The Catherine Lim Collection
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But now she only smiled at him and joined in the merriment of the other children. Make sure the idiotic one does not come to give trouble. Mooi Lan was the only one who had ever seen her weep over Michael; she would remain the only one. He merely stood there, grinned at the children while they stared back or giggled, and then he clapped his hands excitedly, as if he had discovered some wondrous thing. Mark shifted his chair, displeased. Mooi Lan got up and tried to direct the idiot back to his own table, the table of the inferior relatives. Then she returned, looked across several tables to Angela who was watching all this time, tense, and received a nod of approval.
And for the hundredth time she wondered: Why did the foolish old one add to her already heavy burden by adopting this idiot? She had four sons herself; why adopt an imbecile, known to be an imbecile from birth? How I wish my mother-in-law were like your mother, or even my own mother. The year-old celebrant looked wan and tired. Old Mother sitting beside him, stiff but smiling with a force of will each time somebody bent over to speak to her or put food in her bowl, looked sad and tired too. My poor husband, of course. And the old ones speak of him as their Hope, their Saviour, their Comfort in their old age.
She never stops talking about him. She keeps hoping for his return. Then all her troubles will be over, she says, as if right now, her other sons are ill-treating her. She keeps waiting for him to come back, and weeps over the letters he sends her. Do you know he gets somebody to write the letters in Chinese? Money from kind Eldest Brother every month, so why come back and work? The old fool is going to come to grief, I tell you. But I shall not bother about that. The signs of death were there, at the birthday dinner. The old man nearly slipped and fell on his way down the steps.
A bad sign, somebody said. And worse — he began speaking about the dead brother again. The sons and daughters-in-law visited regularly, sometimes with the grandchildren, usually on weekends; the illness dragged and became irksome to everybody. She said it was my white dress at the birthday dinner — white, colour of death, colour of mourning. Would you believe it, Mee Kin? Would you believe anything like it! I was in that off-white, pure silk suit that night — remember? But I should have known. Everything is always blamed on Aun-jee-lah.
He had the same symptoms. It is the same sickness. We women, we must be strong. She came away relieved. Moreover, his name was no good. The child was taken to the temple and renamed Ah Bock. Old Mother tied a piece of red string round his wrist: The illness left him. She remembered she posed this question to her husband before they were married — the only time she could have asked it, for Boon hated to answer such questions about his family and showed his reluctance by maintaining a stoical silence or picking up a newspaper or magazine at hand.
She had had three sons already by that time. The huge lolling head and those dreadful eyes — you told me about them yourself. So why on earth did she do a thing like that? Not adopt him in name only — that would have been all right — but bringing him up, spending money on him? Leaving your poor mother to take care of that imbecile while she plays mahjong all day or gossips about. How come all of you had an English education, and he got sent to a Chinese school? Poor thing, so different from the rest of you. Such a dreadful inferiority complex.
He remembered his mother telling him that on the day Wee Tiong was born, his father lost a lot of money at a gambling den. He was generally a quiet man who spoke little, so his rage was all the more terrible to behold. For a time a relative in a small village took care of Ah Tiong, and then later he was brought back, an ugly undersized child with the hatred always burning in his small eyes, but the father only beat him occasionally now, and the mother only when in an irritable mood.
Doting on an adopted idiot son and ill-treating the natural son. These fortune tellers and temple mediums deserve to be skinned alive. The lives of innocent little children are at their mercy. But he makes me laugh and he catches birds and grasshoppers for me and carries me on his shoulders. He is my favourite uncle. Michelle giggled, Mark was angry. He laughs and then the next moment he cries. Or it is because there is a devil in him.
Thus had the boy exorcised the devils of shame and resentment in himself. Old Mother grew vegetables in a small plot of land near their wooden house, to sell in the nearby market. She was stout and strong then, and could draw bucket after large bucket of water from the well. A large muddy pond sometimes provided the water for the growing vegetables. Wee Tiong led him to the muddy pond, ringed with tall tangled weeds, slippery at the edges. They stood near the edge. Can you see it? He was in the mud at the edge; the mud rose to his knees and he began to contort his features, slowly, in a piteous cry.
Wee Tiong had expected, not mere mud that only dirtied the legs, but deep, swirling muddy water that would have sucked in the idiot one, lolling head and all, in an instant. As the idiot one struggled to get out, he sank deeper into the mud. A feeling of panic seized Wee Tiong: The years had thrown a haze upon the incident. He should have gone back to stay with his real parents.
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It showed the curse had lifted. I yelled for help. Luckily, Uncle was nearby and pulled him out. This was not said, only thought, and in this Angela and Gek Choo were one. Both felt sorry for their old mother-in-law. Oh, the burden of it all. Michael trembled with agitation. The message was in the big timid eyes: But the idiot one was not capable of understanding thoughts. He only understood touch, and when Michael held his hand, he gurgled with glee and began chattering excitedly.
These temple mediums are cheats and swindlers. I dare not think. He laughs, then cries. He can cry nonstop. Only Old Mother, Ah Kum Soh and the idiot one were with him when he died, but within an hour, the two daughters-in-law, Angela and Gloria and the three sons were present. Gek Choo stayed away, being seven months pregnant. The best cheesecake in Singapore was to be found there. She wetted the bed, had to be fed intravenously, talked in delirium for hours. My sister-in-law lost twenty pounds. But the old man was rich.
He owned many properties. He could afford this kind of thing. My father-in-law is as poor as a churchmouse. Every cent has to be taken off Boon. The old ones do useful things like crochet and paint. They even have folk dancing. Mark told me he saw a TV programme about this when we were in Australia on holiday a year ago. The old man was really dreadful. The pillow was in the wrong position, the hot water was not hot enough, the medicine was not right. He gave her endless trouble.
Luckily she had Ah Kum Soh to help her. I had to load that mercenary creature with gifts of food and money to get her away from the mahjong table to help the old woman. What could we do? You know what Boon saw one day? For some reason the old man was very angry; his face was contorted with rage and he struggled to get hold of his walking stick — the one by his bed — to hit her with. One month of mourning blue. What am I going to do with all those new dresses in my wardrobe? And they are mainly pink and red, my favourite colours.
Only we adults need to wear black. Those horrid, shapeless, black samfoos! And there will be no end of malicious gossip from Chinaman and his wife. Old Mother was weeping copiously and then she went and stood by the bier and began a strange mournful sing-song. Poor Gloria, thought Angela. Angela felt sorry for her.
She knew she had to do something. She recollected his ecstatic joy at being given some money once. She tried gently to lead him away; he resisted, she winced. A huge, ugly, brutish creature — and not even a real son. He went on howling; each sob from Old Mother drew a loud wail from him. Get into my car now. She put through a quick telephone call to the capable, reliable Mooi Lan. I simply have to get him out of the way here. He wants to play with Michael. But keep an eye. Keep them separately occupied if you can.
Load him with plenty of food. Just keep him occupied. She returned, tired and sad, smack into one of those hateful money discussions among the brothers. Chinaman had a calculator — a calculator in a house of death! They were discussing the funeral preparations and the cost. Old Mother was too distraught to have a part. She left it to the three sons. Click, click, click went the tiny pocket calculator. Chinaman — Uncle Abacus — Uncle Calculator was working out the costs, to be shared by the three brothers.
Request no wreaths or scrolls. Cash donations to be used to reduce expenditure. The call of Friday poker, Sunday golf, was as strong as ever; he had missed them in the last two or three months. It was incredible — the sheer macabreness of it all. Cannot you sons and daughters do even this for your old dead father? And the old one then went and stood beside the corpse and began again the plaintive dirge. It could have been an early pregnancy, but more likely the poor girl had reached the end of her endurance.
Angela envied Gek Choo, safe at home, her pregnancy a timely excuse to escape the madness. It came, hoisted by six men, massive curved bridges of solid planed wood. The Western one was a fraction of the cost. Let Wee Boon or Wee Nam both manage from now onwards. Old Mother wanted the priests from the temple to perform the various rites. Do you know how much they are charging? Who would know what might happen?
He longed for a son. Would the anger of his dead father be visited upon him, bringing him the punishment of yet another girl-child, or worse, a dead child? There were forces at work that Wee Tiong believed in; he could not afford, at such a time, to unleash these forces. He apologised to his mother. She was so tired, so tired of the whole thing. Mee Kin had remarked about the black rings round her eyes.
But she knew the tears were not for the old man alone. That heartless son, she thought bitterly, suddenly feeling very sorry for her old mother-in-law. First it was some stupid examination, and then some accident that put him in hospital. He fools his old mother right and left. Boon bears almost the entire cost of the funeral, but the old one talks only of her Ah Siong, her precious one.
She longs for him to come back, so that she can stay with him, as if all her other sons are illtreating her. He was sure to be impatient with her, as he had been impatient many times in the past when the matter cropped up. Now that the old man was dead, who would Old Mother move to live with? Angela did not want to ask the question; she dreaded the answer, the possible consequences. He said nothing, and he looked at her, not with the look of irascibility as in the last weeks before his death, but with sadness.
Tight-lipped, as if opening your mouth would mean gold falling out for others to pick up. Old Mother heard a sigh, as from a burdened heart. And it was at this point that the old man began to weep silently. In life, she had never touched his shoulder, his arm, to comfort.
The Almighty God in Heaven looks after the old. Now that you are in Heaven, you will also take care of me and see that I come to no harm. The words came very faintly, with great effort: He did not disappear in a puff of smoke or haze; he simply walked away. Old Mother saw him close the door behind him. She went to the window to watch him, and saw him walk away in the dimness of the moonlight. It was strange — this place she was in. The old man was there, lying on the bed. He was dead already — or was he? She thought she heard a rattle from his throat, a kind of rasping sound, as she heard at the birthday dinner.
She walked up, slowly, deferentially, and he opened his eyes and looked at her. A cup of hot water? He was carrying Michael on his shoulders; he began to prance around the room and the boy laughed with joy. Keep knocking, with your knuckles, like this. That means he will die soon. The massive, solid curved surfaces resounded with knocks. They heard the moans of labour inside, soft low moans. Wee Tiong closed his eyes tight, pressed his hands against his ears. He was crying, and the tears collected inside his glasses, making him perceive things only dimly. He chased her round the garden with his walking stick.
What sort of daughter-in-law are you? Gloria ran and hid behind a bush. It was no use. He caught up with her, and then she eluded his grasp and ran into a building, an old Chinese temple with many carved pillars and priests in yellow robes walking about and chanting. She gripped it, to protect her from the evil. It was a large wooden house and was presentable if kept clean and tidy.
But the old ones — both of them — had been extremely untidy: The house was no tidier now. The cups and jars were in pretty blue-and-white porcelain. Where had her mother-in-law got them from? There was a great deal of pottery and old furniture that the old one had been given by her mother who must have got them from her own mother. Some of them must be at least a hundred years old.
Angela remembered a dark musty room in which they lay untended, covered by gunny sacks and masses of cobwebs. Once when the children were small and on a visit to the grandparents, they had gone into the room to play and had run out screaming, having disturbed an enormous nest of cockroaches which ran with them out of the room. You must build up your strength again.
She described, in detail, how Mooi Lan had prepared them, how the capable servant girl had gone to market specially early to get the really fresh prawns she had reserved the day before, for the prawn seller would not wait beyond a certain time, so popular were his prawns.
It had nothing to do with education. She already knew some English words, she got along superbly with the younger generation, even the grandchildren. She had, long ago, abandoned the solemn drabness of the bun of hair at the back of the head for a simple, neat shingled style that combined nicely the decorum of age and the need to keep up with the times. A shingled style for Old Mother?
She could never suggest it. The old one would recoil in horror. Then — what a relief! She herself had gone on the very day itself. The baby was unwell. Born prematurely, he already awaited an operation that the doctors wanted to perform to correct an intestinal abnormality. Angela watched, and she was back in a minute with a small red packet, the gift money inside. It made her uneasy to receive gifts of money from her old mother-in-law for herself or for her children.
The visit was at an end. I can collect it another day. And get Ah Kum Soh to wash it. Thank God for that — the less she saw of him, the better. You go on resting. Her eyes picked out desolate shapes of abandoned old chairs, jars, pots, and in a corner, a massive, carved four-poster bed, the ferocity of the carven dragons or serpents or whatever on the posts softened by the desolate masses of cobwebs.
What a creepy room, she thought and hurried past, not wanting to look again upon the scene of decay and death. Her eyes fell on the blue-andwhite altar cups and jars again; the photograph of the old man with the small piercing eyes and stiff wispy beard jutting out on his chin seemed to compel her attention. She looked up, met the eyes and looked away.
She left the house hurriedly, glad to be out in the bright sunshine again and returned to her shining Toyota Corolla. The visit to Gek Choo, one more visit, and I shall have done a lot for today, thought Angela as she drove off. She panted, wiped off the perspiration from the forehead, looked into the little mirror in her powder compact to make sure her make-up was all right and resumed her climb up.
Chinaman calculated his every move well. The reason was plain: The new house was being built: They sat down for many hours discussing the special features, especially the separate wing for the old in-laws, should the need arise. I will get them a servant to cook for them and keep the place clean, but it will be quite separate from the main house, see?
The old father-in-law had died, and the old mother-in-law preferred to remain where she was. Anyway, even Ah Kum Soh had her uses. And it was yet another malady of her mother-in-law, in her old age, to dote on the idiot foster-son. What a horror — a born imbecile — and Angela wondered, with a thrill of shocked fascination — if the new son of the black sheep of the family would also become an imbecile? The premature birth, and now the operations that had to be performed.
The baby was home from the hospital already, but Gek Choo said, would have to be taken back for regular checkups. She spoke quietly, matter-of-factly, after having thanked Angela for the gifts for the baby and her four little girls. The triumph of having the long yearned-for son at last must have been considerably diminished for Chinaman and his wife.
But right now, Angela was all genuine concern as she held the pitiful little thing in her arms and suggested that if they had any problems with the doctors at the hospital, they could let Boon know, for he knew the top brass there.
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Gek Choo thanked her again in her matter-of-fact, tight-lipped way and ensured her that everything was going on satisfactorily. She looked wan and tired; Angela took furtive looks around her and saw that the place was in a mess. Some of the hooks had come off one window curtain; it sagged horribly on one side. There were cups and glasses unwashed; the youngest girl was wearing a dress with a torn sleeve. She knew Gek Choo had a Malay washerwoman who came in three times a week to wash the clothes and do the cleaning up. But what would happen once the maternity leave was over and someone had to take care of the baby?
Her mother may know a lot of people. She lives in the tiny ulu village in Johore Bahru and there are bound to be many women there looking for work. Thank you very much for your kind offer. Gek Choo was repulsive, but the four little girls charmed her. They were very pretty little girls with very lovely hair and complexions. The third was in kindergarten; she was the prettiest, with enormous eyes and long lashes, and Angela liked her best of all.
The exuberance of the little girls as they crowded around Angela and their endless chatter caused even Gek Choo to relax, smile and request the youngest one to sing a song for Auntie Angela. Chwee Hwa was three years old, but she stood straight and tall in front of Angela and with adult solemnity, sang a song in Mandarin.
She hugged the little girl and requested another song. How I wish my Michelle were as pretty, she thought. If only he were as open and spontaneous as these cute little girls! How strange that Chinaman and Chinawoman should have children like these! She left in high spirits. Poor little things, thought Angela. So pretty and living in such a squalid environment. She put a piece of perfumed tissue paper to her nose and mouth and again was nearly knocked down by a group of noisy, unkempt children chasing a cat with tin cans and stones. Poor baby, she thought.
To wait for a son for 10 years and then have this weakling. Again, the dreadful possibility occurred to her, but she dismissed it. The last visit, and more gifts. Gloria and Wee Nam stayed with her, in her small, two-bedroom terrace house. Gloria was in; she was listening to the radio when Angela came in. She immediately turned it off and rose deferentially, a very young-looking woman, looking no more than a teenager with her hair in two bunches and wearing T-shirt and shorts.
Angela had brought her a box of barbecued pork and a packet of grapes. She was nervously profuse in her thanks. Poor girl, thought Angela. If her husband were more responsible and less a rolling stone, she could afford dresses like this. She went into the bedroom and brought out some colour snapshots of her two sisters, one in Australia and the other in Canada. The one in Australia was photographed against an apple tree, holding an apple hanging from a branch, the one in Canada amidst a riot of summer blooms.
My friends say you can open a restaurant or a curio shop or something like that. Wee Nam owes Boon a lot of money, but we understand, we both understand. She already saw the younger brother running to the elder, begging, and the elder brother writing out a cheque and surreptitiously passing it to him. You be brave and take care of your health. What else can you do? On my part, I shall advise Wee Nam to be more stable and to stick to his job.
I think he will listen to me if I catch hold of him and give him a good talk one of these days. Mooi Lan makes very good poh piah. Three visits today, each more satisfactory than the last, thought Angela with satisfaction, as she drove home. She had gone out of her way to bring gifts and cheer to three pitiful women.
Instead, Angela went to the store room and brought out a big tin of biscuits, four tins of condensed milk, a tin of canned soup and a handful of sweets for the little boy. The woman received the presents with effusive thanks and hurried away. Angela was happy — she, dispenser of good things, bringer of relief. She was lying on the plank bed; on her other side was Wee Nam, sound asleep.
His mother slipped a red packet containing gift money into the pocket of his pyjama top. The rest of the day he took full advantage of his status as birthday celebrant to shout lustily at his brothers and stamp on their feet. There was half a bowl left, and Old Mother was saving it for the foster-son.
The idiot one began to whimper; Ah Siong who happened to be coming in, heard him. That night, before he went to sleep, he demanded that his mother tell him a story. She began to tell him the story of the wicked young man who passed shit into the rice bowl of a poor old blind man and was punished by being struck blind himself. She covered him, tenderly, with the patchwork blanket she had made for him when he was a baby, for she was afraid he would catch cold. As the cameras popped, Angela and Boon walked up to kiss their son, their pride, on each cheek.
The boy looked down self-consciously, blushing, but there was no doubt he relished being the focus of attention in the large crowded room, carpeted and chandeliered, in the Hotel Grande. He wore a long-sleeved, light pink shirt with a black bow and grey tailored pants.
I will probably select an excerpt from Shakespeare. No more birthdays like this. Angela was busy supervising, moving about adroitly, checking on the hotel attendants recruited to help at this function, discussing some minor last-minute changes of plan with the hotel manager, greeting guests, acknowledging good wishes, patting the younger children on the heads and cheeks, exhorting everybody to eat and have a good time. Angela pointed her out to her friends, remarking on her precocity.
She looked now and then in the direction of Michael; she had instructed Mooi Lan to be near Michael and keep an eye on him. The boy appeared to be enjoying himself, she was glad to see. She saw him smiling at the antics of another boy and was relieved. Michelle she had no worries about. Mark — Mark was her pride and joy. She saw him talking with the ease of self-assurance to his teachers and friends. She wished Minister could come; he had said he might be able to. The children were hustled into another room for the magic show. Mark had indicated, in the course of planning the celebrations, that he did not want anything childish.
The magician for his birthday party was different. He was professional and almost as good as the magicians Mark had seen in some TV shows. It was simply breath-taking. The magician levitated the female assistant amidst gasps, even from the adults. She rose three metres in the air, was then coaxed down slowly until she again rested, completely still, on the black-draped bed.
The applause was deafening. Mooi Lan is keeping an eye on him. Her pink silk suit remained uncrumpled, immaculate. She moved to the tables where the adults were gathered, making sure everybody was eating well. She saw he was not his usual abrasive self. She could pity him. That son of his was causing him a lot of heartache. I think they may be very interesting specimens, worth looking at and restoring if necessary.
Angela was glad she had more taste. Some of the things may be worth saving. It was practically rotting away, but she managed to save it and now it has pride of place in her house! That will mean more work for me, you know — helping the boy, being his audience as he practises. She was never happier. There was a ripple of excitement as heads turned to look at Minister, appropriately dressed in batik shirt and casual pants. Boon introduced some friends to him; they talked affably, bursting into loud laughter now and then. She went up to greet him smiling amiably and self-consciously, aware of the looks in her direction and then she called the birthday celebrant and introduced him to Minister himself.
Well, good luck, son. My son, my son, glowed Angela. She looked at her husband and saw him looking very proudly at Mark. She was proud of Boon too; she would be even prouder when he was Member of Parliament. The photographer with Joyce was busy taking pictures. Mooi Lan moved up adroitly, discreetly, to whisper that Michael was feeling unwell; he was threatening to throw up and was likely to get into a tantrum. She was perplexed for a moment, not wanting to draw unnecessary attention by going up to him.
Michael looked pale and weak. He returned an hour later and continued to move around among the guests in high spirits. Is he all right? Mooi Lan put him to sleep in our room. The mattress in his room was being aired. I was so worried. You worry too much about him.
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She looked at Mark who was animatedly talking to his principal. She did not want to think of Michael any more. Angela was tired and dispirited. What are the characteristics of living things? Michael still said nothing. His eyes remained lowered. Then it will be very easy for you to go through the other points. The important PSLE examinations were fast approaching. Was this second son going to do so badly, he would be streamed with kids who would be given an extra grace period of two years to prepare for the G. Oh, I shall die of shame, Angela agonised. I shall die of shame if a son of mine ends up with slow-learners, kids from the kampungs.
We shall be so proud of you. Mark did so well in his PSLE. And you can, Mikey darling. He wrote well and could get high marks if he wanted to. But he chose to remain stubborn. The deep distress Angela suffered when his class teacher called to inform her that Michael would have to be moved to the B class, was unspeakable. The teacher made the supreme mistake of saying that Michael was slow. He can write well — as you yourself once told me. His teacher was so encouraging, so inspiring. Angela had been tempted to put the boy in another school.
But would it be of any use?
There was no guarantee that the teachers in the other school would not prove equally inept. Or a holiday in Disneyland? Remember Adrian and Sulin went there with their Mummy and Daddy last year? Hey, what do you say to Disneyland? And now Angela could bear it no longer. There are so many things to revise, and you act like a naughty, unco-operative boy. Now what do you say to this, Michael? His eyes were now level with hers. He looked straight into her eyes, unblinking, the large tears formed and coursed down his cheeks, but he made no effort to wipe them.
His hands gripped the sides of his chair, knuckles jutting, white. He was not stupid, that was certain. In fact, you shame me, do you know that? He never plays the fool. He always listens to Mummy. She obeys her coach and practises hard in her swimming. She will be a national champion one day, her coach says. You prefer to be stubborn and disobedient and sullen.
How come Michael is like that? You shame your Mummy. Mooi Lan now came in, noiselessly, and gently eased him out of his chair. She took him to his bathroom, laid out his pyjamas for him. She made him a glass of hot Ovaltine and led him to his bed. If only Boon had time to help her in her work, she thought. But her anger was not directed against him. He was busy enough with his community work and the work he was doing for Minister.
I shall have to manage. I shall have to put things right. But look at it now. Dot knows the right place to send these things to be restored. Why do you let that thing go to waste? And there may be other items worth saving. I told you that long ago. This is the trouble with in-laws like these. Do you know, I give all the time!
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She had it gift-wrapped. The boy was in his room when she returned, the door as usual locked. The boy took the book with limp hands. He put it on his bed and unwrapped it, dispiritedly. She left him, still sitting on his bed, his hands limp by his side. He may not do his homework or pay attention in class, but if he wants to, he can pass the tests.
He will pass his PSLE. He once surprised me by getting almost full marks for his Science test.
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The pond is full of clear water. I thought it was muddy and dangerous with devils hiding at the edges to push people in. The water was cool. It rose to their waists, and gave them a sense of exhilaration with its coolness and sparkle. Michael and Uncle Bock laughed in pure happiness. And then they were on a tree, a big tree with huge, strong branches that spread far and made beautiful seats in the singing wind and leaves. Grandma says you can only hear the bird, not see it.
Only very special people can see it. And that means good luck coming to them. I can see the bird! We have seen the bird that calls Tee-tee tah-loh! He ran to them, and they each held his hand and lifted him off the ground.
He moved along with his feet tucked up under him, laughing: Who would think Grandma could be so strong as to do this with him? His daddy and Uncle Wee Nam had done that once with him when he was a very small boy; he remembered. They reached a small wooden house at the bottom of the garden. Come into my house! The words were uttered with effort, painfully. Come again another time. His heart was beating faster. Something had gone wrong. He wants to see Michael. With a tremendous tug of will, Michael opened his eyes and blinked uncertainly in the afternoon light streaming into his bedroom.
Then there was the banging of the door. Luckily you saw him, Mooi Lan. Oh, God, why do things like that happen to me? Mooi Lan, I want you to keep a very close eye on the door from now onwards. She needs proper nourishment now. Remember the little green pills in the plastic pack. I purposely asked my husband to bring them back for you. How many children do you have now? Your husband wants his pleasure every night. So you must help yourself. After the birth of this baby, Minah, will you let me take you to hospital for an operation?
A simple operation that will mean no more babies? Look at me, Minah. So that I can take good care of them. Give them a good education. Bring them up properly. Look at Mooi Lan here. When she gets married, she will have only two children. But compassion — compassion was her overriding weakness, Angela told her friends. She loaded the miserable woman with food — condensed milk, biscuits, fresh eggs. Sharifah was the eldest girl, aged A pretty, well-formed girl.
A part-time maid-servant for two households. Whatever do you mean? Oh, my God, she thought. Be vigilant, let me know. She felt sick at heart. Her husband beats her, and she gets pregnant every year. But what can we do for them? These low-class labourers are real animals, brutes who get drunk, beat up their wives and then sleep with them.
She giggled a little. It was months away, but the teacher, a very conscientious and committed man who also happened to be very fond of Mark, felt that it was never too early to prepare for a competition that would receive extensive coverage in the press and on television and that would be graced by the presence of the Minister of Education himself. Mark was the star student, the school pinned its hopes on him, and he had never disappointed the school yet in the myriad inter-school oratorical and essay-writing competitions carried on throughout the year.
The school grounds being used for the band practices that particular Saturday, Angela suggested that Mark invite his teacher home for the discussions, to be followed by lunch. She consulted Mark again, and again the boy made no objection. She would deliver the food and still be in time to take Michelle for her practice at the Century Swimming Club.
He was less sullen of late, but he still refused to come out of his room to meet visitors. He had reluctantly shown his mother the monthly test-sheets for her to sign. Then Daddy and Mummy will be so happy. The teacher came with armfuls of Shakespeare texts. While he sat with Mark in the sitting room, discussing the choice of a speech for the great event, Angela stayed in the piano room, wanting to listen in, but not wishing to displease her son by her presence.
She was all excitement. He was also planning for Mark to read a poem in Chinese, on the same theme, following a speech from Shakespeare. You will stand head and shoulders above the rest of the contestants with a speech from Shakespeare, for they will be mouthing silly little poems from Tennyson or some obscure poet. The teacher was for King Lear. The theme is relevant. So it will be most relevant. It had been bludgeoned to death by schoolboy orators; Mark wanted something far more challenging.
It may well be regarded as the climax of the play. King Lear cries out to the gods to punish his daughters for their wickedness. He curses them with barrenness, so that they will never have children to love them, since they have so shamefully treated him.
But if they succeed in bearing children, these children will grow up to hurt them, in the same way as they have hurt their poor old father. Hear, Nature, hear; dear goddess, hear; Suspend thy purpose if thou didst intend To make this creature fruitful. Into her womb convey sterility, Dry up in her the organs of increase, And from her derogate body never spring A babe to honor her. If she must teem, Create her child of spleen, that it may live And be a thwart disnatured torment to her.
But you can, Mark. With a little bit of coaching, you can manage. Remember, the judges include University professors who are probably going to yawn at the namby-pamby that I know some of the contestants have chosen — snowy clouds and daffodils and waves breaking over rocks, and all that stuff. I know Miss de Silva from the Convent has chosen a silly poem from Tennyson for one of her students. In , she received her Ph. D in applied linguistics from the National University of Singapore.
She also worked as a teacher and later as project director with the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore and as a specialist lecturer with the Regional English Language Centre, teaching sociolinguistics and literature. In , she left her professional career to become a full-time writer. She received an honorary doctorate in literature from Murdoch University. Lim published her first short story collection called Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore in The short story collection was the first Singapore book to be tested for the Cambridge International Examinations in and Stories in Celebration from , but two years earlier she published The Shadow of a Shadow of a Dream , which found Lim experimenting with new techniques and extending her subject range.
Her first novel, The Serpent's Tooth , was published in The major theme in her stories is the role of women in traditional Chinese society and culture. In , Lim worked with the now-defunct web portal Lycos Asia to write an e-novella called Leap of Love. It was sold online at 19 cents a chapter before it was published by Horizon Books in In , Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore as one of 10 classic Singapore books.
Little Ironies spotlights ordinary people at their best and worst, such as 'The Taximan's Story', in which a cab driver is happy to make money off sex workers while looking down on them. A Great Affective Divide. In his memoirs, Lee is quoted as saying:. Supposing Catherine Lim was writing about me and not the prime minister.
She would not dare, right? Because my posture, my response has been such that nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul-de-sac. There is no other way you can govern in a Chinese society. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article has multiple issues.