Where do we draw the line?

Indulgence noun; a grant by the Pope of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins after absolution. Oops, wrong book!

Funny that I should come across that definition of this word, when even before knowing it had such meaning, I had already associated this word with guilty pleasures, “sinful” activities, superfluous freedom, advertisements on TV featuring a skinny girl gorging herself on a gallon of ice cream or a whole box of chocolate, expensive haircuts and hair gel, frequent visits to the spa, and a daily cup of Starbucks coffee. I think that’s a better and more specific definition than what Webster came up with, which is “the action or fact of indulging, the state or attitude of being indulgent or tolerant, a thing that is indulged in; a luxury”. How unimaginative is that?!

Not so long ago I was the type who when struck by a sudden craving, would go to a great extent until I am satisfied. If I suddenly felt like devouring a ridiculously large slice of New York’s Finest pizza paired with Charlie Chan Chicken pasta and a half-pint pistachios ice cream, I would do so on that cozy corner of my favorite pizza joint (right, you should know where this is), even if it meant slashing off an equally large slice from the budget.

Mind you, I’m not talking about just food. I’m just not very good at dealing with what if’s and shoulda woulda coulda’s, so I did almost everything by impulse. I always thought “What if I died tonight?” It would be a shame leaving this world without having satisfied a simple wish. I believed that I can do as I please as long as it doesn’t put someone else’s welfare on the line. But it wasn’t enough having sudden death as an excuse, especially when with every sip of my much loved cup of caramel or toffee nut latte (always generously sprinkled with cinnamon powder), I think about the people who matter back home, who might not even have the luxury of a decent meal.

(These establishments should cut me a cheque, by the way, for the ads I’m making for them.)

Unsurprisingly, I’ll always come up with other “excuses”. I can always tell myself that I’ve really been working so hard and that I deserve a reward. Or the matter-of-factness that I am not disregarding my responsibility and obligation to the people I love, even if I allowed myself to enjoy the pleasure of a nice cushioned seat, elegantly set table, the sound of genuine silver cutlery coming in contact with fine china, a good view, and the explosion of exotic spices on my taste buds as I consume a foreign-sounding cuisine with as much refined bearing as I can. It also helps that I have a friend who shares the same sense of excitement for new things with me.  Just when I’ve decided to pass up on the opportunity for a purchase, he comes to the rescue with one of the many things he’s good at – a winning sales talk. He’s bound to win me over especially on the electronics and gadgets department.

Yet so far, I haven’t bought anything worth calling an indulgence for the past ten months that I’ve been here. My birthday came and went, and I managed to steer clear of any extravagance. I’ve also not been naughty, and instead been very nice before, during and after Christmas but I guess Santa doesn’t visit this part of the world. My attempt to celebrate the New Year didn’t turn out so well, either. I’ve always wanted to party so I could sweat of the stress of trying to have a life on this place where most of the things I want would be deemed immoral (boys and girls socializing or even seen together, cinemas, public gathering), fattening (pork-based dishes), or illegal (beer or any cocktail drink with a hint of alcohol); but unlike the All Saints, I don’t know where it’s at when I wanna have a good time.

And so this goes to you; my beloved Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters, I hope you wouldn’t take it against me if I would buy myself that signature jacket I’ve been eyeing for since they displayed it on that window five weeks ago. Believe me, I’ve been waiting for it to go on sale so that I wouldn’t feel so much guilt from shelling off (bleep) hundred ninety-nine Saudi Riyals just so I could show it off to my officemates… err, protect myself from the blistering cold, I mean. But I think the store is mocking me, knowing how much I’ve been itching to get my hands on it, they just wouldn’t budge, feeling confident that in the end I was going to give in. And you know there’s this famous steak restaurant that had a little accident with their gas tanks and had the whole kitchen on fire about a month ago… they’ve renovated and are having a grand re-launch. So that means fine dining at rock-bottom prices. It’s kind of their way of saying “If our kitchen blows up on you, at least you didn’t pay that much, right?” Conveniently, right next to that restaurant is the boutique where I bought your wristwatches; I would very much like to have one for my own. And a pair of new shoes to match, courtesy of that shop coincidentally beside it.

If it’s any consolation, I’m sure that every time I wear the jacket, it’ll be like all of you hugging me tight and keeping me warm; every bite of that medium rare steak will be a tribute to other sorts of hunger only you can feed; every second, minute and hour on that watch tantamount to how much I miss you; and every step I will make with those new pair of leather-wear on my feet bringing me closer to my yearly vacation. How’s that for appeasement?

I sure hope the Pope can grant me a cutback on my punishment for these worldly desires. Besides, by now I’ve already learned the art of being able to indulge, without the splurge. Makes sense to me.

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