Sunday, 21 April 2013
I am guilty of the most heinous act -- that of forgetting my daughter's birthday. There she is in Portland, Oregon and here I am in New Zealand, an ocean apart. I only hope she was not lonely on that day. But in truth, I have a thing about birthdays. I'm no good at remembering them, nor giving parties for them. I have analysed long and hard and the whys and have come to the conclusion that it was because nothing was made of mine nor my siblings while we were growing up. We had birthdays that saw not a present, nor a party nor an outing to celebrate the day we came into the world. So I, (cannot speak of my siblings), have not learnt to treat birthdays as special. So I shall phone this precious person in Portland asap.
Meantime, after the drought come the storms. Airports around the country are filled with disgruntled travellers as flights are cancelled. Auckland, funny enough, is spared the worst. Most fortuitous, but we are damp all the same.
And to now continue A Maid I Knew. All the serialised stories on this blog will eventually go into a book of short stories on e book sites.
That was when Grandma knew that Lau Kiew was a habitual liar. His house, a small tin shed not much better than their own was outside of town, on the other side of Penang Hill, too far for them to visit on the infrequent buses of those days.
“I’m not permitted to use the car for private purposes, except on New Year’s Day. So be grateful, old ones, for this privilege.” He told them with a haughty air when they asked.
So they got to see their only daughter and the subsequent grandchildren one day a year, even though they lived only twelve miles apart. Linlai and the children were dropped off and picked up at the end of the day whilst Lau Kiew cruised around the island with his friends.
Linlai did not have to work hard at the market, but instead she was made to work equally hard in the sundry shop he created out of the front room of their small shack which was on the side of a busy road. It stood twenty feet back, fronted by a dirt yard on which he parked the official car when not in use. He had taken the wall off the front of the house and used tin sidings to close it. He stocked shelves with the same bits and bobs he had brought to her parents’ house when he was wooing them and with the fruit and vegetables he bought every other day at the fresh market. Her job was to tend the shop. Soon, in an effort to maximise profits, he made her grow vegetables in the small bit of dirt out at the back. She had exchanged the faecal stink of her parents’ vegetable farm for the continuing roar, vroom vroom and clink-clank of passing traffic and the unrelenting layers of dust that settled on everything around her. Then the babies came…
Lau Kiew went out every evening taking the cash earned that day from the tin box under the shop counter. One day, when the youngest was six months old, he bought an old blue Austin and announced to his startled family that he had quit his job at the Municipal Office and was now operating his own taxi service. “There’s more money that way, and it’s my own car to use anytime,” he told them, showing off the Austin.
Lau Kiew’s new venture made even less money. Frustrated, he took his rage out on his family. Grandma kept out of his way whenever he was home. She spent such times in the vegetable plot or took to her bed immediately after dinner with her prayer beads. The frightened children pretended sleep at the far end of the communal platform bed on which Lau Kiew, Linlai and the baby slept closer to the door. Bedbugs crept out between the slats at night to feast on them. Each morning they woke with tiny bloody sores all over their bodies and faces. But nobody complained. Bedbugs were part of their nocturnal slumbers as much as the mosquitoes and the heat.
Three months into his taxi business, Lau Kiew announced he was putting Lan out to service. “She must contribute towards the family,” he said, “she’s thirteen now.”
“But what can she do? She’s still a child,” Linlai protested before a thought occurred to her. “You are not going to sell her, are you? You are not going to sell her into prostitution? Not our daughter, not our first born!” She began wailing, clutching her last born to her bosom. The children in between started wailing too while Grandma and Lan looked at each other, petrified into silence.
“Shut up, all of you! I will not sell her but I will hire her out to a rich household as a servant. That way, she’s worth more to me.”