.

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