|In a village in Selangor, Malaysia, where I grew up, coconut trees shaded the wooden houses, where fathers bowed to the earth working the paddy, mothers stayed at home and their children ran around barefoot.|
When I was ten and my sister Aini was seven, we had a hard time; Father was not earning enough from his jobs at the rubber estate and the paddy factory. Finally he decided that he could make a better living collecting rattan from deep in the forest and selling it to a nearby furniture manufacturer.
Mother was extremely worried that tigers would eat him, but Father said that it was better to risk his life being eaten by a tiger than sit at home and not eat anything at all. So early one morning, he set out on his motorcycle looking for rattan. Suddenly, Aini and I had no way of getting to school, which was far from our home. I could think of nothing better than to miss school and play with my little sister. As we stood at the front door waving goodbye to Father, I whispered to Aini that we were going to scoop up tadpoles from the backyard pond and put them in a glass jar as pets. We both grinned in anticipation.
Our happiness did not last long. Mother suddenly appeared behind us with her hands on her hips and said, "What are you both doing here? It's getting late."
"Get dressed," she ordered.
"Get dressed for what?" I questioned. Mother's eyes bulged. "My, surely not for your wedding. For school, of course," she replied assertively. My jaw dropped. "Father is gone, and we can't walk to school, if that's what you mean," I cried. Mother shook her head and answered, "You're not walking. I'm going to take you to school today. There's your father's bicycle."
Looking towards the lawn, we saw an extremely old bicycle leaning against the coconut tree. The handle was bent into an odd, twisted shape and the right pedal was nothing but an iron rod. It had been quite some time since anyone had used the bicycle and I wondered if it even worked. I told Mother that the bicycle would be so slow that we would be old by the time we reached school. Irritated by my insolence, she told me sharply not to get smart with her or she would make my ears hot and tingling.
I looked at Aini for support. She declared that she would be ashamed forever if she went to school on that bicycle. Mother shot back that she did not remember adopting the prime minister's daughter. "So you're going to school on that today," she said. End of the argument. With hearts as heavy as the house, we got into our school uniforms with sour looks on our faces and stomped out of the house.
Adopted from Reader's Digest. August 2007
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