Dad liked her. Alexandra was a normal healthy Chinese British girl who spoke exactly like a Briton. Sometimes seeing the both of them together I always felt that my Dad would prefer her as his daughter. I was always jealous of Alexandra even though she was Uncle Seow’s daughter. My Dad has this cultural gap with me and he often treated me like some strange creature. That was natural of him. Whenever I thought and spoke in Chinese I shut my parents out of my world.
I love my parents. There was nothing wrong with my parents. All children love their parents and people in general love their parents. And they loved their siblings too. However, I have no siblings to love. In deciding whether to have another child I remembered that my father asked me for my consent. I recalled one afternoon at the St. Thomas Walk house by the bay window my Dad and my mother asked me what I thought of having another sister or brother. And I said, “No problem, so long as you leave me all of your money to me as inheritance.” This answer I learnt from Por Por - hold on to the money.
Later on, I realized that having a sibling was a good thing after all. A brother or sister can dance with you, she could be your alibi and he could be your confidant. This was what I missed most in life. However, if he failed to be your best friend he might turn out to be your best enemy. I was not angry with my parents for not producing a sibling for me. These presents came from heaven, you could only ask God for them. In subsequent years my Dad tried to find siblings for me but failed miserably. Everyone had his own family, and everyone loved their own parents. But my Dad later married another woman by the name of Maybelline, in the vain hope that she could become my surrogate sister. My mother of course agreed. Anything that was good for myself and my Dad she would agree. She was all self-sacrifice.
Little did we know that Maybelline had her own agenda. She wanted her own family with my father. Her plan was to out manoeuvre my mother and myself thus becoming the sole subject of my father’s affection. “This cannot do,” my father said to himself.
One day in the middle of a quarrel he saw her holding a fish in her hand and she killed the fish squeezing it tight in her palm.
“Such a wicked woman,” from then on, he refused to cohabit with her.
“What would make of my child if she has one?” I think that created a lot of tension between my Dad and herself.
Eventually they stopped talking to each other instead using the fridge door as a memo pad. They sent messages to each other by pasting post-me-pads under magnets on the fridge. This practice was related to Thatcher the office manager who worked for my Dad in his law film.
Throughout my Dad’s life there were not more than one woman who wanted to marry him, and I was sure there will still be some more. My Dad was fun with other people but not with my mother, for reasons best known to themselves, he hated my mother. I tried to dig into the past to determine why and I put it down to the fact that my mother was the one who suggested marriage.
She had a scholarship to go abroad but being reluctant to go too far she saw that getting married to my Dad was a better way out. Marriage had not occurred to my Dad then. To him he had other options, in particular a Queen’s scholar who specially flew herself back from London when she heard that he was getting married. At the material time he also had one other very attractive a Malay girlfriend.
My mother loved my Dad. Sometimes even more so towards me.
But of course, I couldn’t ask my Dad to produce Maybelline now. According to my mother, since my father moved into Gallop with my mother he has stopped seeing her.
Sometime in 1988 on my parents’ wedding anniversary they started sharing a house together. It was not strange to me. All of the years my father created the impression that they were living under one roof, so the fact that they were now physically living in the same house did not disturb me at all. Nobody was disturbed by this. We lived happily until 1994 when my daughter is born.
Throughout marriage I was unhappy. Daily I complained to my mother that I was married. In reality I was not prepared for marriage at all. Now that my daughter is born thus sealing my relationship with Zaird as man and wife my complaints became more bitter. No, Zaird and I were not married in church. I told you we had only twenty-four guests at the wedding dinner.
My mother drove a Mercedes Benz with the number plate S7049U. I could remember the car number so well as that car picked me up daily from school and to tuition.
In my mind women do not work after marriage. When I had made plans to marry Zaird I shredded all correspondences with my earlier boyfriends including a piece of score and birthday cards issued by my best friend’s brother. I wanted to burn the bridges. But I did not succeed as I never crossed the bridge over to the other side. I was always looking for someone else. And I missed my classmates at the Law Faculty.
It was not easy to get married. I had to buy wedding clothes and I had to prepare for the wedding dinner. The guest list was short with an attendance of only twenty-four people including the bride and groom. By that time, I had already severed all ties with Upstairs so much so that not even Por Por was informed of the wedding.
I only had one side of the relatives – the green side. I loved them more for after my Dad came back he continued with the habit of sending me to 21 Jalan Pari Kikis for retreat. The exercise began from Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening. I would be moved with tears whenever my Dad came with his white car to fetch me home. In that episode the car wasn’t the Mercedes Benz.
Jalan Pari Kikis was in the East Coast and whenever my Dad drove me home from Uncle W’s house I would fall asleep in his car at the back seat. I still called it Uncle W’s house even though shortly later he and Aunty P were divorced. In 1977 I stopped talking to Cousin Kenko my first cousin who decided to call himself by his Christian name.
That was adolescence. Children do act in a strange way. Maybe I was doing a transfer of affection for that was the time I started to know Andy Aw who composed a music score for me. That score was hidden inside my drawer locked up until I married.
I had only one other boyfriend in Hwa Chong Junior College after I left Nanyang Girls’ High School. In Nanyang there were no boys so joining Hwa Chong Junior College was a cultural shock, as I had no male siblings. Boys immediately impressed me. My mind was still operating in Mandarin.
Which meant that the moment you engaged me, you were talking to a PC with Chinese settings and Chinese commands. My mind thought in English from time to time, like you were typing English in a Chinese software. I was trying to substitute the new boys with my cousin.
I had two other cousins from my Dad’s side.
Por Por “Mooncake” always told me, “you must hold the money tight,” but I did not know what she was talking about. The message to me was that money was important, apart from good health and God. But the message did not register with me. I didn’t keep money; I liked to buy things for other people – “Friends are flowers in the garden of life.” Money could not buy love, neither could it buy you friendship, but a gift to your friend was one of the ways to say that you liked him.
I hardly had friends. I was told to study all the time, and indeed I studied all the time. “She is studying,” became a sacred activity so that the moment my father was home I rushed into my room and sat in front of my desk. Only God knew if I were absorbing the text on the school books laid in front of me.
Most of the time I was reading Qiong Yeow’s novels, by now I have had all of them wrapped up. My mother bought the other books in English when she went with me to MPH bookstore. She could buy English books for me whereas Chinese books only I could.
My father said that I brought myself up.
He was right. I sourced for my own reading material and I sourced for my own friends. I was perhaps the only student whose parents could not speak Chinese in the entire school of Nanyang. And I was very proud of the fact. But I was not a proud person. I liked particularly friends who came from lower-income families, as there were more people in that group and they are more unassuming. When you have to worry about whether your parents can afford to pay for your next meal you tended to ignore a remark made in gest and not meant to hurt. In any case I was in the same situation. My grandparents were going to evict us.
Finally, the law came into effect and Number 3, together with 3A and 3B and the entire block of flats were declared to be a pre-war house and so people living in that house could continue to enjoy paying a nominal rent without being evicted. At the time I was in secondary two. My parents wanted to transfer me to an English medium school.
By now you must have realized that I was a kid with a penchant for being alone. But I was not a sickly child. Apart from the fish bone incident I didn’t recall Por Por having to bring me to see a doctor. But when I came downstairs I started to fall ill easily. I suffered from a chronic condition called hay fever. Whenever I detected pollen in the air, my nose started to run. It ran also when there was a change in temperature. I am only free of a running nose when I was in cold dry climate with low humidity.