فصل 10

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فصل 10

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CHAPTER TEN

Jessica’s problem

‘Come here,’ Mum said with a voice like ice, ‘if you can walk straight!’ As I walked unsteadily towards her, I felt that something unthinkable was about to happen. Something that would change us both forever. And now it was too late to stop it. I had almost reached her when she slapped me hard across the face. And I mean hard! I felt the sting and something wet on my cheek. It was blood where her ring had cut me.

‘Let that teach you to make a fool of me,’ she said, breathing heavily and trembling. I think she had shocked herself as much as me by the violence of her reaction. ‘We’ll talk about this in the morning. Now get out of my sight. You make me sick. Sick, sick, sick. After everything I’ve been through lately, all you can do is make it worse. You’re selfish, stupid and you obviously have no feelings - at least no feelings for me. Now get up to your room before I lose my temper again.’

As I undressed and washed, I thought of all the things I wished I’d said to her. Some of them would have hurt her as much as she’d hurt me. But it was too late now. I tried to get to sleep but I couldn’t stop thinking about everything - about Jessica, about Mum, about Dad. My head was spinning with questions but no clear answers. I felt confused, angry and unhappy.

I slept late the next morning. Maybe my mind was unconsciously hoping that Mum would be out. But she was waiting for me when I came downstairs for breakfast. I felt fear deep down in my stomach - that terrible sinking feeling everyone gets when they know something bad is about to happen to them. She followed me to the table and sat down with me, and poured herself a cup of coffee. Her face was tense and her eyes unsmiling. ‘So what’s going on then?’ she asked in a hard, cold voice.

‘Nothing,’ I mumbled as I tried to swallow some cereal. It tasted like cement.

‘Don’t think I’m stupid,’ she went on. ‘I know you’ve been up to no good, so it’s no good pretending and telling me a load of stupid lies. I told you not to go to that party last night but you went anyway. You deliberately did what I told you not to do. I want to know why.’

How could I explain the reasons to her? She would never understand how I felt about Jessica, or how exciting it was to be having fun with my new friends - the drinks and the partying - or how I just needed to get out of the house. I just mumbled some sort of protest. ‘I work at school all week and I stay here locked up like a prisoner doing my homework night after night. I’m not allowed to do this, not allowed to do that. You won’t let me out of your sight. Why can’t I go out at least once a week to enjoy myself a bit and have some fun with my friends? It’s not fair.’

‘Life isn’t fair,’ she said roughly, ‘as you should know by now. If life was fair, your father would still be here taking proper care of us instead of running around with that woman. So don’t you talk to me about what’s fair and what isn’t.’

‘Why do you always bring up Dad?’ I said accusingly. ‘It’s as if you’re blaming me for what happened.’

‘Don’t you dare speak to me like that!’ she said. ‘He’s left me to look after you and I intend to make sure you grow up as a civilised human being. And I couldn’t care less whether you think that’s fair or not!’

She paused and looked at me hard, her eyes shining dangerously. I pushed my bowl of uneaten cereal away. She started to clear the breakfast things noisily. ‘So I’m telling you one last time - if I say you are not to do something, then you’d better not do it. No more parties or going out at all till Puri gets back. That’s in a couple of weeks from now.’

‘But I thought she was due back this week,’ I said.

‘She called me last night to say she can’t come back for another two weeks. There’s nothing I can do about it. Anyway, once she’s back, she’ll be around to keep an eye on you. Till then, no more going out with your friends, and no allowance either. Do I make myself clear? I’ve got enough to worry about without having to worry about you, too, all the time. Now I’m going over to see Auntie Swee Eng. Do you want to come?’

‘No thanks,’ I said. Actually, I would have liked to have seen Auntie Swee Eng - but not now, and certainly not with my mother.

‘In that case, you’d better get on with your homework. I’ll take a look at it when I get back this evening. There’s some food in the fridge for your lunch.’

Soon after she’d left, I got a text message from Jessica. She must have tried to call while I was arguing with Mum.

Got 2 cu. V imp. Can u call? Luv u, J

I wondered what was so important, so I called her straight away. ‘Hi, Jessica.’

‘Oh, Chee Seng - thank goodness you’ve called. I’ve been going mad. Look, I’ve got to see you. Something terrible is happening. I don’t want to talk about it on the phone. When can I see you?’

I thought fast. I couldn’t go out after what Mum had just said. What could I do? I knew I had to see Jessica. She sounded really upset. Why not ask her to come over? Mum would only be back in the evening, and it was the maid’s day off. No one would know. ‘Listen, Jessica, can you come here to my place? I can’t leave the house today. Can you get a taxi or something?’

‘Chee Seng, give me a few minutes to work it out. I’ll call you back, OK?’

She phoned ten minutes later to say that she’d be there by midday. We didn’t speak much, but I could hear the tension in her voice. I knew something really serious was going on. It was already eleven o’clock, so I went to tidy myself up before she arrived. I’d never had a girl over before and I felt pretty nervous about it.

At exactly midday a red and white Comfort taxi stopped outside our gate and Jessica got out. When I let her in the house I could see she’d been crying. Her eyes were red and swollen, and she looked exhausted. I took her in my arms and kissed her gently. Suddenly she began crying uncontrollably. I took her into the lounge and made her comfortable on the big sofa. Then I gave her some water to drink and sat down beside her. Gradually she calmed down and gave me a sad smile as she wiped her tears away. ‘So what’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘It’s terrible, Chee Seng. They’re sending me away.’

‘Away where?’

‘To Australia. Dad’s sister is married to an Australian in Perth, and Mum and Dad have decided to send me there to finish school and go to university.’

‘But why? I mean why now?’ I asked.

‘Don’t ask me. I guess it’s because they’re worried about what’s been happening to me. I didn’t tell you all this before because I was so happy to be going out with you, but I had a bad experience with a guy I met at Ka Ting’s a few months ago. He was married and was just using me for fun. Please don’t ask me anything else about it. I was stupid. It was nothing important. I just wanted to forget about it, but my parents found out and now they’re always reminding me of it. And then, my Mum found some of those party pills in my bedroom. She went wild. That’s when they started to talk about Australia. I didn’t believe them at first but this morning they told me it’s definite. I have to go, they say. They think if I stay here, I’ll get into really deep trouble. They want me out of here and somewhere they think I can’t get into trouble.’

‘But, if you go to live in Australia…’ I began.

‘Yes, I know… then I’ll never see you again,’ she said, and tears began to pour down her cheeks. I took her in my arms and stroked her hair slowly to calm her down.

‘When do they want you to go?’

‘At the end of this term. That’s only two weeks away. What are we going to do? I think I’ll die if I have to leave you.’

‘Can’t you persuade them to change their minds?’ I asked, knowing the answer already.

‘I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. But they’ve made up their minds. There’s nothing I can do to change that.’

‘So, what are we going to do? I need to see you, Jessica. You know that. I can’t live without seeing you. I’ve never felt this way before but… ‘

‘It’s the same for me, Chee Seng. That’s why I had to talk to you. We have to find a way out of this. Somehow. Any way we can…’

We spent the next few hours together. We shared the food Mum had left in the fridge. We talked about how we felt about each other. We went round and round in circles, trying to find a way out of Jessica’s move to Australia, but couldn’t find an answer. Eventually, we went to my room. We lay down together…

It was 5 pm by the time Jessica left. We’d agreed to meet after school the next day to see if either of us had thought of a solution.

I tried to concentrate on my homework, but my head was full of thoughts of Jessica. Somehow I managed to finish everything just before Mum came back for dinner. She read through my homework absent-mindedly, as if she had problems to deal with too. I wondered if something had happened at work. She really looked worried.

The next day, at school, Ka Ting took me to one side during the break. ‘Hey man!’ he said. ‘You should have stayed on Saturday - it got really wild. We all ended up swimming naked in the pool till the sun came up! It was some party. Dad’s away in China again next weekend. I’m planning another party on Saturday. It’s going to be even better this time. You come, OK? Bring Jessica too, right?’

‘Listen, Ka Ting,’ I replied. ‘I can’t go anywhere for a couple of weeks. And what’s more, I don’t have any money. Mum’s cut my allowance. I’m in deep trouble at home.’

‘Don’t worry!’ he said, laughing. ‘No need to worry. I can lend you some money. Here.’ And he slipped two fifty-ringgit notes into my hand - more than my usual weekly allowance. ‘You can give it back later, no problem.’

‘But I still can’t get away on Saturday. I’m stuck at home. She’s watching me like a guard dog.’

‘No problem… I’ll have another party after that. You just come anytime, OK?’

As he said that, an idea started to form in my mind. Perhaps there was a way out of our problem after all…

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