Most people claim they became an ‘Aunty’ the day they got married - a carefree girl one day, a universal ‘Aunty’ the next. Strangely, I avoided that fate for a very long time. The first time I was called “Aunty” was when I took my six week old baby out for an evening stroll. Revelling in the bliss of being “Mamma” to my kid, I don’t think the fact that I was finally being called “Aunty” even registered in my mind.
To be honest, unlike a lot of other women, I have absolutely no issues about being called “Aunty”, provided I am being called “Aunty” by someone who’s mother is likely to be roughly the same age as me. I don’t mind being called “Aunty” by the twelve-year old who lives on the floor below mine, even though she is nine inches taller than I, and carries herself with infinitely more sophistication – after all, many of my school mates have kids her age.
But I saw red when the college-going brother of one of the residents of my apartment block called me “Aunty” in the gym the other day. I knew he was innocent of wilfully causing offence, and that if he had any inclination of the cauldron of resentment he was stirring up, he would not have used that word. But somehow, knowing that only made things seem worse than they already were.
That pipsqueak actually considered me an antediluvian specimen fit only for a museum, which is why the word slipped out of his lips so effortlessly. The word was a challenge and I did not shy away from picking up the gimlet.
“Aunty, can you please use this treadmill, and let me have that one?”
“ ‘fraid not. I prefer this treadmill because the full blast of the AC is on the other one.”
“But Aunty, I can direct the AC to the ceiling. I prefer the other treadmill because I am planning to jog and that is better for jogging.”
“I’m jogging too, so I’d rather be on this treadmill.”
He gave me a look that clearly said that he did not consider anything I was capable of doing worth dignifying by the word ‘jogging’, but since he could not physically claim the machine I was on, he started his warm-ups.
To say I was stung was an understatement. Bad enough being repeatedly referred to as “Aunty” by someone just about a decade and a half younger than me, but worse yet when he makes snap judgements on my physical fitness or lack of it. I knew someone like him would run much faster than I do, but I was determined to outlast him on time and distance covered – and I knew I could.
He started off at a speed far from prudent, and in less than a minute was forced to reduce his speed considerably. Meanwhile, I gradually increased my speed as I always do, and got into a groove at a speed not very much lower than his. Ten minutes later, he was starting to pant, and it was with nothing short of sheer glee that I accelerated for the first of my short bursts of speed. He had no choice but to try and match my speed, but before he could, I slowed down again. By now he was totally confused, and reduced his pace too to match mine.
Ten mintues later, he was panting so hard, I was starting to get worried about him. Five minutes after that, when I was seriously contemplating calling the instructor the get him off the machine, he finally gave up. He could barely keep himself standing during the cool down phase, and the moment the treadmill stopped, he stumbled off and collapsed onto the nearest bench.
On the way back home, I found him sitting near the steps presumably waiting for someone. I could not resist the chance to rub the indignity of losing to an ‘Aunty’ in.
“Hi, you haven’t jogged before, have you?”
“Erm, erm, no. Not really. Long time ago in school, I used to take part in sports, but I started jogged on a treadmill only recently.”
“Don’t give up just because you are not able to do it now. Take it from me - building up stamina takes some doing. Last year this time, I could barely job five minutes, and look at me now. Just keep at it. I am sure you will be able to do it too.”
I know it was a really cheap shot. But then ‘Aunties’ are known to be nosey and to give unsolicited advice, aren’t they?