Tuesday, January 16, 2007


by Catalina Rembuyan

Anna knew that she should not have brought her children past the chocolate store, but she took her chances and decided to walk past it anyway because she was in a hurry. They would miss the train and wait for another fifteen more minutes, and Anna was feeling tired, hungry, and uncomfortable. Dried perspiration made the bangs of her hair cling together hideously. Samuel had finished a bawling session twenty minutes ago and his head was upon her shoulder, fast asleep. Trailing close to her side was Samantha.

They had only a few more minutes to go and after juggling Samuel and her card wallet at the ATM machine, Anna told Samantha to move faster. As they headed towards the ticket counter, she heard Samantha's tiny rubber soles squeak on the beige ceramic floor. "Hurry up, hurry up, we don't want to miss the train dear!" Anna said, attempting to sound as jovial as possible. Anna fended off a drop of sweat falling on her nose from her forehead.

They walked out into a small marketplace of candies, toys and fashion accessories. There were crowds of people moving to-and-fro from station to station. A large television screen was repeating advertisements over and over again, filling the station with the same jingle over and over. A small stall bore what seemed to be ten huge manila cards all emblazoned with the word 'SALE!' '20%' and '50%, like giant battle flags, as though challenging a larger store -- a warehouse store, it said - boasting the same bargains. A Chinese man played around with the buttons of a cell phone he was trying to sell to a young lady in a hijab. A child not much older than Samantha bounced in an electronic ride that was stationary, and not too far away from him a mamak stood beside a shelf selling magazines and newspapers. In the middle of the station some people were setting up a small wooden platform for an unidentifiable promotional event. Small stalls littered the area selling cheap knock-offs for twenty ringgit, even less. Some of them were dominated by real estate agents advertising homes yet to be built. Anna felt hot, uncomfortable, and impatient.

Anna saw the chocolate shop. It was a very small shop, but it had all of the richest and the tastiest chocolates that could be found in the Klang Valley: chocolates coating raisin jelly, chocolates coating more layers of chocolate coating nuts, chocolates white and sweet, and chocolates hidden in caramel shells. She felt an urge to grab one rise in her, and thought of stopping for a minute or two - which, she reminded herself; she had no time for, and marched straight on towards the ticket counter. Then she heard Samantha yowl.

"I want a chocolate!"

Anna did not reply.

"I want a chocolate mommy!"

I wanT a chOc-a-lEt mOmmee! Anna could never admit that, despite her pride in Samantha, she had often felt insulted when she realized how staccato her accent was compared to the smoothness Samantha's ending 't', which rolled off her tongue in perfect ease. Blame Spongebob Squarepants, Anna often laughed as friends, relatives and neighbours coo'ed over Samuel and Samantha. Once, a relative had been careless and slipped a truthful opinion: your daughter doesn't sound a bit like you, she sound so angmoh, you sound like… and then the relative paused a few seconds before saying you sound just like me lah. Hor hor.


A sense of revulsion rose in her as she thought of the thousands of three-year olds and four-year olds going Mommy! Mommy! in their high-pitched wailing accented voices, wailing and wailing and begging for chocolate and will you not ask for chocolates I want them to but we are going to be late for our train! Don't be so stupid you're so smart with your accent all brains no sense -

"Mommy I want a chocolate!" said Samantha and Anna could hear Samantha's squeaky rubber soles heading further away from her, towards the chocolate shop. Something inside Anna screamed: you spoiled child! You spoiled child! You have all the luxuries in the world! When I was young we had no accents and we listened! We listened!

Anna took two large steps, grabbed Samantha's tiny arm and dug her nails into her. Samantha screamed.

"You don't listen to me again! You don't listen to me again!" Anna breathed her threats through gritted teeth. Samantha screamed again. All around them people stopped and turned to look, gazing accusingly at Anna. Anna felt the weight of their accusation pile on her head: she doesn't know how to control her child! Look at her child, so noisy, turning this station into such an unpleasant place! A terrible mother! A terrible mother!

"You shout again I pinch you more!"

Samantha gave one last bitter howl, a howl Anna thought would never end, howling and howling and filling the air with thick shame, until the howl turned into a whimper and Anna heard a sob. Moments later Anna heard another howl on her shoulder. Samuel had woken up and was bawling his heart out, confused and frightened by the commotion, sensing the bitterness in his mother's voice. Samuel's tears sparked more tears from Samantha and a fresh flow of tears poured out of her eyes.

Just then, Anna heard a rumble beneath her. The train had arrived.

There was no way they would be able to catch it on time. Anna let go of Samantha's hand and looked at her weakly. Samantha's tears were streaming down her face and on her shoulder. Anna patted Samuel over and over, attempting to console him, escaping the wrath of Samantha's gaze. The tears that flowed from Samantha's eyes were tears of genuine pain and humiliation. Thousands of people were looking upon Samantha and accusing her: what a horrible child she was, what a horrible child she was. Even her mother does not love her. Her mother was horrible! Her mother was horrible! I hate you!

As Samuel's bawls ceased, Anna looked at the chocolate store, and then at Samantha's wrinkled, tiny, and wet face. I hate you! - Anna could hear those words ringing in Samantha's mind, and again: I hate you!

Anna could not bear those accusations anymore. "Please don't be angry at me," begged Anna, but it was an unspoken plea.

Instead, Anna patted Samantha's head and said, "Look, we've already missed the train. Ok lah," said Anna, wiping her daughter's tears with her hand, "I'll get you some chocolates. Don't cry."


Anonymous said...

Interesting story. Lots of vivid impressions created from the characters and descriptions. I can't quite make out, however, the source of Anna's anger. Was it because she had to hurry? Was it the chocolate shop? Was it her children's crying? Or was it because her own life wasn't as easy as that of her children? Cheers, Zu

Anonymous said...

Thanks! As for Anna's anger -- heh, to be honest, I'm not too sure myself! ^^; I guess some buttons were pressed and the conditions were just right?

Would it be better if I made the cause of her anger specific?

Anonymous said...

There's just something about the chocolate shop and her daughter's accent that makes me wonder, that's all. Zu

r-mantic said...

well done! Sometimes people don't realize the potential of how angry they can be and you have brought that to life here. Perhaps, mothers too are more than human and are capable of feeling jealous of her own children.