Saying ‘No’ is something I find difficult.
There’s times I know I should say no, even have to say no and still…nothing.
Not so long ago a bloke knocked on my door. He was holding a paintbrush and had a strange look in his eyes. He said he was painting yellow squares on peoples houses and could he paint ours? I knew I should say no. but I just couldn’t. And before I knew it a strange sound had escaped my mouth. It wasn’t a yes but it didn’t sound like a no. Before I knew it he’d put up scaffolding and was painting the bricks yellow. I stood there with a cup of tea watching and knew it was too late.
I think my neighbours shared my problem in saying no too, their houses were also painted yellow. A constant reminder of our weakness.
No no no.
Not as easy as it sounds.
This isn’t a recent problem though. Saying no has always been an issue, it all started way back when I was little Ilaria.
Let me tell you all about the ice cream van fiasco.
Villages are rife with gossip and the talk of the village I grew up in was that my errant father, The Italian, was now an ice cream man. Juicy gossip indeed. He didn’t pay maintenance but he had an ice cream van! This was better than new school shoes and heating.
When most kids in the village just had crappy unbranded choc ices in the freezer we had fancy Magnums and Soleros. I thought this made us posh.
We’d seen him and his van a few times but not for a while. He’d disappeared for months, to heaven knows where. He said this new job was a great way to meet women, so maybe he’d run off with an ice cream lover.
Turns out The Italian would charge my Mum for the boxes of ice creams…and not just what he paid for them. He’d charge her the full ice cream van price.
A Sunday night was usually us kids sat with wet hair watching The Darling Buds Of May whilst tucking into a Magnum my Mum couldn’t really afford.
This Sunday was different though.
We were settled down with our chamomile teas with the candles on getting all cosy in preparation for the school week ahead. The Darling Buds of may had just started. We heard an ice cream van tune, THE ice cream van tune, a bit of swearing in broken English and bits of Italian and a thud against our garden fence.
My Mum pulled back the curtains and muttered ‘Oh crap, it’s The Italian’ under her breath.
I ran to the window and immediately put my hand over my eyes, this didn’t make it go away but at least I couldn’t see it for a moment. This was embarrassing, I hope none of the Brownies see this.
With our hair still wet and our baggy nighties on we pushed our feet into wellies that were too big for us, my Mum was always getting us things to grow into. I’ve said it before, she’s lovely but very stingy. We went outside – this didn’t feel nice but it was kind of exciting. We didn’t like the Italian but he did have an ice cream van, plus, we were running low, so I was kind of glad about his timing. My Mum’s purse wasn’t though
The fence was all smashed to bits and he didn’t apologise.
My little sister said to me ‘Maybe he’s bought another pet with him?’
I’d been waiting on a pony or a monkey for a while, but all he’d bring were confused cats and guinea pigs that were ready for death. One time a rabbit, but an ugly one with red eyes.
Instead he just opened up the window to the van and stuck his head out. His beard had grown since we’d seen him last, and a new medallion necklace hung from his neck.
I asked him if he was going to say sorry for breaking the gate. He explained that if you have an ice cream van and are Italian then you never have to say sorry.
My sister and I rolled our eyes at one another and she whispered ‘He’s a twat isn’t he?’
She’d recently got a telly in her bedroom and would wake up and watch all sorts. Mainly the filth on channel 5. That must be where she’d heard the word.
In normal circumstances my Mum would have told her off but in this case the word was so accurate. In the right context swearing can be fucking brilliant. One day I’ll learn how to do it like she did.
My brother sighed and loudly asked if we could have an ice cream.
The Italian replied ‘Well-a that-a all-a depends on your Mamma’
My Mum gave him a look fit for a crime documentary and said she’d go and get her purse.
The second she went inside it all felt very awkward. We didn’t like the Italian and he didn’t like us. He knew we didn’t like him and we knew he didn’t like us. So what on earth was he doing here?
To fill the silence I asked how the Mr Whippy machine worked. He looked at me with boredom in his eyes and said ‘It doesn’t’.
He then says ‘Allora, get in the van’
A very creepy sentence, even with bits of Italian thrown in.
Surely I should’ve just said no but this wasn’t really a question. The Italian would say something and you just sort of got swept along and had to do what he wanted. I couldn’t say no, could I?
‘We should wait for Mummy to get back with her purse’ I said, nervously.
He laughed, waved his hand dismissively and said ‘Non badare a lei, andiamo’.
Which basically meant, sod her, we’re going.
I still didn’t say no. I should’ve said no.
He winked and opened up the ice cream van door. Our wellies squeaked as my sister, brother and I climbed into the van in our nighties.
It wasn’t magical at all. The sprinkles looked congealed in their tubs, the chocolate flakes were smashed to bits, covering the floor and everything seemed faded.
As the engine started up we saw our Mum coming out into the garden with fistfuls of loose change. She ran past the broken fence to get us. We waved as we sped off.
The Italian drove around the village as though he was desperate for a wee. Us kids were swaying in the back, crashing into boxes of plastic ice cream spoons and cones.
The van was knackered and even the music didn’t work. Normally the sound of an ice cream means sunshine and laughter. But not this one. It was a slower version of the classic tune, very fitting for a horror film. Was this how I would die?
We drove around the village for what felt like hours.
He stopped the van and and handed two pretty young women some ice creams. I remember thinking it was strange they didn’t have to pay but we did.
We turned a sharp corner and a squeezy bottle of raspberry sauce splashed all over our faces and nighties.
‘Can we go home now please?’ I said.
The Italian ignored me.
My little sister stood on a big box and shouted ‘TAKE US HOME NOW YOU TWAT’
The Italian switched off the engine and let out a cough. The slow creepy music stopped.
He seemed genuinely terrified by this teeny little girl. Wet hair, wellies, nightie, face covered in raspberry sauce and wild eyes. It was a compelling sight.
He switched on the engine and the music started up.
This was all very overwhelming.
My sister climbed back down from the box and gave my brother and me a thumbs up.
She still, fucking terrifies me.
She was successful though, the Italian drove us home.
Rescued by my little sister.
I was so relived to see our cottage on the corner with the broken fence. And there was our Mum, so worried and upset. As we got closer her face changed to relief.
‘My wee babies!’
We climbed out of the van feeling bewildered. The raspberry sauce covering our faces looked like blood. It was like on the news when they find people that have been living underground for years.
Why didn’t I just say no? If someone says ‘Get in the van’ then no is probably the best response.
Saying ‘No’ just doesn’t come naturally to me. Saying ‘no’ Makes me nervous.
A time I really should have said no was when my nutty Irish neighbour approached me with a request.
She’d drink a bottle of vodka and knock on the door to ask me how to use her CD player.
Fast forward a few minutes, I’m on my hands and knees sorting out wires for her CD player. I say bye to her as she slumps back on the sofa, pours herself another vodka and taps her foot out of time to Fleetwood Mac. As I’m leaving she says ‘I’ll knock on your door in a bit when I want the CD changing’
This would be a great moment to say ‘No’ but instead I say ‘Yes, that’s fine’.
That was a long Friday night. With each knock and each CD change my Irish neighbour became more and more drunk…the following week the same request was made and I still didn’t say no.
I justify not saying ‘No’ by ‘Oh, it’s my way of gathering material’ and ‘bad decisions make for great stories’ but really is it because I’m weak and trying to compensate for things that I feel inadequate for?
The ice cream van, why didn’t I say no? Was it because I wanted everything to be okay so took the easier way out, desperate to be loved?
Nah, I just really like ice cream and danger. My sweet tooth is always getting me in trouble. Just look at the size label in my dresses.
We ran over to our Mum and she cuddled us tightly. This had not been a relaxing Sunday.
The Italian slammed the van door shut and drove off. The creepy music blasting out.
My brother looked up at my Mum and said ‘Are we getting that ice cream or not?’
‘Not tonight love. Right ma we cabbage flowers. Let’s go inside. You three need a bath again’
And in we all went to our cottage.
We’d missed The Darling Buds of May but what a story this would be for everyone at school tomorrow.