Twelve and not stupid

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Twelve and not stupid
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  Twelve and not stupid Zuraidah Omar  Papa is late again. It has been two hours since school ended and I feel so foolish, standing here in my school uniform, in front of Kong’s Mini-Market. This is where I wait for Papa to pick me up after school it is !ust across from the road that goes down to the school. Papa is often late but not as late as this. People entering the shop glance at me, standing here by the entrance with my school-bag tucked between my feet. They appear surprised to see me, still standing here, when they lea"e the shop. Mr Kong, who is already familiar at the sight of me standing and waiting outside his shop, has a look on his face that seems to say, #Poor girl. $here on earth is her father% &ow can he lea"e her waiting for so long%'I see his car coming up the road and I feel so relie"ed. (or a while, I did think that he had forgotten to pick me up. It did happen once. )y the time he came to get me, it was almost e"ening and I was already in tears. Mama had been out with her friends and was worried to find me not home when she got back. *he had then called Papa. If only Mama could dri"e me to and from school, life would be so much easier for me. *he does ha"e a dri"er’s licence and used to dri"e when we li"ed in *eremban. )ut that was so long ago and we now li"e in K+. *he doesn’t like dri"ing in K+ where people, she says, dri"e like maniacs. Papa’s car slows down as it comes up to Kong’s Mini-Market. It stops and I am !ust about to  !ump into the front seat when I notice that there is somebody already there, a woman whom I don’t recognise. *he looks about the same age as Mama and her skin is as fair as Mama’s, ecept that Mama is Malay and this woman is hinese. &er long hair is tied in a bun and she wears glasses. I get into the back seat of the car and she turns to smile at me. #&ello *asha,' she says in a rather sweet "oice. #I am untie May.' I am surprised that she knows my name because I know for certain that I’"e not met her before.  s I am not saying a word and must be staring hard at her, Papa looks at me through the rear"iew mirror and says, #/on’t be rude, *asha. *alam untie May.' *he etends her hands to me in between the two front seats and I take them in mine. *he turns to face the front as Papa dri"es off and I am left looking at the back of their heads as they talk to one another in low "oices. I feel confused as they appear to know one another well, but then Papa and Mama, both "ery sociable people who like going out to parties, ha"e many friends and untie May must be one of them. $hen Papa and Mama go out to a party, they look "ery striking indeed. Papa is an attracti"e man, with thick wa"y hair and his eyebrows are also thick. &e dresses smartly, coordinating his long-slee"ed batik shirt, pants, socks and shoes "ery well. Mama is almost as tall as Papa and, with her slim figure, she looks good in anything she wears. &er hair is dark and long and she wears it in a bun,  !ust like untie May.  $aiting for Papa and ha"ing to stand for so long has made me tired, and I can feel myself do0ing off. The slow rocking of the car as Papa makes his way through the busy K+ traffic lulls me to sleep. I don’t know how long I ha"e been sleeping. $hen I open my eyes, I find that the car has stopped but we are not at home. $e are instead parked outside a one-storey terrace house. untie May gets out of the car and, as soon as she has let herself into the house’s compound through the gate, Papa dri"es off. s he does so, he glances at me through the rear"iew mirror and sees that I am awake. #$hen we get home, don’t tell Mama about untie May, okay%' I want to ask why but Papa has a stern look on his face and I dare not, so I !ust nod my head. #nd if Mama asks why you are late coming home, tell her that you had a school acti"ity and you had forgotten to tell her about it.' I nod again, wondering why he wants me to lie. It is e"ening when we reach home. I can see that the lights of our bungalow house are on as Papa parks the car under the porch. The front door opens before he has switched off the car engine, and Mama comes out. *he must be worried, wondering why I wasn’t back home from school. s Papa and I are about to get out of the car, he gi"es me a look and I remember the lie that I must tell Mama. 1f course, Mama isn’t happy at all that I hadn’t told her about the so-called school acti"ity. #I’"e been worried sick thinking about what could ha"e happened to you,' she scolds. Papa also gets a scolding, #I called your office but your secretary said you were out since morning.' I look at Papa as he shrugs his shoulders, #I had some outside work.' Mama turns her attention back to me, #/on’t do this to me again, okay% I almost called the police. 2ow, go and take your bath. $e are ha"ing dinner soon.' s we eat dinner together, Papa and Mama talk to one another as they usually do, and Mama hasn’t any idea at all about what actually happened. Mama is no longer angry and is en!oying his stories and !okes. )ut I eat 3uietly. I don’t like ha"ing to lie to Mama and I can’t help but feel angry at Papa for making me feel so strange. I may only be twel"e years old but I’m not stupid. There must be a reason why I ha"e to lie to Mama and that reason has something to do with untie May.#re you sick%' Mama looks at me in a concerned way and puts the back of her left hand on my forehead. #4ou’re "ery 3uiet.' Papa gets up to wash his hands, #*he must be tired. *he has had a busy day.' Mama gets up as well. #4ou’d better go to sleep early and ha"e a good rest,' she tells me. Papa keeps his eyes on me as I lea"e the table, wash my hands and go upstairs to my bedroom. I try to go to sleep but as soon as I close my eyes, I see untie May in my mind. $ho is she% $hy can’t I tell Mama about her% The 3uestions gi"e me a headache and I think that it would be good if I do get sick and not ha"e to go to school tomorrow. $ho knows% If I were to go to school, untie May could be with Papa when he comes to pick me up after school and what do I do then% $ould I ha"e to lie to Mama again%It has been weeks and there has been no untie May in Papa’s car. Papa has not said anything about her to me and it is as if I ha"e ne"er met her. I am, naturally, curious about her but  Papa doesn’t look like he wants to say anything. Papa has ne"er been one to tell me things it is Mama who keeps me informed about plans for the family, what we are to do o"er the weekend, where we will be going for our holiday. People ha"e told me that Papa is reser"ed and doesn’t talk much. $hich is true whene"er 5randpa, Mama’s father, comes to "isit for a few days, he and Papa can sit in the li"ing room together for hours and not say much to one another. )ut then again, when his friends come by, Papa is not reser"ed at all and is often the most talkati"e in the group. *o Papa does ha"e many sides to him and I wonder how he is with untie May is he reser"ed or talkati"e with her% It is a *aturday afternoon and Mama and I are at home. Papa has gone out with his friends. Mama is busy with her embroidery, something that I’m not particularly interested in. I prefer to curl up with a book rather than tediously stab a needle into a drawing on a piece of cotton material. $e are both in the li"ing room, she sitting in an armchair and me lying prone on the floor, my chin cupped in my palms as I read the book opened in front of me. *he glances at me and says, #4ou really should sit up properly when you read. 4ou will spoil your eyesight reading like that.' I don’t reply but carried on with my reading. *he continues to look at me something seems to be on her mind. (rom the corner of my eye, I can see her mouth opening as if she wants to talk to me but she closes it, shakes her head and turns her attention back to her embroidery. Mama is a "ery correct person who gi"es a lot of thought to what she says or does. nd I am constantly taught about how to beha"e in the company of other people, making me one "ery polite young person. That’s what her friends say when they meet me, #My goodness, she is so courteous for her age.' Presently, Mama puts down her embroidery and tells me to take a bath and get dressed. #Papa will be home soon,' she says. #$e’re going out for dinner, remember% Make sure you wear something suitable. $e’re going to a hinese restaurant.' Papa and Mama like eating out, and they both particularly like hinese food. I do too and ha"e surprised many with my adeptness in eating with chopsticks. $e arri"e at the restaurant, where Papa has ob"iously reser"ed a special table, because the waitress leads us towards a room along one side of the dining area. *he pushes back the sliding door, we enter the room and I am shocked to find untie May already seated at the table. $ith her is a boy who looks like he’s about ten years old. I don’t know what to do or say. *hall I pretend that I ha"en’t met her before% If it looks like I know her, Mama will wonder why and will find out about the lie I told her so many weeks ago.  untie May gets up as we enter the room. If Mama is surprised about our dinner guests, she is not showing it and she waits for Papa to introduce untie May to her. They salam one another and  untie May then looks at me and I salam her, not saying anything. I feel grateful that she has not gi"en any indication that we ha"e met before. *he then puts her hand on the boy’s shoulders, #This is Kassim', and Kassim gets up and salam Papa and Mama. $e all sit down and Papa must ha"e pre-  ordered the food, as it doesn’t take long before the waitress comes into the room with a big bowl of shark’s fin soup. I eat and listen to the adults talking, and they talk as if Kassim and I are not in the room.#May called me some weeks ago,' Papa is telling Mama. #That’s how I found out that 4em had married her without 6ah’s knowledge. May is still married to 4em, this boy is their son. *he came to me because 4em has been neglecting her and the boy.' 4em is Papa’s older brother and 6ah is his wife. #1h dear, my husband told me that there’s a family problem relating to 4em but I didn’t know that it is this complicated,' Mama says to untie May. #)ut what do you want us to do% This is a family thing, between 4em, 6ah and you. I don’t think we can get in"ol"ed, especially since 6ah doesn’t e"en know. *he is my closest sister-in-law and I don’t want her to get hurt by this.' untie May shakes her head. #I don’t want anyone to get hurt. )ut I ha"e my rights too as 4em’s second wife. &e can’t !ust let us be. I ha"en’t seen him for months. (ortunately, I ha"e a !ob. 1therwise, Kassim and I won’t ha"e a roof o"er our heads. I pay for e"erything, the house, our food. )ut 4em is my husband and he is obligated to support us.' Kassim looks at untie May at the mention of his name, and I wonder if he understands what’s being said. s for me, I may be twel"e but I’m not stupid. untie May continues, #ll I’m asking is that you remind him of his obligations towards Kassim and me. If he doesn’t want to see us again, he should at least di"orce me.'#I think we ha"e no choice but to help,' Papa says to both untie May and Mama. #4em is doing a lot of wrong here, first by marrying without 6ah’s knowledge, then by pretending that he hasn’t a second family and, e"en worse, neglecting this second family. Knowing all this, we can’t !ust keep 3uiet about it. $e will be in complicity with him if we don’t do something.' untie May looks at Papa with relief and Mama nods her head in agreement. #4ou’ll ha"e to ad"ise him,' she tells Papa.  fter our pancake dessert, Papa pays the bill and we all get up. s untie May and Kassim had come to the restaurant in a tai, Papa offers them a lift back to their house. 7"eryone is 3uiet during the dri"e. $hen we reach the house, untie May opens the rear door but before she steps out of the car, she thanks Papa and Mama for the dinner and their willingness to help her. *he then looks to me, #I didn’t in"ite you into my house the last time. It’s late now so I can’t in"ite you in this time. 4ou must come again and get to know Kassim better.' Mama turns her head in my direction and one of her eyebrows is lifted in a 3uestion-mark.
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