When I did not complete my revision for the next few days, I knew something was wrong.
Every day, when the phone rang, I would rush towards it. When I heard my friends’ voice, I would sigh involuntarily and hang up as soon as possible. Mummy said she knew I was waiting for a call. Then she just smiled, and told me that as long as the boy was well educated, she would not mind. I told her that I did not understand her.
Finally, on a quiet afternoon, when I saw the backlog of maths questions, I grabbed the phone and dialled the number that I had memorized.
“Hello,” I stammered, “is that…I mean, can I speak to…Michael?”
“He died already,” the rough voice, which I presumed to be Michael’s father’s, said. “Either that, or he’s spending his time smoking or working. I not free to go to the school.”
I tightened the grip. Thank God. Thank God? “Huh? Oh, but I…it’s okay, uncle. I’ll…call back.”
Michael’s father laughed. “You must be new. Call me uncle instead. So cute, like a cat. Okay, I go the school tomorrow lah. Wait you all kick him out again, then trouble again! Your name is what?”
“Huh? My name? My…I think my name is Valerie Yam.”
“Okay, Miss Yam, see you tomorrow. 2.00 p.m. okay. Don’t make me wait leh. Time is money. Wait for me at the general office. If I got pax then maybe I come a little later. And don’t kick him out arh! But suspend him a few months, can. He can go work more.”
I was trying to understand what he meant; before I could say anything, I heard his phone being banged down.
And then, as I pieced the sentences together, I shivered.
* * *
It was worse the next day.
Not only did I not complete my homework, I was nearly late for school. As I sang the national anthem, I wondered what I should do at 2.00 p.m. Fixed-line phones usually have no caller ID. I could say that someone else had used my name to make a prank call.
In the end, I went to the general office at 2.00 p.m. Mrs Hu, the admin, asked me whom I was looking for. I told her my teacher was already on her way, and nearly cried when Michael opened the glass door. He flashed me a smile and told Mrs Hu, “I’m looking for Mdm Valerie Yam Yixin.”
“Oh, Mdm Yam, here you are.” Michael wheeled round to face me. “Mr Cheng is not free, so I’m taking over. Come, let’s go to my office.”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
Michael winked. “What are you talking about?”
I melted; either at his wink, or at his touch on my shoulder.
Michael’s “office” turned out to be the “smoking area”. During the journey, he tossed his wallet in the air and caught it. I followed him like a daughter awaiting punishment upon reaching home. It was so hot that the five-minute walk soaked my shirt in sweat. But Michael was dry when we settled down. Maybe it was not that hot after all.
“My uncle asked me if Miss Yam is pretty or not.” Michael fished out a cigarette and I frowned. “He said she sounded young. If you had used a fictitious name, he would really have come. He’s a tiko peh.” Tiko Peh refers to a lecherous old man.
I was speechless. I expected to meet Michael’s father, not Michael. My mind went blank and I just wanted him to lead the conversation. Ask me questions, I prayed.
“You’ve been trouble, again and again, for me. Since primary school. So, what’s your problem? Did I do something to you in my past life?”
Two questions, I thought. I nearly wanted to smile. He had asked questions but I did not want to answer them. Ask more questions! Other questions! I analysed my shoelaces. Then I turned to study Michael’s shoelaces. His was a simple, standard one knot. Mine had two knots, as I wanted it to be secure. I had the urge to tie his shoelaces with two knots.
“Did I ever cut the queue when we bought food a long time ago? Did I ever step on your shoes a long time ago? I was expelled and detained all because of you, Noodles. And now, you even played a prank on me? How the fuck did you get my telephone number?”
I did not know if he was angry or he was merely teasing me. I just wanted to stoop down and tie his shoelaces. When I was young, my maid, Yanni, had always tied my shoelaces for me. One day, she taught me how to tie them. When I finally learnt how to tie them, I went to the shoe rack and tied all the shoelaces that I could find. Daddy scolded me. He was unable to untie his shoelaces after I did two tight knots on his shoes.
“What do you want?”
I blinked and looked up. Tears fell from both of my eyes; I felt my whole body shaking. I knew why I was crying; I did not want Michael to know.
“I want you to bring me to a place with snow,” I whispered, blinked and dropped another two tears. “Sorry. If there’s nothing else, I—”
“Do you have fifty dollars?” Michael doused his cigarette. “I promise to return it to you once I’ve saved enough. Just lend me first; because I need to bring my girlfriend to a place where ice won’t melt. Come, let’s go to Jurong East Entertainment Centre.”
My girlfriend, he had said. My heart skipped a beat. Was he referring to me? When I felt his hand on my right hand, I slapped his shoulder, again and again, and for the first time in weeks, I laughed so loud that I hoped the moment would last—forever.
“Can I…” I whispered as I rested my head on his chest. “Can I call you Rice? Noodles and Rice together.”
Michael giggled. Then he gave the look of a teenager engrossed in playing a computer game.
“Whatever la, you girls always like this thingy. Okay, Noodles and Rice forever.”