Chapter 2. The Trouble with Ah Wai (Excerpt)
Ma says I’m a girl. I find it hard to believe. Ma has pink lips and soft wavy hair layered in the latest fashion to just below her ears. She likes to wear high heels and Mandarin dresses-—sort of like the tunic that Lok Tsair wears, but with side splits, and shapely, so that you’ll see the curves of her body, and the dress goes down well below her knees. Most of all, Ma has two puffy lumps on her chest. When I try to squeeze them she hits my hands. Lok Tsair has the lumps too, except she winds a cloth tight over them so they won’t poke out so much.
How can I be a girl when my chest is flat like Ba’s? I like to jump on the bed but Ma always says, “Ah Wai, calm down.” And, “Ah Wai, don’t arch your eyebrows. You’ll have permanent wrinkles on your forehead.” And, “Don’t laugh with your mouth wide open, with all your teeth showing. It looks silly.” And, “Ah Wai, DON’T SPIT!”
Ma tries hard to make me more like her. She puts a dress on me, not a Mandarin dress, but a Western-style dress with a tight bodice and a flare bottom. She buys me patent leather shoes and a little roly-poly handbag to carry. I look kind of funny because my hair won’t grow and I look like a boy in a dress. Ma likes to dress up before we go to church on Sundays to see Ba play the organ. Ba plays in a little lookout room above the choir. Ma and I like to sneak into the room real quiet and watch him. When he plays everyone sings. After they sing “Ahhh-mennn” he turns around and lifts me onto the organ bench so I can look out into the sanctuary and watch people get up and leave. We go to the park afterwards and play ball.
Ma is the classic Chinese beauty with porcelain skin, sloping shoulders and a slender body. She has almond-shaped eyes and a straight and fine nose. Her lower lip is fuller than the upper lip and when she smiles her teeth are clean and white. On her forehead between the eyes is a big brown mole. Ma’s friends say that’s the sign of a goddess. They call her Seventh-Sister, like the legendary seventh Goddess of Heaven who lives in the moon. Ma is also called the Medicine Pot, because she often gets sick.
Every morning Ma turns the radio to the English station. She believes if Kee Kee and I listen often we will be able to speak English before we start school. Ma makes us dresses using a sewing machine. Ma can do a lot of things.
And I am Ma’s Monkey Girl, who has grown into a bundle of energy; who likes to climb and jump and tumble; who crashes into a glass lamp and falls off the table; who loves to laugh with her big mouth wide open; who’ll get up and play, ignoring her cuts and bruises; who is a normal child until they find out.