Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Tuesday 16th April 2013

Well, Autumn's here now, for sure. Misty mornings to promise a fine day after saying goodnight to one that was or grey skies and rain! The neighbours across the road have a great seasonal indicator -- silver birch trees. How I love them. Tall and elegant, graceful and winsome.
Tonight, I am planning what to say for the FACE TV interview that I shall be doing tomorrow morning. It will be edited and screened on Thursday 18th. A 30 minuter trimmed down to 10. And if you haven't heard of it, FACE TV is a good arts channel with programmes on books, etc. That's why I shall be there. To talk about MEMORIES IN THE BONE  and why I wrote it and how it feels to be Chinese in NZ. But then I've always been Chinese everywhere else - UK.US, France, Australia, Japan, etc, etc. One just gets used to be the person on the outside looking in.

Anyway, let's get on with the next part of A MAID I KNEW.

   Here I must explain, in case of name confusion: Lao Yeh is the father of Linlai and Lau Kew is the future husband. The pronunciation is the same. In Chinese LAO is given like an honorary to someone older or old.

                                                            A Maid I Knew

One day, five years into their new life, a young man came calling. She and Lao Yeh were both tilling a row of bok choy when they heard his yell. “Ah Pak! Tai Tai!” he shouted in greeting as he made his way towards them. Even as he approached, she could see his nose wrinkling in disgust.
He stood a short distance away on the narrow walk-ledge, his hands on his hips as he introduced himself. “My name is Lau Kiew,” he announced, “I am a driver.”
They looked at each other, then at him, waiting for more to come. “I met your daughter Linlai at the market. Congratulations for having such a lovely daughter,” he beamed. Then he waited.
“What is that to you?” Lao Yeh shouted back as he squinted in the afternoon sun; his brown skin crinkling up around his eyes.
“I am in search of a wife,” Lau Kiew announced loudly.
“So?” Lao Yeh said, being deliberately obtuse. He did not like the arrogant young man – with his hands on his hips, his long, black pants flapping loose in the afternoon breeze and his khaki shirt hanging out, looking like he had never done a day’s honest labour in his life.
“Well, I want to marry your daughter,” Lau Kiew said in a very confident tone.
The old couple stared at him under the shade of their coolie hats, then at each other. Grandma muttered under her breath, shaking her head.
“She’s only fifteen. Too young for marriage,” Lao Yeh shouted back and they both resumed tilling the row.
Undeterred, Lau Kiew said, “And I am twenty six. I have a skill, I can drive a car. That is my job. I drive for officials in the municipality. I am a good provider. Fifteen is not too young, Ah Pak!”
But they continued to ignore him and he flounced away. That night after Linlai had cooked the dinner, Lao Yeh said, “This man, this Lau Kiew whom you met at the market, came to see us this afternoon. He said he wants to marry you?” At seeing his daughter’s surprise, he said, “You knew nothing about it?”
She blushed and looked down at her bowl. “He spoke to me, Pa, when he bought some garlic chives. I didn’t think any more about it.”
“Yet you told him where we live?” Grandma asked, incredulous at her young daughter’s naiveté. The girl nodded miserably. “Do you like him? Do you want to marry him?”
Linlai chewed her lower lip slowly. “He promised he would buy me a house in town and that I would not need to work so hard at the market ever again. He said he would provide me with a good life,” she mumbled.
“He talks too big, and too loud. We know nothing about him. No, not that one,” Grandma said vehemently. “I don’t buy that one.”
But Lau Kiew was persistent. He brought gifts each time he came a-calling. Soon their tiny shack was filled with bright coloured bits and bobs, oranges by fives, cans of pork from China and toothbrushes, toothpaste and bath soap.  He promised they would not be losing their daughter, but gaining a good son; a good provider with a skill not too many had in those days; that of driving a car. He promised many things; the best of which was that he would use the municipal car to drive her for visits often. Finally, finally, the old couple relented.

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