“SYAHIRAH, get down of the roof. Or I’ll bash you with this Prop Stick again!” Mother was screaming from down the front door. In her hand, as her saying, the Prop Stick was clasped neatly between her fingers, ready to hit me when I climbed down the roof to the branches of the mango tree to the ground. I yelled back from the top of the roof, wait, just a little more thing with this and then I will get down of the roof and you can hit me. Mother kept waiting and screaming for me to get down before she climbed the trees and came and get me herself. I giggled on the roof as mother can never went up here, for she is as fat as Pak Mahmud’s cow. The branches of the mango tree would definitely snapped to three or four pieces if she tried to get up. I put some final touches on the roof, using the glue my father left in his store room and the lids of the powder milk tins from Baby Farhan’s next door. When I finished, the tin lid were attached to the roof and it is impossible to take it off as father used to say to me; This glue is very strong, even the entire house is rotten the glue will and always be attached there. I cannot imagined a house could be rotten like a meat but I hope our house will never smell like rotten eggs in the chicken’s little homie at the back of the mother’s mango tree if it’s rot.
I climbed down the roof and slid down gracefully from the branches to the barks of the tree. Mother came storming below and beat me once with the Prop Stick. Mother was angry. What are you doing up there? I remained silence. Mother twisted my left ear and dragged me into the house. Naughty girl, she said. “Try to act more like a girl. Climbing over rooftop! Even boys do not do that.” You are not a girl if you climb the rooftop? I asked, mother said yes and I told her I don’t want to be a girl. “You must be a girl; you must learn to cook, to be humble, gentle. Not playing on top of the roof.” I wondered aloud why a girl had to cook and be humble and be gentle and not climbing rooftop. Mother snorted, left the Prop Stick propped against the back of the door and took me into the bathroom and bathed me. The stick was always there propped against the back of the door. I was naughty and the stick was leaved there so mother can easily reached for the stick to beat me whenever I went to play until late at evening. I called it Prop Stick.
That night, there were storms and lightning. Mother was ready with the buckets, pans and tins to be put around in the house. If they were rain, our little house would be flooded with water that dripped from the roof. One, two, three, four, five, and I lost count for the other water continent as mother put it around the house at the usual spot. I just watched because I knew even if I asked my mother can I help you she will only shooed me away. She thought three-year-old like me can do nothing. Then, from the distance, the sound of rain drops beating on the roof of the other villagers started to be heard. Mother hurried up with another tree bucket and pulled my hand to the far corner where there weren’t any bucket. Tak, tak, tak, the rain water started to fall on the zinc atap of our little house. I shivered and put my head on the pillow beside mother. I curled into a ball, but mother took a batik sarong and put it on top of my shivering body. Mother got up and went to look for the containers she had put on for the rain water in case it was already full. She went for about a minute or two and come back again. “What were you doing on the roof this evening?” I said I put the lids of the powder milk tins from Baby Farhan’s next door with father’s glue on the roof’s holes. I didn’t tell you because you’ll never going to say yes if I asked you can I help you.
Mother sobbed and kissed me on the forehead for about a hundredth time.
Sometimes my mind wonder, why mother always said to everybody else can I help you and insisted they take her help even if they refused. But when someone said can I help you back to mother she smiled and say “It’s okay, I can handle them myself” even it is not okay. When they insisted like mother insisted mother will never say yes. I asked mother about this and she said we cannot let other people be burdened by our little problems. I did not know what burden is, but I kept it to myself. I do not want to burden my mother with my question. Brother Ibrahim next door told me if we do not know the meaning of a word, we can see the dictionary he just bought when he’s nine year old. He said nine year old kid had to have a dictionary, or they’ll be a moron. I knew what a moron is, Brother Ibrahim told me it means stupid. I’m also not really sure what is stupid, but they call little Ali stupid because he ate dirt every day even though his mother did fed him with rice. I didn’t eat dirt and I didn’t want to be stupid, or a moron. So when I’m nine years old I’m going to buy a dictionary. But I can’t wait until I’m nine year-old to find the meaning of burden; I did not want to be called stupid if I did not know the meaning of the word. So tomorrow I’m going to find Brother Ibrahim to find the word burden in his dictionary.
I saw Shazwan kicking a ball in the field. There were a few of his friends who were also chasing around the same ball and I wonder what’s so special about the ball. I asked Shazwan and him and his friends laughed out loud and say I am stupid. I yell back “I’m not stupid, I never eat dirt,” and they laughed out some more. Shazwan told me they’re playing football and they were having fun chasing over a same ball around the field. I wanted to try to play and see if there’s any fun chasing around a same ball, but they said girls can’t play football for they are soft. I told them I don’t want to be a girl but they never listened. I wanted to try to chase around a ball, so I went inside the house and took a big plastic bag. I blew it with my mouth until it became a big and floaty. I tied the opening of my ball with a rubber band and I kicked it around. I now understand why it is so wonderful and fun to chase over a ball around. You kicked and you controlled it with your foot, and you kicked far.
My mother sent me to a charity pre-school at the very end of the village. Mother said if you do not want to be stupid you must study hard, then you don’t have to be burden to me and to the other people. I now knew what burden is; problems for somebody else. I didn’t want to be a burden and to be stupid so I did study hard. When my teacher asked me question I answer correctly and teacher said I’m clever. I’m happy because I was not stupid like other kids who cannot answered what teacher asked them but they said I’m showing off. I just didn’t want to be stupid and I told that to my teacher. My teacher told me stupid is a bad word and never call other people stupid. I asked her can I call them moron and my teacher laugh. “God, this girl know only advance words, but not the simple one.” Teacher said moron is worse than stupid and I’m not allowed to use that. I never called anybody stupid again from that day.
* * *
My entire muscle was screaming for oxygen but my mind did not notice it. I felt like the need to see mother is more crucial than my pain now for oxygen. The wind was gushing at my face violently and I don’t care. I forced my legs to thrust forward and kept on running. Alas, I feel the ribbon stretch in my middle as I hit it and my legs suddenly entangled themselves. I stumbled and the forced when I was running dragged me far. I felt the pain and closed my eyes. My mind goes blank. I was gasping for air horribly but between the need to catch my breath I muttered “mother”. Mother, the most beautiful woman that I’ve ever seen in my entire humble life, even though her face was burned when she’s trying to catch me from slipping down the wet kitchen floor. Mother, who taught me about living. Mother, who always worried that I never going to have boyfriend and get married because I’m too boyish…
Then, from the distance, I heard “Can I help you?” I was stunned. It’s my mother, said my mind. I opened my eyes and saw someone holding out her hand to me. My hand reached for the hand and grasped it. Those hands were different from the one that I always hold on to when I was little. The face is still blurred, until the hand clasped itself around my very own hands and pulls me to my feet. Then my sense came back to me, my mom was gone. Long gone. This hand belongs to someone else, someone of my age, and someone of a different gender…
“So, you had Number One pasted on your back huh, Syaher? You conquered both academic and sport. Can you help me? Leave something for me please?” Shazwan laughed.
::: real story, different real people :::