Monday, 1 April 2013
1st April 2013
I wonder how many people play pranks on the 1st of April these days? In my time, pranks were a part of my day..
I can remember this; running to my dad who was not yet up saying in a frantic voice Daddy, there's a lepper at the gate! He's covered in sores. Those were the days when it was probable ; that long ago in Singapore. He jumped up immediately, dashed to the door and ... well you can imagine who was the most popular kid in the house that day...NOT!
Or another time when I pretended to faint in class, which brought the teacher running. It was such a good act, she tried desperately to revive me, ordering the other kids to give me air, not to crowd in etc, etc, that it wasn't till my second wink that she realised the prank. Got a wee slap on the arm for that.
But I don't hear of any these days and I guess I'm too long in the tooth now to be bothered.
Well today, I am going to present the first part of A MAID I KNEW. This is set in Malaysia in the 1960's where I was born. It's a 5000 word short story, and I hope you enjoy this first part and will keep reading.
A Maid I knew
Lao Yeh died when his first grandchild, Lan, was eight years old. He had seen her eight times in her young life and had not had the opportunity to bond with her. His grandchildren were distant, unknown and his daughter had become a stranger -- unhappy, guilt ridden, regretful – fearful of her violent husband. Lao Yeh had seen the bruises all over her arms and face when they visited each New Year’s Day – sometimes still red-raw against skin of multi-coloured hues. Lao Yeh had died of hard work and a broken heart when he realised he had married his only surviving child to a liar and brute of a wife beater. But he had not thought of what he was committing his widow to -- perhaps he might have struggled harder to get by, to survive, for her sake. Within a week of his funeral, his cousin had come to collect his due. He was tired of waiting and wanted the farm sold to recoup his money. And Grandma had arrived at Linlai’s door, in her widow’s black pyjamas, holding a small cloth parcel tied up into a knot, which contained all her worldly goods -- and in shock at seeing her daughter’s ‘town’ house and the condition she and the children lived in.
Lau Kiew vented his quick temper on Linlai as soon as he walked into their shop and saw Grandma squatting on the floor in the tiny kitchen, washing dishes in a tin basin under the tap low on the wall. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he demanded with a resounding slap on her cheek.
“I didn’t know, oh heaven, please, I didn’t know Pa had passed away,” she sobbed, cringing away from the expectant second slap. Her eyes were already red; half-closed with weeping – her sorrow all the greater as he was already buried. She had not seen him since the last New Year visit eight months previously. Her mourning had weakened her, had upset the children and earned the sympathy of her few regular customers. But her husband’s only concern was an extra mouth to feed. He was furious that Grandma’s land had been retrieved by her husband’s cousin, that it had never belonged to them in the first place and now not his to sell.
“Where will she sleep?” he demanded.
At this point, Grandma, who was cowering in the doorway and had witnessed the cruelty on her daughter, volunteered in a meek voice, “I can put my pallet down by the back door.”
Lau Kiew looked at her with the expression of someone sighting a rodent and sniffed, “Well, you can make yourself useful – grow the vegetables and look after the kids. Earn your keep, old woman.” And he stormed out.
So she did. Soon the small patch of ground behind the shack grew even more varieties of vegetables, bringing more customers to the shop. She looked after the older children and cleaned their poor habitat. She and Linlai took turns cooking dinner, and at night, she would sweep out the entrance to the back door and unroll her slim kapok mattress to sleep, weeping for her husband and daughter and their bad joss in life. “Omnimotofo, omnimotofo,” she would whisper-chant as she rolled her prayer beads between her work-worn fingers till sleep overtook her.