10. June 2013 · Comments Off on Insolence · Categories: L.. 13 to 15 years · Tags:

When I was thirteen, the nuns suspended me from school for three days.  The charge was “insolence,” but they would not say exactly how I was insolent or to whom.  My aunt Titi, who was the one who glanced at my report cards and signed my permission slips, had only this to say to me, “Don’t be too familiar with the servants.”  Decoded: don’t ask bizarre questions in class.

Titi did not mean that I should stop sitting on a footrest in the servant’s cottage, listening to Ah Chun’s stories while she ironed.  Ah Chun kept our family in clean, impeccably ironed clothes, sheets and linens.  Among the four domestic amahs that kept our household going, she was the sage.  She had a book, an arm-bending volume with many thin pages, which she consulted as a sort of almanac for all things.  She also had a repertoire of stories about village Mozarts who could make music learned from a previous lifetime, star-crossed lovers who had happy endings in another dimension, whom you could see in the night sky if you knew how to look, and ghosts.

The ghost stories were the best.  Ah Chun would tell ghost stories only if there were a few of us gathered at her feet.  She would not be ironing.  She needed both her hands to tell about the woman whose husband slapped her around and how she came back as a ghost to haunt him.  As Ah Chun re-enacted how the ghost stood over her husband’s bed, and how she looked at him longingly because she still loved him, we held our breath.  Then the ghost reached out her boney, icy hand and gently caressed his cheek.  At the same moment, a mischievous cousin reached over and touched his sister’s face.  She squealed, we squealed, and everyone was totally spooked.

Ah Chun knew about audience participation.  She wasn’t the sage for nothing.


The sisterhood

The sisterhood