I had lost the battle to my sister yet again.
The hollow cqqrkk! rung in my ears as I held the limp, shrivelled end in my hand.
There must be a trick to grabbing the bigger portion, the winning chunk of the Christmas cracker.
I am yet to figure it out.
Christmas in my household is a raucous jumble of cultures and the overconsumption of chocolate.
Sweaty, Australian sun leaks through the window melting the Kue Lapis my dad makes from a taste.com recipe.
My mum is spraying snow from a can onto her children’s backs.
Our brand-new shirts are stained with gooey white Christmas spirit.
The holiday season in 2011 took on particular significance.
It was the year that I transcended the Gloomy Teen Phase into some expectant post-adolescent maturity.
A present arrived in the mail a few days before the 25th of December from my grandmother.
(The President of Indonesia stamped on the corner of the package.)
This wooden, rectangle box sat quietly, its edges awkwardly protruding into the Ridwan family’s makeshift tree.
A pot plant with some small baubles attached to the leaves.
I’d only met my dad’s mother once before.
Dazed (overwhelmed), I was unable to communicate with her, having never learnt to speak a language common to us both - linguistically or generationally.
I bent down to enter the house and saw my grandmother sitting straight-backed in a wide, straw armchair.
Struck with dementia and other ageing ailments, she remained in her perched position, regaled, her eyes unable to focus upon my face in any meaningful way.
I knelt down and encompassed her warm hands in mine.
The corners of her mouth turned ever-so-slightly upwards – the universal sign of happiness! — as if there was a string connecting from the roof to her gestural curve.
“What’s inside the box?”
Curiosity crept upon me.
I wondered what my grandmother — who knew only of me through the small amount of information my father allowed to reach her (mostly that I was a tall, devout Muslim boy) — had given to me.
Maybe it was money, or maybe a family heirloom (a brooch embossed in gold), or maybe it was even property (one of the under-producing rice fields my family owned in Padang).
She wasn’t a wealthy woman, far from it.
The house had flooded several times during the rainy season and was only held together with flimsy pilons reinforced by my dad and his brothers each time they visited.
That didn’t stop my mind from swaying far from my surroundings.
The prawns seared on the barbeque, their fiery orange flesh turning pale as they cooked, the fans roared to keep the heat at bay, swirling, it all blurred into,“what’s inside the box?”
Card games played out to the tune of Know When To Hold ‘Em, Know When To Fold ‘Em.
The beach air swiftly cleared my sinuses of the city lurgies and I breathed with a sense of purpose, of readiness.
I revelled in the naked peek-a-boo of bodies on the sand, girls and boys flustering for the cricket ball.
Still, I couldn’t let go of the box.
The day finally arrived after a nightmarish sleep.
Santa had visited me, his chimney appeal more sinister than it was as a 12-year old, now Mr. Claus reportedly: “a creepy man who lets pimply children sit on him at shopping centres”.
With gormless, expanding eyes, I opened the box.
A moment of disappointment flashed over me (my face a bitter reminder of youth) and I turned to my dad to pose the question I had asked myself a thousand times over.
My sister, holding her string of victories over me, snatched the box from my hands, scratching some of the tint from the boxes’ latch .“Go fish!” she shouted.
The fish was delicately hand-painted in gold onto the lid (winking, frolicking around the hook extended from on top of the water), escaping a lazy fisherman with a broad-brimmed hat (he whistled, music notes escaping from his lips under the peachy sunset).
Back in my grasp: the box glowed
Years later, the box swishes around in a larger, transparent container full of things the family pulls out every now and then at Christmas-time, a reminder of past presents with stories upon stories attached.
I rummage through the bits and pieces, hoping to find the man quietly humming, endlessly unable to catch the elusive golden cod.
But I always stop, because I am caught up in the sizzle of prawns on the barbeque and chocolate coins being broken into and smashed around no-longer-white teeth and my dad’s jaunty laughter.
And the thrill of the finding the secret to the Christmas cracker.
Adam Ridwan is a megalomaniac of vague origin with a penchant for over-indulgent shoes. A graduate of Psychology at ANU, he works in marketing for the Wotif Group, was shortlisted for the Monash University Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing and is skilled in all-things-interwebs. He's an avid selfies-with-cats-fanatic which is highlighted on his Instagram (@adamridwan_), his infrequently updated website bulbous.net and his off-beat tweets @adamridwan.