Saturday October 27, 2012
A tale of two kiddies
By Alexandra Wong
Spend two hours playing with some strange kids or use that precious time on money-generating assignments? You might be surprised.
WHERE shall I sit grandma?
At the sound of that childish voice, I look up from my laptop. It belongs to a little girl standing next to a Punjabi-suited lady. Behind the pair is another little girl. They have stopped at my row and are looking sheepishly at me.
I hurriedly clear my water bottle, the French toast I had tapau-ed before boarding the ETS train, and my laptop bag from the seat next to me. Only then does the aunty say, “Why don’t you sit next to the lady here?”
I’m hoping to clear some of my deadlines during the two-and-a-half-hour journey back to Ipoh, so I have no intention of being chatty with the little girl who settles in shyly beside me, until something catches my eye.
Those big eyes with long camel-like lashes. Those sky-high cheekbones. Those soft curls tumbling down her back. Unable to resist, I start peppering her with questions: What is your name? Lina. Is that your grandmother and sister? Yes. Where do you live? Bangsar.
Before you can say, “Kids say the darndest things”, both of us get sucked into a rollicking conversation – which is suddenly interrupted by a high-pitched voice ringing out from across the row. “Grandma, can I sit over there?”
Lina’s sister is grinning expectantly at me from the other side.
Two little girls, fighting for my attention? This would have never have happened in a million years. Thankfully, the two ETS seats are broad enough to accommodate the three of us
“Can I play with your phone?”
Lina’s eyes are trained on my smartphone.
“Sure, honey,” I pass it to her, wondering belatedly if she would wreck my expensive brand-new acquisition.
Boy, am I wrong.
With the familiar ease of a Silicon Valley wunderkind, she quickly fires up the menu and proceeds to expertly download several games. O-kayyy.
My other phone beeps, an ancient device I refuse to ditch because I prefer to type my story ideas with a keypad than touchpad. As I retrieve my sms, an idea comes to me.
“How old are you, Rina?” I ask the younger one.
“I am five.”
“Ah! This old phone is six years old. So you can call her aunty!”
They dissolve into giggles.
“And how about you Lina?”
“Ah,” I deadpan. “So the phone will have to call you aunty!”
More fresh giggles – music to my ears. Suddenly, I couldn’t care less about my deadlines. I close my laptop with an air of finality. The grandma remarks wryly, “I don’t think you will get any work done at all.”
“It’s OK,” I smile.
I notice they are both wearing identical shirts and pants. “How come both of you are wearing the same clothes?” I ask.
“Their father bought for them,” their grandma replies.
“Ah,” I nod. “He’s based in KL, is it?”
“And what about their mother?”
“Please don’t talk about my mother,” congenial Rina blurts out unexpectedly.
Their grandma has a sad expression on her face. “She has passed away.”
A dozen conflicting emotions pass through my mind. Like how could God deny the two little girls of their mother at that age. Like how they were so adorable and I wish there was something I could do for them. Like why on earth did I open my big mouth.
“Aunty, don’t worry about it. It’s OK.”
That calming statement, uttered with a gentle smile, comes from Rina. She knows, I realise with a shock. She can tell that the unexpected revelation affected me, and in her own wise way, she is trying to reassure me. A tide of respect for the late mother, and her loving family responsible for teaching these little girls to be so independent and prescient, rises in my throat
Not wanting to spoil the moment, I continue to play with them. For my efforts, they treat me to a live performance of a traditional children’s song about “Two Tigers”, in Mandarin.
“Where did you learn that?” I ask, flabbergasted.
“In school. We have Mandarin classes.”
I never knew that. On impulse, I hand my business card to the two little girls. They study it with delight. My heart feels strangely heavy as we walk out of the coach into the train station. At the exit, Rina regards me solemnly. “Thank you for giving us your pink bunny card, Aunty. Maybe we can call you out for tea sometime.”
Five years old, I think with astonishment.
On the way out of the station, my dad drives past the trio. The two sisters wave energetically at me.
“Who are those little girls?” Dad asks.
“Just two new friends,” I reply, “who taught me a thing or two about life.”
Alexandra Wong (bunnysprints.com) knows this is probably a long shot, since she has changed the names of the children to protect their privacy. But if somebody who knows them reads this article, please tell Lina and Rina that, yes, Aunty Alex would love to have tea with them someday.