How does it feel?
You buy a new laptop and it serves you well for two years. On the third year, you cannot boot up the laptop. The computer technician does something to the laptop and tells you that it is beyond repair. You do not believe him; and so, you go to another computer shop. The technician in the other shop says the same thing. You choose not to believe him and go to yet another computer shop. You carry the laptop to fifteen shops before the laptop talks to you.
“Mama,” my daughter—the smartest, bravest, strongest, kindest and prettiest girl in the world—says, “I’m tired. Let me go.”
It is her decision, not mine.
Her name was Yvonne, and I was her mother.
* * *
“What is it?” Kelvin muttered. He had always looked lethargic after work. I often wondered why walking around in a shopping mall could be that draining. I patted the seat beside me, motioning him for a long conversation. Kelvin threw his socks and moved unsteadily towards the sofa, like someone who had been awakened after a deep sleep. “What?”
“Kel,” I said under my breath. “I’m pregnant.”
I smiled and he frowned. The wall clock seemed to stop moving. I guessed both of us were waiting for each other to come out with the next sentence. When I told him about my first pregnancy, he had hugged me for one full minute. Or maybe two.
“You—we had protection! We had protection.”
I was expecting two kinds of reactions from Kelvin: anger or happiness. I was prepared for happiness but not anger. I dropped my head and anticipated a smile from him. Maybe something like these: “But, it’s okay. Let’s work hard.” or “Just kidding; I’m going to be a father of two!”
“You didn’t eat the pills, right? Right?”
Sometimes, we know the answer but prefer not to disclose it. This was one of such moments. I licked my dry lips.
“Answer me! What you thinking? What you thinking!” Kelvin slapped something. Either the side of the sofa or the coffee table; I did not know. I only knew that the baby in my womb could be a girl, since I could feel her talking to me.
“We no money for another child. We can’t. Got loans, got bills, so many things to be paid! We can’t afford one more!”
“I can work,” I said. “I can do some office work. Be a clerk or—”
“Then who take care of Ah Boy? And the unborn child? What you thinking!” Kelvin smacked something again. It was the coffee table. Or maybe it was me. After all, with the emotional pain of Kelvin rejecting our baby, physical pain had become painless.
“How many months already?”
“I can look for a job.” I lifted my head and faced Kelvin. He was glaring at the door without blinking. “We can—maybe I’ll ask my mother to take care of the children. We’ll work a way out.”
“How many months?”
“Kel, it’s not fair to kill a life just because we’re financially—”
“How many months?”
I could no longer control my tears. One by one, the droplets of tears trickled down my cheeks. “Three months.”
“Still first trimester?”
I wanted to shake my head, but I nodded.
“Go abort it tomorrow.” Kelvin stood up and reached for the cigarette in his pocket. Ever since Lenny’s birth, he had never smoked in the flat before.
“If that child in you doesn’t die, Ling, we die,” he said and went out of the house in a hurry. I expected him to slam the door. Instead, the door closed with a soft click.
I continued to sob in silence, as if my tears could solve the impending problem.
“I’ll find a way,” I whispered, not to Kelvin but to myself.
* * *
The day after the quarrel with Kelvin, I brought Lenny to the supermarket. People would think that Lenny was less than two then; the fact was that Lenny would be three in a few months’ time. I was beginning to get annoyed at the remarks. All I wanted was to see my child grow up faster, so that one day, he would be taller than me and would be able to pat my head.
I spoke little during the trip. I always bought my things from IMM as they stocked everything: from food to clothes. The supermarket was one of the biggest I had ever seen. The highest shelf was twice my height, though they merely put extra items there. Each lane had room for approximately three adults to walk. Lenny, as usual, asked me many questions. He asked why milk was packed in paper; he asked why chilled drinks were so expensive. I answered most of his questions with a nod.
Lenny pulled me to the toy department. I eyed the toys without much thought until I saw a doll. Lenny took a toy car and said something. “Mama, that one is for girls,” Lenny said, pointing at the doll.
I reached for the doll. The hair was blonde, and it resembled a Barbie doll. If it were enclosed in a box, maybe people would think that it was a Barbie doll. The doll seemed to be smiling at me. Buy me for your daughter, I thought I heard her saying. She is asking for me.
“Mama, you too old,” Lenny said. He placed the toy car back on the shelf. “Mama, let’s go. I will want to buy one if we don’t go. Mama, toy car got COE? COE very expensive, we cannot buy this car. Mama. Mama.”
I combed the hair of the doll, and suddenly, I remembered that I was the mother of two, not one.
“Ah Boy,” I said in my gentlest voice, “what will you do if you have a little sister?”
“Really?” Lenny clapped his hands. “I’ll take care of her, just like how I take care of Mama! Mama, buy a little sister must get COE or not?”
I laughed. I saw the elder brother standing between the younger sister and a gang of thugs. I saw the elder brother wiping off the tears of the younger sister. I saw the elder brother fetching the younger sister home in his car. I saw the younger sister, during her wedding, expressing her gratitude to her elder brother. I never had the opportunity to do that. Maybe Ah Girl would have this opportunity.
“Mama, am I going to have a little sister?”
I nodded, shook my head and nodded again. “We’ll see.”
Lenny spent the next hour constructing stories. He told me what he would do if his sister were bullied; he told me what he would do if his sister did not excel in her studies; he told me what he would do if his sister were crying. The stories reminded me of my broken family; the days when I had to cry alone in my room and talk to the soft toys that had become my imaginary siblings. I did not want Lenny to be another Teo Mei Ling.
“Mama, toy cars got COE or not? If don’t have, can we buy that car? I will plant it and make it into a real car. We use Papa’s pass motion as fer—food for the plant?”
* * *
According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary published in 1990, a “white lie” is “a harmless or trivial untruth”.
Would you lie if you were me?
The first sentence that Kelvin said when he reached home that night was, “How was it?” I blinked a few times, glanced around the living room and headed for our bedroom. I would usually leave the door open, but that day, I closed the door. The room seemed to have become smaller. The bed and the table at the side grew in size and the walking space seemed narrower. I hoped that there would be no space for Kelvin to walk.
But the door opened and closed softly a few minutes later. Kelvin stroked my hair, just like what he always did when we were dating. He reeked of sweat. I lowered my head and the tears rolled down.
“The doctor killed my baby. I allowed him to.” My breaths were wheezing.
“It’s okay. You’re not murderer. You just saved a life. If the baby born, the baby suffers.”
“Kel,” I started. I wanted to tell him the truth. I had wanted to. But as soon as I opened my mouth, his tattoos flew out from his arm and devoured me. The dragon can kill me, but not Ah Girl.
I will think of a way.
“Now, Ling, brush your teeth and go to bed. I’ll talk to Ah Boy.”
I nearly dropped onto the bed when Kelvin stood up. He then disappeared from the room, like how my hope of telling him the truth disappeared.