Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Badminton and other Sport
Aunty Siti lets us play in her corner garden. We are the children from across the road, although I am just visiting. I come here every week after music lessons to stay with Aunty Lin. For some reason, no one is home at my house. Sharon, John and Tommy are my gracious hosts. I went to kindergarten with Sharon who is the eldest, and to Sunday School. I don’t really remember doing any of that, but our parents remain friends and they kindly take me in. I am a bookworm. I shun althletic activities, though on sports days they make me run the 100m and do the high jump. John and the neighbour boys have set up ping-pong; and when we tire of that, there are badminton games to keep us playing all afternoon.
However, being with the other kids is lively. We are all about 10 or 11 or 12. Suddenly I relish the competition, the precise click of the ping-pong ball and the airy thwack of the shuttlecock on the sweet spot of the racket obsess me and I begin to actually play a sport. For once, I emerge from the world of dreams and feel the grass spring under my Bata shoes as I leap in the air in Aunty Siti’s garden.
The neighbour boys are all related to each other, they are two sets of brothers who live next door. They call themselves Little Brother – Big Brother/ Little Cousin – Big Cousin in the chinese custom. Later on, they may get English names, as is the Malaysian custom. Little Brother is their leader, despite being the youngest. He is born in the Year of the Monkey, and he is mercurial. I have yet to meet any other boy who talks as much as he does. He organises us. Shoves us into doubles teams. The months go by and we have all played against each other and partnered each other in turn. Mostly I speak with Little Brother, as he is the most expressive. We are the communication twins, we make leaps of imagination together. The others speak cantonese among themselves. I can understand it. The cousins don’t speak much English and Older Brother stands aloof because he is older.
Everyone is intent on the game, we move aside for our doubles games, stepping up for the stroke of our bats, of our slams and smashes. No one ever bumps into each other. It is rhythmic, even graceful, and mostly silent except for Little Brother’s commentary, his story which pulls us through the days and months.
Of course everything changes one day. We are all talking through the fence. What game do we play today? Little Brother wants me to choose. But he doesn’t want me to choose the game, he wants me to choose the boy I like the best. Little Brother is insistent and emotional. I guess now, it is because he knows inside that he is my 11-year old soul mate and he wants me to declare it. I feel anxious and betrayed. The games stop abruptly as the boys prowl the chain link fence, and I hide with Sharon, John and Tommy in their shared room and wring my hands. There is an older, more experienced shade of me which stands in the corner of my gaze. This other me knows disaster is approaching. I cannot choose Little Brother, he is too little and he has forced my hand. He’s lured me into my body and now he wants to pin down my mind.
I think that if I were older, I would like to have a crush on Little Cousin, he doesn’t say much but he has a noble brow and seems like a decent and honorable fellow. So I tell Little Brother this. I write Little Cousin a poem which he doesn’t understand and he is nonplussed by it. No one speaks to me, and Little Brother is wrathful. I can feel it emanating from the blank windows next door. Aunty Siti’s garden is silent. She must wonder where the children have gone. I never play badminton again as I have learned the shame of choosing.