By Frank Ephraim
I was uncomfortable in my box. Sure, there I lay wrapped in soft tissue, but the cardboard lid pressed against me so that I felt completely confined, unable to move. I was hoping the rowdy party would soon subside so that the bride could start opening her presents. The noise was deafening. People were laughing and shouting, and I could hear the clink of glasses as one drunken toast after another resounded through what must have been a large room.
I was packed with loving care as a gift from the bride’s aunt. She selected me from among dozens of other teapots in the little specialty shop. I was so proud, so satisfied with myself, as the shop clerk lifted me off the display shelf and let the refined lady touch me. Her smooth fingers stroked across my pear-shaped, scalloped body, with one finger tracing the curve of my spout. It was no ordinary spout with an abrupt end. No, it was a florid spout that culminated in the shape of rose petals. The lady peered straight into the spout, curious, I suppose, at what the inner walls might offer. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the dark, slightly rough pewter inside of me. With a thumb and forefinger she gently held the ornamental nob on top of the artful, sculpted lid. She lifted the lid slowly, getting the feel of the hinge, and swung it wide open to reveal my gaping neck. By her expression I knew I was her choice. A shudder went through my spine—actually my ornate handle, which was wrapped with an intricate rattan pattern to protect against burns.
Anyway, all that was in the past. Here I was, waiting patiently to be unpacked and admired. It took a while, as I was only one of the many presents, and I began to get impatient. Finally I must have just dozed off, because a sudden movement jarred me awake, and the next thing I sensed was the scratching noise of paper being ripped. It was my turn. “A metal teapot?” It was not a happy voice. “A funny looking metal, not shiny. Maybe it needs polish,” a male speaker exclaimed. “Well, at least somebody gave us a good coffee pot.” It was the woman again. Was I, the charming pewter teapot, playing second fiddle? I should have known. Who in Germany, in 1928, drank tea? Coffee, coffee, that arrogant black brew, was king. Tea, yes I know, was for the more genteel, or if you were sick.
I shared the narrow kitchen cabinet shelf with that damn coffeepot. The cabinet door opened every morning and out it came. I just sat, and sat. I must have sat for several months before my debut. Of course, I should have guessed. The lady who selected me at the little shop came to visit—to have tea—and I was displayed, fussed over in that phony patronizing way people drooled over small children of people they despised. Then it was over. A quick rinse with soapy water and dried with a damp kitchen towel, I was back next to the coffee pot.
As the years went by, I could sense changes. There was less talk. The words became harsher, and fewer people came to visit. I do not know the exact year, but one cold night the cabinet door opened and I was yanked from the shelf. Tea was made and the couple drank two cups—in the dark—without uttering a word. It was terrifying. Then the woman began to weep. I hoped it was not because of a bad brew of tea, making this my fault. Then it was back into the cabinet, in silence and gloom. One morning I heard the thud of furniture being moved about and some heavy object was dragged over the bare floor. What happened to the carpets? The cabinet door next to mine was opened and dishes were removed, accompanied by the sound of newspaper being crunched. Suddenly the door of my cabinet opened and the woman’s anxious face appeared. “Should we take the coffee pot?” I sensed my neighbor’s anticipation. “No, better not, porcelain can break on the trip.” It was the husky voice of the man. “Let’s pack the teapot. Sturdy pewter and it will be good to boil water, which you have to do in the tropics, I hear.” Trip? Tropics? What is going on?
The woman took me from the shelf and for the first time examined me from lid to base. “It may even be valuable. If we need money the pot could fetch some.” That came as a mixed message. Finally some recognition of my worth, but then only as an object of exchange. Well, one cannot have it all, and besides, I began to feel a little guilty. The once popular coffee pot was to be left behind to an uncertain fate. I, instead, was going to travel. The old newspapers cushioned me in a heavy cardboard box, and it was not long before I felt myself being lifted up and put into a large case. The voices became faint and soon new sounds penetrated my dark abode. Coarse commands, scraping noises, and the motion of a heavy vehicle over roadways gave me many frightening moments. Where was my journey taking me and when would it end?
I did not feel it, but the case I was in must have been lifted high in the air, because I landed with a jarring thump that reverberated within a large space. The voices had a different lilt, sea folk I guessed. A ship no doubt. They did say the tropics, and I knew it would be a long time before I could be of service again. The heave and roll were almost unbearable. Some days were worse than others. I do not know how long I suffered, but one day the ride was very smooth and then I felt the ship bump against something. Were we there, or was this just another stop along the way? What a relief it was when I heard voices again. They sounded softer and very different from those at the beginning of the voyage. The voices came closer and I sensed hands moving the case, and not long thereafter I felt my case being deposited somewhere, but I was not upright. With the greatest joy my box was lifted out of the case and opened by the woman. “Look, undamaged and ready to use,” she said. A cold water bath greeted me instantly as I was washed to clear debris and dirt from my elegant pear-shaped body. They boiled water for tea and the man lifted his cup to the woman. “To our escape, and to our new life in Manila,” he exclaimed. Manila? Where on earth was that? Oh well, it did not matter to me. I looked forward to my new status as a vital household object.
The years seemed to flit along. I saw heavy duty and ever more loving care devoted to my well-being. I in turn gave my body—and, yes, soul—to the couple, who worked in the oppressive heat to make a living. They bought another coffee pot, which, I heard them say, was cheap and made in Japan. Things changed again. The woman often cried and there was talk about war and her family back in Germany. Then the man lost his job and they were struggling. The coffee pot, poor thing, had less and less to do. I was again the primary utility vessel, and was by now like part of the family. Something else was going on that I did not understand for a long time. Visitors kept talking about Japanese. Was I to know that this war thing had brought soldiers from Japan to occupy Manila? Of course not. I did not read newspapers, and the voices all sounded alike, until the man talked about news he had heard on the “radio.” He used the word “bombing.” The word meant nothing to me until one morning when both the man and the woman were out. Loud intermittent sounds penetrated the walls of the little house. Soon explosions shook the floor and went on for a long time. Then they stopped and I heard first the woman, and a little later the man, burst through the door. They sounded frightened but sighed with relief to find each other safe. It was again my turn to shine as the woman took me from the shelf to make tea. They both drank deeply. It seemed to calm their nerves and I was proud to be of service. The man talked endlessly about “bombing.” Now I grasped the connection between the earth-shattering explosions and the word. There was no let-up in the bombing. The man and woman crawled under a table every time the bombing began.
It was weeks later that I was snatched from my post and unceremoniously dumped into a small cart. I joined bottles of water boiled by me, some canned food, and a tiny sack of rice. The man hurriedly wheeled the cart out of the house and the woman followed with a blanket, two pillows, and a large straw bag filled with clothes and shoes. It was a nightmare. Walls of fire soon surrounded our encampment as hundreds of people scurried about, their children screaming. Artillery shells fell, ripping people and their belongings asunder. The man and woman scurried away from the blanket that they had laid down and over which they had pitched a bed sheet for protection from the sun. I sat on the blanket in one corner.
I barely remember what happened next. I was tossed up in the air and struck hard by an object I could not identify. The blow sent me rolling as I crashed on the rubble-strewn ground. My lid was gone, leaving a rough edge where the hinge had been. My poor pear-shaped body had been bashed in, leaving a large, gaping and ragged hole. My graceful curved spout was sliced off and there were dozens of jagged holes throughout my body. I would never hold water again. Night fell and still the bombs kept coming. I was alone; the man and woman were gone. I was left with desperate screams and flying debris. Day brought no relief. The sun cast its hot rays over the desolate scene. I do not know how long I lay in my agony.
It rained early one morning, adding more misery. The bombs no longer fell and I lost track of time. Then one day I heard voices. I was filled with anticipation as I heard the woman speaking. “Not much left except shreds and shards,” she said. “I do not know why we came back here.” “Ah, there is where our shelter must have been,” the man said. “I recognize remnants of our blanket.” They were coming closer; I could sense they were just steps away. “Look,” the woman exclaimed, as she pointed down at me, “the teapot.” She leaned down and picked up what was left of me. “Look, it is ruined. Oh, the teapot—ruined.” The man reached out to hold me. Both cradled my ravaged body in their hands. “Over there,” the woman said, pointing, “the lid.” So my top had rolled farther after separating from my body. She went to pick it up. Please take me away with you, I pined. “To think what this teapot has gone through. I feel it has been like a trusted friend, always there when needed, but now gravely ill. We cannot leave the teapot here, at least it will be a souvenir of our past life,” said the man. “It survived, let us take it along.” Had I a set of hands I would have clasped them in a thanksgiving prayer.
For me, life was changed forever. The couple wrapped me in old rags and took me with them wherever they went. It was not until we arrived in the United States that my role became clear. When newly won friends visited the home, I was unwrapped—they now bundled me in something called plastic. Held by the handle I was put on display for all guests to see. Once they focused on my bashed and riven body, the man said: “This is what the battle of Manila was like.” He did not have to say more.
©2011, Frank Ephraim. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this we site are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.