Ammu’s Story: Part 2

When the children come home from school, it is still raining. The rain has been pouring the whole day. A few times it looks like it will stop, only to come down even heavier. It is already June, which means the country should already be in the drier Southwest Monsoon season. Ammu, being only a Year Three student in primary school, of course doesn’t know that. She hasn’t started learning Geography yet, so. But she does listen, and today she heard two teachers talking about it. One teacher grumbling, while another saying the rain “is kind of a relief, since it has been insufferably hot the past two weeks”.

Uncle Velu had been quite late in picking the children up. He came driving his bus, instead of the white van. Ravi’s best friend, Ahmad, pretend-scolded him, blaming Uncle Velu for causing him to have a late lunch. Ammu was honestly impressed, but that’s not anything new. She has always find Ahmad’s cheekiness impressive; admirable even. Her own brother, Ravi, is a good, gentle boy. To act cheekily is just unthinkable to him. As usual, Uncle Velu had not minded Ahmad; he actually seemed pleased with the boy. ‘It’s very cold today, and I fell asleep. It’s always great to have a nap on rainy days, isn’t it?’ he had said, obviously teasing. He then proceeded to give Ahmad some fancy biscuits that must have been expensive, and some *coin chocolates, earning the boy a few jealous glances from the other children. Ammu wasn’t jealous though. Grinning ear to ear, Ahmad skipped away to the seat saved for him by his friends, and started to divide his bounties among himself, his friends Ravi and Amir, and Ammu too. The biscuit and chocolate she ate during her journey back eased the hunger pangs considerably. She has always been an easy child to feed.

Uncle Velu had dropped the children at the usual spot. Hana’s mother as usual is waiting. Hana waves at Ammu and walks home with her mother, who keeps her daughter as close as possible. Ammu notices how the umbrella is tilted more to Hana’s side. The right half of Hana’s mother quickly becomes wet, yet she doesn’t seem to mind. A longing rises from the pit of Ammu’s stomach. Hana’s father is a hardworking salesman, while her loving mother is a housewife who takes in sewing and tailoring jobs to earn some side income to help her husband. Many times – many, many times, Ammu wishes her mother can be a stay-at-home mother too, who sew part-time. But Ammu’s father has never hold a job for long. There is no way her mother could be like Hana’s.

She suddenly feels her hand being held gently. She turns her face towards Ravi. ‘Let’s go home.’ he says. Ammu nods once. They start to walk home when Amir’s voice rings out, ‘Don’t forget to come by today after you had your lunch, Ravi. Mei Hwa and Chuan have tuition class at 4. Let’s practise some before that, okay?’

Ravi agrees, and the siblings start walking towards home again. As expected, Ahmad is making dismayed protests for not being included in the plan. Ammu looks at the two bickering Malay boys and looks at Ravi. Ravi chuckles and shakes his head. He continues his strides while listening to the loud background noise as Amir and Ahmad walk away from them. The two boys are heading in a different direction from him. They live in the same neighbourhood row, near the communal surau.

‘Shut up, you’re not part of the Math team,’

‘But we’re friends! I want to go to your house too!’

‘No way. You’ll definitely disturb us! Besides, you come by every morning.’

‘That’s because we walk here together. And I didn’t come inside too!’

‘No means no. Who asks you to be bad at Math-Hey! Give me back my umbrella! Amat!’

‘Serve you right, you cocky asshole!’

********

Ammu is very happy to see their mother awake. The 29-year-old factory worker beams when she sees her children standing at the house gate. Ammu pushes it open and runs towards their mother, throwing herself into her skinny arms. Ravi holds himself back from doing the same. ‘Aren’t you both quite late today?’ Uma asks. She pats Ravi softly on his head, Ammu still in her embrace. Ammu looks up.

‘Uncle Velu was sleeping, so he was late,’

‘Really now? Well, it’s cold today. It’s a good day to sleep in,’

‘That’s what he said, amma!

Her mother’s laugh makes Ammu feel all warm inside. She has missed her quite a bit. These few days Uma is always in a comatose state when the children returns from school. When she wakes up, she’s busy getting ready for work. There is hardly any in-depth conversation between mother and children due to her night shifts. So Ammu, as do Ravi, has missed her mother and Uma has missed her children. Uma forced herself to wake up earlier today because she wanted to cook for and have lunch with them. She hasn’t taken a day off for three weeks now, always doing overtime. Truthfully speaking, she is completely exhausted. But there’s a few days left before pay day and her three-day annual leave. She has applied for those leaves to take her three children to the safari park in the next town, and then they would spend some time together at home, just to catch up.

Uma heats up the dishes while Ravi and Ammu takes their turn bathing. Meena, her baby girl is sleeping. It really is cold today. The children’s grandmother, her husband’s mother had come to babysit Meena as she always does whenever Uma is working the night shifts. She usually comes by to bathe and feed Meena her breakfast, then cooks lunch for Ravi and Ammu Once the children reach home, she will leave them. Today, she happily obliged when her daughter-in-law woke up earlier and said she will make lunch. She only stayed for a few hours before making her way home. It is an agreeable arrangement for both Uma and her mother in-law since she lives just three houses away, with the children’s grandfather and their unmarried uncle.

Once the children are ready, they enjoy lunch with their mother. Ravi tells Uma he has a meet-up at Amir’s house with his class’s Math team. The date for the inter-class Mathematics quiz is just around the corner after all. Uma readily gives her permission. She has always been so proud of Ravi. Ravi has stayed among the top ten students in all his classes. From Year One until the current Year Five, his grades never drop. To imagine her Ravi completing his tertiary education and becoming a doctor is one of her greatest joy. She herself managed to only barely complete high school. Uma reminded her son to come back as soon as the practice ends. She is going to work soon, and Ammu will be left alone with Meena. Ravi promises her and left, school backpack in tow.

Mother and daughter are cleaning up after lunch when the front door is pounded hard. Angry, drunken shouts follows, then a litany of curses. Ammu anxiously follows her mother. She knows who is currently trying to break down their front door. Uma tells her to go to Meena when the three-year-old starts crying. The loud noises must have woken her. Ammu prays her father is in a good mood. She knows it’s not possible, but she still prays. Ammu holds on to her little sister, coaxing her so she will stop crying. Coaxing her own heart.

When the man comes in, Uma asks if he had had his lunch. Her head sharply turns to the left as he backhanded her. She wipes off the blood, swallowing the iron taste, her ear ringing, heart drumming. She feels her cheek throbs painfully. She knows it has started to swell. The man before her looks at her and asks about money. Those bloodshot, wild eyes are so, so familiar, unfortunately. Her ears are still ringing and she feels a bit disoriented. Her husband spits at her and accuses her of lack of respect. She wipes again, then turns to look at the bedroom door. ‘Ammu dear, close the door.’ she gently prompts. She could see her young daughter’s eyes; big dark eyes shining with fear.

‘You slut! I’m talking to you, you hear?’ A loud thwack, and her mother screams at her to close the bedroom door. Ammu runs, and slams the door shut. She locks it, tears streaming down her cheeks. Meena is crying loudly now. Ammu tries soothing her again, muffling her own sobs as she hears her father asking for her mother’s salary. It is not pay day yet. Her mother’s pay day is next week. She knows, because her mother circles the date on the calendar. Pay day is on the 5th, Wednesday, next week.

‘You lying wench! Where’s the money? Give me the money!’

‘…’

‘I don’t care, just give me the money! Useless woman, useless ugly woman!’ Thwack.

‘I married you without a dowry, even though you are useless! Now you want to be stingy!?’ ThwackCrashThwack.

‘It’s your fault if the kids become fatherless! No money you say? Not pay day, you say? YOU THINK THEY WILL CARE?’ ThwackThwack.

Appa! Please, please don’t hit amma!’

‘No, stop! STOP! RAVI!’

 

Notes:

1. Coin chocolates: Chocolates wrapped in gold-coloured foil papers, in circular shapes. The wrapping makes them look like gold coins.

2. Surau: A Malay word meaning a Muslim’s place of worship. In some places, like in a housing estate, it’s build looking like a mosque, but much smaller than a mosque in term of size. However, a surau could also be just a room in a bigger building, used to perform prayer, i’tiqaf, learn or recite al-Quran, the zikr or du’a. Probably known to non-Malay Muslims as a musolla.

3. Amma: Tamil for ‘mother/mum’.

4. Appa: Tamil for ‘father/dad’.

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