A small boy’s survival technique
by Bertha Henson
AH SING was cornered. The bigger boy loomed over him, blowing cigarette smoke into his face. Ah Sing knew Indra wanted him to hand over his pocket money – willingly. Ah Sing waved the smoke from his face. He was asthmatic and had left his inhaler in the classroom. He made a mental note not to be so careless next time.
Indra bellowed: “So little boy, want to give me your money or not!’’ deliberately, he exhaled through his mouth. Ah Sing quietly cursed the wind direction. Why wouldn’t it just rain, he thought.
The expected shoving came. Ah Sing stood upright. Two years of training in the kids’ gym had made him slightly more muscled, even if still small-sized. He blamed his genes; his whole family was smallish. Ah Sing, as is in his nature, kept silent. He had learnt the art of walking softly while carrying a big stick, although he didn’t have a stick with him. Or was it a carrot or stick? But he had no carrots either.
Indra rifled through the small boy’s pockets and pulled out a $2 note. He couldn’t believe that the geeky kid in glasses who lived in a three-story bungalow had only $2 on him. “Where’s the rest?’’.
No response from Ah Sing, who pulled the note back.
Inwardly, Ah Sing cheered. What a brainwave to lock the other $8 in a secret compartment in his school bag. Indra would need the form teacher to open the lock. But it seemed that Indra had found his precious football cards.
Ah Sing shouted: “Give them back!’’
Indra replied coolly: “But you stole this from me. So it’s actually mine.’’
Ah Sing contemplated making a fuss but decided not to. Let him have them if it would buy a few days of trouble-free recess, he thought.
Indra wasn’t satisfied. He needed to cajole or shame Ah Sing.
So, at first, he said that Ah Sing should be more generous and be a better friend to a friend in need. After all, Ah Sing owned expensive designer track shoes.
Then, he made fun of Ah Sing’s small family, which only had Pa, Ma, Ah Girl, Ah Ma, Mary the maid and Timmy the dog.
Finally, he pointed out that he had siblings and cousins by the dozen who could drown him simply be peeing on him.
Ah Sing had heard this many times before. He had looked up the word “envy’’ on Wikipedia. He wished his father wouldn’t drive him to school in his Merc but Pa didn’t believe in going car-lite. Then Ma wouldn’t let him take the MRT because it might make him late for school. He suggested cycling to school, but Ah Ma got into a fit talking about how dangerous pedestrians on pavements could be.
Ah Sing sighed. He was the top boy in the class but it didn’t make him popular. He was especially good in mathematics and spent plenty of time in front of the computer without parental guidance, so that he could learn everything he could about the world. He realised what a dangerous place the world is, especially to the small-sized.
This was why he tried to make a lot of friends; you don’t know when you might need their help. This was why he liked rules. Rules are meant to be obeyed and to protect both big and small. But there was no teacher around to watch him being shaken down by Indra – or to catch Indra smoking.
Indra was getting tired of haranguing Ah Sing, whom he had described to his relatives as a smug, sneaky and self-righteous piece of s***. He disliked the small boy who always seemed to be one up on him. Those designer track shoes should have been his, Indra thought. Somehow Ah Sing had managed to get them by some sort of bomoh magic, he thought.
He was thinking of letting Ah Sing go when the other boys came up.
Indra sighed. He knew the lecture that was coming, about how as the biggest boy in the class, he was expected to be nice to everyone, especially little ones.
He saw Ah Sing looking hopefully at Amal. He knew that Ah Sing and Amal had decided to pool their pocket money to buy a really fancy toy train set. Doubtless, Ah Sing was expecting Amal’s support. But, Indra knew that Amal had his own troubles and was in danger of getting kicked out of his own home because of money problems.
Ah Sing knew this too. No help from that quarter, he thought.
He caught sight of Camby, standing outside the circle with arms akimbo. Camby can’t be relied on, Ah Sing thought. Camby only does what that even bigger boy in the upper class wants. That big fellow wasn’t afraid of anyone, not even the school principal.
The circle of boys, all 10 of them, usually played together at recess time. But increasingly, those times were getting more and more infrequent. Ah Sing wanted them all to be part of a community, even if it was impossible to be best friends forever. It was what he had learnt from Pa and the family. When you are rich, but small, you need to be part of something bigger or at least have friends who are also rich but big.
He thought of his family and how his Pa had rigged up a new security system for the house. Pa was even rearing carrier pigeons for emergency use in case the Internet broke down. That had led to a law suit from the neighbour who said his pigeons were a nuisance and an environmental hazard.
Ah Sing looked around him. He knew that it was best to depend on no one but himself.
All the boys looked at him and laughed.
Tragedy averted for the day.
Featured image by Sean Chong.
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