Sloppiness: Let Me Teach You How To Not Cure It

By • May 19th, 2011 • Category: Suburbans

He stared at Martin Luther King and Martin cried in public. He stared at Whitney Houston and she started using drugs. He stared at a fuel truck and oil prices went up. From the optical destruction department of the English alphabet, we bring you this week’s seventh suburban legend…

Malik Ahmad


My son is not a very tidy person.

Ok, at this point, I should probably point out that I have a penchant for the understatement. Because saying my son is ‘not a tidy person’ is a little like saying Libya is currently undergoing a minor political upheaval.


Sir, me I've finished killing. Can I go back and watch Big Brother?

Sloppiness is the deadly sin that defines my son, Shafiq Ahmad. Of course he boasts a wide array of other sins as well, but they all pale to insignificance when beheld next to the majestic splendor of his sloppiness.

He will never take his plate to the kitchen sink after mealtimes, let alone help with the washing up. And if there ever has been a day when Shafiq washed his own clothes, that must have been back when Arsenal still won trophies.

When he was younger, I tried every method, short of soliciting the aid of Tanzanian gentlemen schooled in the dark arts, to cure him of his sloppiness. I advised, I cajoled, I offered inducements, I even concocted bedtime stories where tidy characters got handsomely rewarded and sloppy characters were ridiculed by their families, friends and pretty girls, but nothing worked.

Once, I got so mad when I found a moldy, half-eaten plateful of beans under his bed that I took out the belt on him. That night my wife put such a distance between us as we slept, a NATO air-strike could have struck the space between us on the bed without harming either of us. I have never taken the belt out on Shafiq since.

“He can’t help it. He will change with time.” My wife reassured me when sufficient peace had been restored between us. “Besides, you should stop looking at only his bad qualities and concentrate on his good side as well. He is caring, clever, sensitive, funny…”

Well, I’m pretty sure even Vlad the Impaler’s mother had nice things to say about him.

I still tried to find ways of changing my son’s behavior, however, and one day I hit upon what I thought was a brilliant idea. At the time, Shafiq was 14 and I had started giving him a little pocket money. One day I called him aside with a proposition.

“Henceforth, your pocket money will be pegged on how tidy you are.” I told him. “If I come into your room and it is not tidy, I will drop all your pocket money into a jar in your bedroom. When the jar is full, you will take the money and take your mother out for a nice dinner, since she is the one who always has to clean up after you.”

For several weeks after we reached our agreement, there was no change. Shafiq’s room remained as sloppy as ever, and every Wednesday I duly deposited his pocket money in the jar I’d put in his room. I started to wonder whether my idea would ever work.

But one Wednesday, I came home from work and on checking Shafiq’s room found it very tidy. I was impressed. My prayers were finally being answered!

Shafiq was outside at the back when I arrived and didn’t hear me come in, but I was feeling a little hungry and so I went to make myself a sandwich before I called him to compliment him. However, he heard me walk into the kitchen.

“Hi Dad.” He came in and greeted me, then quickly darted off to his room. I found that puzzling, but dismissed it and finished my sandwich. Then pocket money in hand, I walked towards Shafiq’s room.

“Son, I was really impressed with you today…” I began as I walked, but stopped in mid-sentence when his room came into view.

Shafiq’s room, which only a few minutes before had been spic and span, was an unholy mess. I stared in trepidation, groaned and stalked out without a word. Then I remembered that I hadn’t put the money in the jar, and I walked back to Shafiq’s room…just in time to catch him speaking on the phone.

“Mom,” he was saying, “how would you like to go someplace really nice for dinner tonight?”


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