My Inner Child

By Yohanna Abdullah
My child
You are precious to me
I celebrate your joys and tears
As you played masak-masak
In the expansive kampung garden
Gathering its fruits, leaves and flowers
To pound and cut and cook in your toy pots and pans
This is alone time as you work your pain through
A sensitive soul (Anna Gembeng was your nickname)
You were hurt by playful jibes from playmates
Sister, brother, cousins who shared the same wooden and cement bungalow house
In Kampung Melayu, Jalan Pagak
Built by your artisan Atok, who made boats, furniture, violins
Who played in an orchestra and made balls from his cigarette foil-wrappers
You assisted him much in this hobby – rolling tiny silver balls stored in bottles
Atok, the day you died was the saddest day in my childhood
I learned the meaning of death of a loved one
A valuable lesson when my brother passed away when I was 18 and he 17
We were inseparable, he was my first love, Mak bottle fed us together
Kiki, milk in the right arm and Anna, Milo in the left
We plotted against our elder sister, Ida
A paragon of cleanliness, with gorgeous curly hair while mine is super straight
Her tresses Inherited from Nek, who was impaired by stroke
Taken care of lovingly by Mak who quit her job as a nurse
To nurse all her loved ones
An ex- mid-wife, she delivered more than 200 babies at KK Hospital
Where I was born one afternoon on July 27 1967
Bapak was a cikgu who loves satay and durians
We went to the movies, Lido and Capitol, to Changi Beach, to Satay Club, The Esplanade almost every weekend
To Robinson and Bata for Hari Raya shopping
I would tag along for Bapak’s school excursions
And be the centre of attention
It was like Christmas, every bonus day
We got to choose a toy and year after year I would choose a doll
When my brother and sister chose Monopoly, Scrabble and carom
I loved to pamper my dolls
And my sole ambition was to be a mother and have babies of my own
I went to a PAP kindergarten one block away from my flat
Block 6 Chai Chee Road
The first day Mak sent me to school I said, “Thank you I can go to school and back on my own from now.”
I was six and was the only Malay In the Chinese class and strangely I understood the teacher and my friends
I was disappointed when I did not become first in class to go on stage to receive a present
But I was second and my teacher
Honoured me with a gift in front of the whole class
A drawing block and a set of colour pencils for she knew how much I love art
I felt happy and proud
My inner child had a beautiful childhood
I was much loved and nurtured to be a person who feels worthy and important
Except for frequent mosquito attacks which left me itchy and agitated
(I had sweet blood, everyone said)
And the stinking bucket toilet full of scary spiders
I reckon I had a blessed time with all my family and friends
I was groomed for creativity and an appetite for books
I never had to feel lesser of a human being
In fact, I felt like I could always be my best
Without fear of criticisms or spankings
Yes, Mak did chase after us with a feather duster sometimes
But we always all ended up laughing
Life was good before the age of seven
When life’s script is hypnotically programmed
I thank God for my sweet child
Loved by me and my kith and kin

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