It was just another sleepless night. She stepped out from her very warm bed and grabbed the coat on the back of the chair. She felt the icy cold floor. She did not wear any slippers at home, though her mother had insisted that sheo buy a pair. She liked real feeling, without any mediation. She quietly turned the doorknob, not wishing to arouse her sisters. A twin. Sometimes, she felt herself a stranger to them. A room renter. Her twin sisters share things among themselves; laughter, tears, secrets, gossips (hopefully it’s not about her), food, clothing, and everything else. This was what she thought. She was not supposed to be there anyway.
It was so dark everywhere. She lit a candle. They were poor, but they surely had electricity. How could one live without electricity? The most gorgeous invention of the century was electricity, she believed, though she did not know whom she was admiring. She took out a book from her bag, The Severed Head by Iris Murdoch. Only two more days before she had to return it to the library. She opened it to the page where she had stopped that afternoon. No bookmark, but by heart. It had a smell, the smell with age and history. She sometimes wondered the sizes and shapes of the hands that had once hold the same book. Shouldn’t there be some common characteristics shared between these people and her? Somehow, they had chosen the same book! Not the one that stood next to it, but this particular one. But she hated the library books. She hated the smell. The smell of yellow and worn pages. She was also disgusted by the images that one of these people must have brought with him the same book she was reading to the toilet. But what could she do?
To read under the small gloomy light of the candle was not a problem for her. She liked that feeling. To absorb all the knowledge in the book with only candlelight made the knowledge more valuable. Perhaps the writer wrote the book under the same situation. Perhaps.
She seldom went home lately. She lived by herself after graduation. There had been a violent clash when she told them. Blaming her for forgetting her origin, that she was brought up by HANDS. Of course everyone was brought up by hands, what was so special about that? It was not that she refused to return something back to the family; the problem was that, it was not enough. At least, this was all her parents complaining about. This night, she came back to give her mother money, for buying her twin sisters a computer. She did not ever complain about anything in her home, somehow, this was her responsibility.
Her parents showed their discontent when she said she had a place in HKU. They did not talk to her for weeks. Her sisters were kindt enough to comfort her. But they reminded her that, each of them wanted a pair of new running shoes for the coming Christmas. She loved her sisters. They were too lovely to be hated. Her parents’ reaction was not shocking to her. But she reassured herself that she could manage all these. Doing part-time work was no problem.
She lived alone was not because of her hatred to this family. She felt all right to do the chores at home, to try her best to contribute monetarily to her family, to set up a good example for her sisters (so that she was not allowed to talk on phone, to buy anything extravagant, to disagree with her parents, and do anything that her sisters may follow; though she could not think of any of the above that her sisters did not do). She was the eldest in the family, she understood her parents perfectly. It was the feeling that being watched that kept her apart. She was blamed for using too much water, too much electricity, too much toilet paper, too much money, and, too much space. She was the one who paid for all of the above. The most unacceptable treatment for her was the occupation of space. She loved reading. Reading satisfied her quest for knowledge. It could also be another means to challenge her parent’s authority; as a silent revolution against their wish that she should not study. She had no say when her parents said their home was too small for any book collection. They ‘blamed’ themselves for being so useless that they could not buy a bigger flat for her. She understood perfectly. It was her inability to bring good fortune to the family.
Living outside allowed her to keep as many books as she could. She reserved only a small corner for her to sleep. Not a bed, but a removable tatami. Her friends had been joking that the books can make up a handsome bed for her under the tatami. But of course she would not do that. The books were even more valuable than anything else in her room. Sometimes, before she slept, she would agree with the idea that, her thirst for knowledge was a result of her parents’ disapproval.
Now, she was an assistant editor at Young Post. She was pleased with the job. Dealt with language. The English language. On Sunday, she also worked in Dymocks for very obvious reasons. She could read as many new books as she could, but the most disturbing question was, how could she bring them all home? It was just impossible. But she could not part with the characters that she knew well. Every single one of them. She laughed, cried, feared, moaned, hated, played, mocked, shared, lived, and, died with each of them. How could possibly that she left her old friends in that cold and detached bookstore? She also hated people coming in and left without taking any books with them. They were idiots.
Now, she was reading Iris Murdoch. A new author that she was hooked on recently. Of course she could afford buying this one. She wanted to live back her live when she was under her parents’ supervision. Having to live like a mouse; or smaller than a mouse. Iris wrote beautifully. But what she liked most was her ability to provoke her to think. One of the characters slept with his sister. She laughed at that.
Her father came out from his room. ‘Is it over?’
They entered the kitchen with tacit agreement. ‘Is mother asleep deeply?’
‘Of course, I tried to arouse her but with no response.
Her father approached her. They kissed. There was no mediation between them. She liked real feeling. She felt a strong pleasure in that. She came home tonight because her period was over.
The next day, she left in the morning after breakfast. Her sisters asked her to come home more often. And they would like a mango birthday cake, a present of surprise and another present that they were sure they like – A MD player for each of them. She promised them swiftly and kissed her mother goodbye. Her father was reading his morning paper intently, without raising his head, he bid her goodbye.
She enjoyed coming back home. Everyone welcomed her. Her mother smiled with the money in hand. Her lovely sisters unwrapped the presents happily. Her father yearned for her fresh and young body. Everyone was pleased. And was she pleased? Why not, she thought. Every time she finished with her father, she thought herself as his mistress, with her mother kept unknowing forever. She enjoyed hearing the moaning of his father, moaning for pleasure. She was the queen.
She could not tell anybody how superior she felt every time she stepped out of her old home. Not even her boyfriend. Only one time, she asked herself why did she do that. Because the answer was so perfect and convincing. There was no other reason that she had to question herself again and again. She wanted a revenge on her mother. Of depriving her right to study, to quest for knowledge, to live like a person and not a mouse. She had to take something back from her. And what big deal did it make anyway? This was not her real father. She was there because her parents suspected that they could not give birth after three years’ effort. And they adopted her and gave her a name, Dai Di, which meant to bring brothers, hoping that this orphan could bring good fortune to the family. But she could only bring the twin sisters. She accepted everything because she was brought up by her mother’s HANDS. She now repaid her with money. And everyone was happy.
Was she really happy? Why not? She convinced herself one more time.
~Marjorie Cheung (Hong Kong)
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