A young girl keeps a deadly secret from her family.
It was a humid night in Kuala Lumpur when it dawned on Yoke Ling that she was going to die very soon. She knew that she had to keep it a secret. She concealed it easily enough as her affliction was not in plain sight and her parents were both occupied. Her father was watching the news on the television, which on that night, consisted of nothing but reports of the dismissal of Anwar Ibrahim as the Deputy Prime Minister. The news was shocking enough that it distracted her mother from completing her last chore of the day – hanging out the laundry in the car porch.
Yoke Ling tried to take her mind off her affliction by focusing her attention on the news. She heard her father repeatedly proclaim to her mother that the situation was not fair. Over and over again, images of Anwar Ibrahim led out of his office flashed on the television screen. The idea of being abruptly arrested and jailed made Yoke Ling feel even more scared.
She woke up the next morning with her father’s words echoing in her head and thought that it was also unfair that she should be dying this slowly at the age of nine. She felt sick all over. There was a hollowness in her fingers and toes she never experienced before. It was as though warm blood had been replaced with cold air in her blood vessels. The cold air washed over her as waves of pain every now and then.
Yoke Ling realised it was hypocritical of her to think about death this way the moment she came face-to-face with it. She had frequently prayed to gods whose faces she could vaguely recall from temple visits to be released from the drudgery of life. She was not sure which earthly domain they were in charge of but she hoped that they would be powerful entities that fulfilled wishes. Were they finally answering her prayers? She felt betrayed as this was not the death she prayed for. The deaths in her prayers were swift and clean. She rationalised that the gods may be hard of hearing which might explain why she had been dying for two days. With a new resolve, she decided she should clarify her wishes with them.
Of all the gods in the world, Yoke Ling thought she would wage her bets with one she knew was real – Guan Gong. She could conjure up his face easily as there was almost always an idol of Guan Gong in Chinese coffee shops. Legend has it that he was a mighty warrior who was 8-foot tall with a red face and a lush beard. If a historical warrior from ancient China could bring wealth to Chinese coffee shop owners in Malaysia, surely he could accelerate the pace of her death.
With her bedroom door shut, Yoke Ling uttered an earnest prayer before steeling herself to go downstairs. She never knew whether to take gods seriously or not. Nevertheless, Guan Gong was her last hope and she uttered her regular prayer for a swift death.
Downstairs, her mother was mopping the floors with the radio on. Yoke Ling sat on the steps so as to not get in the way and observed her mother at work.With energetic strokes, her mother drew the mop back and forth covering every nook and corner in the living room.The industrious woman never let up when it came to keeping the house clean and orderly - she swept and mopped the floor once in the morning and once in the evening, she did the laundry every night at 8pm and cooked three nutritious meals every day except on Sundays. From morning to night, she toiled for the house.
Yoke Ling thought that she would not mind the process of dying so much if it was not for her mother. Yoke Ling was not very good at household chores and tended to be slovenly. She was also observant enough to notice that every time she did a household chore, her worth as a person to her mother diminished. Every piece of laundry not hung perfectly, every speck of dust not wiped off, every dish not dried completely was an affront to her mother.And here Yoke Ling was, dying a messy death in her mother’s perfect house. While dying, she continued to excel at being her mother‘s greatest failure in life.
The anticipation of her mother admonishing her for something she could not control intensified the pain her stomach. She became aware of the dampness she was sitting on. Quietly, she got up and walked to the toilet. Her prayers had not worked and now her mother would find out. She grabbed a wad of toilet paper to clean up the evidence from the steps but as she headed back towards the steps, she heard it – a loud exasperated sigh followed by angry footsteps. Her mother stomped past her and proclaimed her crimes from the toilet. “You complain that I am always scolding you but it is only because you are always so careless. You can’t even sit on the steps properly without getting blood on the steps. How did you even get blood…” Her mother trailed off as the radio announced that Anwar Ibrahim had been charged with corruption and sodomy. Her mother’s expression changed from annoyance to shock. Yoke Ling was glad it would be one of the last times her worth as a person diminished in her mother’s eyes.