A new boy in the office.
The new boy who is the first to read all my blog entries.
I try to recreate moments that I remember of a life that will never come back.
I attempt to bring back to life, people who have recited their lines and left the stage of life for another stage, that I cannot visit.
I long to let others view how we were, once upon a time.
Avinesh is the new boy in the office.
New boy reminds me of new girls in the class.
I am in Standard 2A, in Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, Johore Bahru. It is January 1958 and my classroom is the last one in the row of rooms, with the first one being the Parlour, the second the office, the third and fourth being classrooms. If I look out of the door on the left, I see Jalan Yahya Awal, where the school is situated. If I look out of the door on the right, I see a small field where we play in the morning before school starts and also during our interval.
I look around me on the first day of school. There are so many of us, 48 to be exact in one class. Every year we are mixed up and put into new classes, so that we can make new friends as we go along. One new girl in the class sitting near me, pretty, friendly and with kind eyes, short hair, brown skin and of my height is Diana Zat. Diana is my first Malay friend and she is the reason why I have such a fondness for Malays, especially Malay ladies and children.
Then one week later another new girl enters the class and she captivates me completely. Her name is Valerie Boswell. She is very light skinned, has brown straight hair, freckles and a very confident manner of speaking. One of our daily lessons is daily news. We are required to come to the front of the class and share with the class some real news. Valerie would come to the front of the class and all her stories centred around her father and her baby sister.
Mind you, I had just learned to speak English. So every day my mother met Valerie vicariously and in quite conflicting situations.
"There is another race that is European and yet not European like our neighbours," I would insist to my mother. "They speak the language, they eat European food, they dress like them, but they are not Europeans," I would argue. Finally, my mother approached the one person who made the final decision in family squabbles, my father. He listened to me. Valerie is fair but her sister Audrey was perhaps only a shade lighter than me, I told him. Then my father introduced me to the word, "Eurasian".
"Eurasian babies can speak when they are born. Why can't Malayalee babies speak when they are born?" I asked my mother. She looked at me and said, "No baby speaks when he is born".
"Eurasian babies speak when they are born. I am telling you. Valerie said her baby sister speaks!"
"That is not true."
"How do you know? You have not seen a Eurasian new born baby."
"I know. All babies are the same. They cannot speak when they are born."
The next day, I spoke to Valerie.
"Can your baby sister speak?"
"Could she speak when she was born?"
"Of course not, stupid!" I forgot to mention that she was not very polite.
"How old is she now?"
"The why do you call her baby?"
"I'm nine. She's three. She's my baby sister, silly!"
"Ma, Eurasian babies do not speak when they are born."
"I told you so," my mother told me kindly. I did not tell her that Valerie had called me stupid.
"Ma, Eurasians are the happiest people in the world. They are not like us." I informed my mother.
"Everyone is happy sometimes and sad sometimes," my mother explained. But I could not forget Valerie and the stories during Daily News. She spoke of breakfast with her dad, the way her father hugged and kissed her. That did not happen in my house. I went next door to Sau Siah's house. It did not happen there either. I asked them.
She spoke of picnics and long car drives. She spoke of her father telling them stories that made them all laugh. Her parents and parties and dancing.
"They dance and they are happy," I announced during lunch time. My mother was not really impressed.
"Theirs is not a dance! Our dance is very old and it takes you years to learn. Padmini has danced in England and America."
"Not Padmini's dance Ma. Her father and her mother dance. Her father makes her mother laugh all the time when he dances with her".
"Keep quiet and finish your lunch," said my mother as she moved away from the table. "Your father does not have to dance with me to ..." I burst out laughing and my mother stopped to look at me seriously.
"Why are you laughing?" she asked.
"Just thinking of father dancing!" and I continued to giggle.
My obsession with Valerie Boswell lasted for years. We were in the same class for three years. After standard four she left our school and the family moved to Kuala Lumpur. In 1969 they moved back to Johore Bahru and Audrey Boswell who was one year my junior was in Lower Six when I was in English College. I never met Valerie again. But ...
In 1989 my younger brother Harish was going off to Australia. Mrs Nesadurai, a piano teacher and the retired Head Mistress of Sultan Ibrahim Girls School (Primary) lived along our lane. Her older son Henry Nesadurai had come back from England and was living with his mother. He gave Harish a fish tank and one fish. A black fish. One day when I visited my mother, Harish and Henry were there. In the course of our conversation, I discovered that Henry was a divorcee. His ex wife was Valerie Boswell. She had moved off to Australia.
In 2007 Mr Skelchy, father of Peter Skelchy came to our house. Peter is Roy's friend. During the course of our conversation I made another discovery, that Valerie's father was Malaya's first Fifa referee, Norman Boswell and that he had come from France.
To me Mr Boswell is the man who danced with his wife and made her laugh, who gave such joy to his daughter and who to me is etched in mind as the ideal father. All the more because Valerie could go home with any kind of marks for the tests in school, and she was not scared to face her father.
While Valerie captivated everyone, with her stories, her passion for speaking and her natural prowess as a leader, I still spoke to Diana. Diana never said an unkind word, she never told us that she would not friend us, the way Valerie did if someone did not follow her rules. Yet, everyone was drawn to Valerie.
To be continued.