Stories That Breathe

A Singapore Love Story

Chapter 2

Pioneer

When Mummy told me about period, I was thinking about my homework. I did not ask my friends because no one seemed to talk about it. The school had given a talk about period but I was daydreaming. That Tuesday morning, everything seemed normal, and our maths teacher had just left the classroom, allowing the children to chatter away. I put my textbook, workbook, pencil box and water bottle orderly on the table. Then I felt something wet on my underwear. After glancing around, I touched my underwear.

“Why is my underwear wet?” I did not realize I had said that aloud.

“Bleeding. You’re going to die.”

I almost jumped when Michael appeared beside me. I raised both hands as if to surrender. He blinked a few times before scratching his head. “If you feel a wet dot in your underwear, it could be your first period,” Mummy had told me before. But what did she say after that? I could not feel whether it was just a wet dot or not on my first touch. With Michael beside me, I dared not try to touch it again.

“You better call 995 now,” Michael said. “I heard from one of my friends that one of her friends, she got blood come out from the ass. She ignored it and after one day, when she was sleeping, all her blood poured out. She died. The whole bed was wet with blood. You know Redhill? Hers like Redbed.” Michael laughed aloud. He had walked from the front of the classroom towards me. “Trust me, it’s a hole somewhere. Not that hole.

“Period?” I whispered.

“English lar! You never memorize the timetable meh?” Michael slapped my table. “Oh, yeah, lend me rubber.” He took the rubber from my pencil box. “So, don’t say I never warn you. If you die tomorrow, your business already. Sleep on the floor tonight lar. Then it will be Redfloor.” Michael laughed while tossing the rubber in the air and then catching it a few times.

I clasped my hands. The next lesson was English, and the teacher was Mr Low. Mr Low was always scolding us. I wanted to talk to Miss Ker—she was my favourite teacher. Either her or Mdm Tay.

“Bye bye, dead girl.” Michael balled his hand, pointed his index finger up, and then curled it down several times to show the death gesture. I swallowed. Thirty seconds later, with still no sight of Mr Low, I walked out of the classroom. When I did not see Miss Ker or Mdm Tay on the way to the phone, I dialled 995 and told the person that I was bleeding profusely and that I was dying. She asked for the address and I just said, “Jurong Primary School,” before hanging up and sitting at the canteen alone.

When I felt a slight, unfamiliar pain in my stomach, I was certain that Michael was right: My stomach had exploded, and the blood was from the exploded stomach.

* * *

The ambulance arrived within three minutes, with its siren blaring outside the gates. It did not park immediately; a woman in dark blue uniform leaped out and rushed into the general office. I raised my hand shakily. The woman hurried out of the general office with Mr Ong, the school’s operations manager. When they saw me, the woman dashed towards me so fast that Mr Ong could not catch up.

“Girl, were you the one who called 995?”

The woman looked to be in her late twenties with her hair tied up in a bun. She had a lean build and three chevrons on her shoulders. I dropped my head and told her what happened.

After they confirmed that it was just period, six female teachers crowded around us. They apologized to the paramedics. The woman, Staff Sergeant Winnie, said to me, “Don’t you worry. During my first period, I nearly cried.”

I expected the teachers to scold me; instead, Miss Ker volunteered to talk to me personally. She brought me to an air-conditioned room. There were only three tables and six chairs, with many motivational posters lining the wall.

“Okay, Valerie, now it’s you and me,” Miss Ker said. She did not show any trace of anger. She kept on smiling, and kept on telling me to protect myself. “I’m going to explain what happened earlier. I don’t know why you still don’t know about period, but I’ll tell you what it is now. Anyway, before that, I need to know. Why did you call the ambulance instead of approaching a teacher?”

I saw Michael’s face in my mind. I did hesitate—for about two seconds—before I told Miss Ker everything: from the moment I felt the blood to Michael’s advice to the ambulance’s arrival.

The next day, Michael did not go to school. I thought he was simply suspended for a few days. A week later, one of my classmates told me that he had been expelled.

“Expelled? Why?”

“He hit a teacher,” my classmate, Priscilla, said. “The teacher said that he misled a girl into calling the police or the ambulance. Then he was very angry. When the teacher said something nasty, he just beat the teacher. Beat many times I think, the teacher died and went to heaven. Then came back to life. Then they said he had used up all his ‘HP’, so he was expelled.”

I shook my head. “Poor boy. So, who is the girl who was misled? Stupid girl.”

* * *

I only knew why my parents had pinned so much hope on me after I got back my PSLE results. I got above-average results; but that was not what they wanted. They wanted the best.

Mummy was from a low-income family, worked hard in my grandfather’s company since she was sixteen and married when she was eighteen. She tried very hard to blend into Daddy’s family. After some years, Daddy quit working in my grandfather’s company, just to prove to him that he could survive without his family’s backing. For some reason, Mummy stayed on in my grandfather’s company.

After my birth, my parents adopted a child. His name was Victor; he was born one year later than me. He passed away from leukaemia when he was four. Devastated, my parents hoped that I would “shine for them”. I was too young to know that Victor, my playmate, was my brother and that he had passed away.

Therefore, when they saw my PSLE results, Mummy nearly had a heart attack. She cried while Daddy consoled her for hours before bringing me to his car. In his luxury car, he explained everything and hoped that I would grow up to make them proud. “Remember, Valerie, Mummy is a woman too. She wants the best for you. We’re pinning all our hope on you, Valerie. When you’re old enough, we’ll tell you why.”

I asked Daddy what I could do for the family. He showed me a few leaflets. “These are the personal development courses I’ve prepared for you. You’ll go to all of these, and when you’ve graduated from university with a good job and a highly educated boyfriend, I want to let our relatives know that you’re our achievement. I want you to be the best, because we’ve given you the best. Promise me, Valerie?”

In the midst of my tears, we entwined our little fingers. All I wanted to know was to study hard and make my parents proud of me.

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