Image credit: McFlight

The little boy bowed, a faint glint in his eyes subtly hinting to his opponent that he was not someone to be trifled with. The two-second bow was executed flawlessly, with such finesse and gracefulness that made one wonder who could have taught him so well.

Bowing to an opponent was a sign of respect – the epitome of sportsmanship.

***

Daniel had boasted to his friends in school about playing elite sports such as golf, tennis and archery. None of his classmates knew the difference between a birdie and a bogey, how silly of them. He made it a point to excel in whatever he did because Mama said it was important not to let anyone look down on him. She would be so happy to hear his good news: he had been selected to be a prefect, yippee!

Cikgu Aishah (his class teacher) told him that he would be wearing the special red necktie, which Mama had said was only for clever students. Would Mama now allow him to meet his favourite sports hero? Just once, that was all he wanted. Many of his classmates’ parents had promised to bring them to the badminton friendly next month where Lee Chong Wei would be playing. Mama had refused to let him go, saying that it was a waste of time. He tried persuading Papa to let him attend a badminton camp for the upcoming school holidays, but Papa scolded him, saying it would be a waste of money. As usual, Papa reminded him to study hard and get into university. He was very disappointed but what could he do? The only time he had the chance to play badminton was during the 30-minute Physical Education period in school. He hoped to be the best badminton player in the world, not only in his class.

I too, can be like Lee Chong Wei one day. Papa and Mama will be so proud to see me flying the Jalur Gemilang. I will be super rich like him, a millionaire, so that they won’t have to work anymore. And then, they can play with me all day long.

Getting high fives, hugs and carried around like a true hero was his dream. He loved hearing the claps, cheers and whistles from the supporters. Not the horrible boos. As such, he played only to win. No matter what, he must win. Even if he had to cheat. Oh but no, he wouldn’t do so. Because Lee Chong Wei said he would never cheat. And heroes don’t tell lies. He had watched on the television how some players threw their badminton racquets on the floor after losing to Lee Chong Wei, but his hero never ever did that. Always cool as a cucumber, he had learnt that phrase in school today. He wanted to be as cool as his hero.

Last month, Papa bought him a brand new shiny blue bicycle for being the top student in the whole of Standard Three. Sometimes, he preferred Papa to Mama because Papa always bought him gifts to reward his hard work, whereas Mama often nagged him. However, Papa was too busy to teach him how to cycle. Fine, if Papa wouldn’t teach him, he would teach himself. After all, he learnt most things by himself. Like how he taught himself to wash his uniform and school shoes. Mama had praised him and said he was an independent boy. And yes, he could spell that word too because his second best friend was the English dictionary.

He had completed his Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mathematics homework as soon as he got back from school. How nice if he could go out for a bicycle ride right now and get some fresh air. The sound of other children playing at the nearby playground was too loud to ignore. He felt bored and wished so badly that he could join them. But kakak refused to let him out of the house. She had locked up the bicycle and the doors too.

Earlier, when the ice-cream uncle passed by on a motorbike, Daniel could only close his eyes and sigh as the ting-a-ling of the ice cream bell slowly faded away. Paddle Pop would have to wait another day. He was like a prisoner in his own house. He didn’t like this new kakak; she was not as nice as the previous one. Her favourite word was no. Besides, she reminded him of the discipline teacher in school who never smiled.

The clock on the wall in the living room chimed six times. By the time Mama reached home, it would be too dark. He decided to try his luck.

At first, he asked nicely, “Please kakak, please let me go out. Please, please, please?”

When that did not work, he started crying to get her attention. Crocodile tears, he remembered Mama had once called it. Then, he wailed non-stop, as loudly as he could until kakak started yelling at him. Still, he was determined not to give up. He went on and on until she caught hold of him.

Suddenly, he felt a burning sensation on his backside. How could this happen to him? He had just been caned! As he burst into tears, this time for real, she continued hitting him, each time more painful than the last.
“Stop, stop!” he begged.

Why was she so evil? Mama said only naughty children were caned. Hadn’t he always been an obedient boy? Nobody had ever dared to lay a hand on him, not even Papa or Mama.

Luckily, he managed to wriggle his way out from kakak’s firm grip. Eventually, she left him alone in the living room after threatening to cane him further if he made any more noise. Drying his eyes with the sleeve of his Despicable Me t-shirt, he took a few deep breaths before he finally stopped crying.

Stupid kakak, I am no longer a baby!

He heard Mama’s words clearly, as if she was standing just next to him – don’t let anyone look down on you. An idea formed in his mind.

Quietly, he tiptoed into the kitchen and found what he was looking for. Hearing kakak’s footsteps behind him, he turned with a wide smile on his face, his secret weapon carefully hidden. Like a ninja, he bowed to her. Seconds later, she was screaming at the top of her lungs as she attempted to run away from him.

No, no. You’re not going anywhere, kakak.

He had been well trained to anticipate his opponent’s movements. There were only two basic rules to remember.
Rule number 1: never let your opponent escape.
Rule number 2: refer to rule number 1.

At 140 cm, he was the tallest in class. Kakak was only about half a head taller than him and she was quite skinny. Using an old trick in the book, he put out his leg. As she tripped, he swiftly targeted both her legs (to make it difficult for her to escape) before shifting to her arms. Next, her stomach. Stab, stab, stab. Then, her vital organs: her lungs and last but not least, the all-important heart. He was familiar with each part of the human anatomy because he had memorised them for Science class.

She tried to push him away, but he was stronger than most boys his age. Furthermore, he was so very angry for being treated like an animal. Even animals did not deserve to be beaten. Let this be an unforgettable lesson for her. The kitchen knife fitted nicely in his small hand, like a sword. He realised then that it was the same knife used by kakak to prepare his meals. Anyway, he could always ask Mama to get a new one later. Despite putting up a struggle, kakak was definitely a lousy opponent. Slowly, she started crawling on the floor, reminding him of a snail.

Swordplay was his second favourite game after boxing. Why not put his boxing skills to test? Throwing the knife away, he punched her hard on her cheeks and chin. Kapow!
“Take this, you loser! Feel my double fist punch!”

Surprisingly, it felt very much like the warm-up exercise that he did regularly with the punching bag under Joe’s instructions. Except that his hands hurt a lot more now. He counted to thirteen times until he heard a cracking sound.

“Come on, wake up,” he sneered. “Time’s ticking away. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Your ten seconds will be up soon.”
Tsk tsk, he shook his head. Kakak had fainted on the kitchen floor. Out of five lives, she was probably left with only one life now. It was impossible for her to even stand up and fight him. Maybe zero life left? Mission accomplished.
Yay, victory is mine!

“Na-na-na-boo-boo, I-am-the-winner,” he sang his victory song and stuck his tongue out.

Too bad there was nobody to cheer him on. How many points would he score for this? It was so much easier than beating the high scores of his friends from all over the world. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. He would show the world what he was capable of. Show them who’s the world champion.

Again, he bowed to her before leaving the kitchen in style. Like a winner. His guru, Joe the Ninja, would surely congratulate him for setting a new record. He smiled to himself as he thought of Joe, his best friend. His only companion. His one true buddy.

It was time for his piano practice session. Diligently, he practised every single day because Mama said that practice makes perfect. His Grade Four exam piece, Beethoven’s Fur Elise was slightly difficult to master. He was determined to score nothing less than a distinction.

Practice, practice, practice …

***
The officer watched in horror and disbelief, the recording obtained from the hidden CCTV cameras installed by the boy’s mother in their house. In all his years with the police force at the Bukit Aman headquarters, he had never seen anything like this. What was the world coming to?

Based on the parents’ disjointed statements, he deduced that the boy was usually left to his own devices in the afternoons with the maid to keep an eye on him. Naturally, they were in a state of shock, unable to accept the fact that their 9-year-old son had cold-bloodedly murdered the 40-year-old maid. The distraught mother was sobbing uncontrollably while the haggard-looking father appeared stumped.

Worst of all, the boy did not realise what he had done: in his world, the lines between fantasy and reality had blurred such that both meant the same thing to him. This he discovered while getting Daniel to talk to him. There was a sparkle in Daniel’s eyes as he talked animatedly about the home video game console that had kept him occupied while his mother was at work.

As he scrutinised all the sports games played by Daniel as well as his impressive grandmaster scores and the daily CCTV recordings, he finally understood who had taught Daniel the perfect bow.
The computer ninja named Joe had shown Daniel the unspoken rule of a martial arts game, which the boy (like any other child) imitated to a tee.

***

I have failed as a mother.

Lisa woke up in cold sweat. Her hands gripped the damp bedsheet as she breathed hard and fast. Automatically, she turned to the alarm clock on her bedside table. It was only 3 a.m. Trembling with fear and uncertainty, she left her bed to check on Daniel.

To her relief, he was soundly asleep in his bed, hugging his favourite teddy bear. He looked so adorable, his angelic chubby face radiating innocence. He could not be a murderer. No way. It was utterly impossible.

Silently, she let the tears roll down her cheeks. The pressures brought about by everyday life took a toll on her. She had been on tenterhooks ever since her company embarked on the much-dreaded restructuring exercise and cost-cutting measures. The possibility of being retrenched loomed large in her messed-up life. She felt overwhelmed and all alone.

Later, as she regained her composure, she reassured herself that it was just a nightmare. An extremely horrendous nightmare that felt so real, each vivid scene replaying in her mind, tormenting her to no end. Earlier this evening, she had quarrelled with Daniel over his addiction to video games. That must be it; her dream had manifested because of her guilt for neglecting him. Had she pushed him too hard? When was the last time she had heard him laugh?

She was not alone. Daniel needed her. And she fervently hoped it was not too late. She had to pull herself together and be strong for her son. Daniel had, on several occasions, mentioned to her how much he missed his father. For Daniel’s sake, she would speak to the man she detested most – her ex-husband.

 

End
***

Rowan W was born and raised in Melaka. Her day job in Singapore requires communicating with aliens on Planet Earth via e-mails. She is not a cat lover and aspires to be a flexitarian.

 

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