an excerpt from Noon at Five O’ Clock: The Collected Short Stories of Arthur Yap
EVERY person in the neighbourhood knew that the Lims have three children. I am not sure why this was often mentioned in a manner that appeared to be like a verdict of some sort. Perhaps this was the problem: only two of the children were seen. Soo Eng and Soo Kong are often seen trotting alongside their mother on the way to the market and, like all other children who are too young to attend school, they are seen running about, in the field of the nearby church, running after the ice-cream man and mimicking his call, and generally running in and out of everyone’s endurance. And where, or who, was the third child?
He’s such a baby, so small, not strong, and the doctor has advised against exerting the child: Mrs Lim’s stock reply to any well-meaning person who would ask. But three months, half a year, one year … was the child still such a tiny baby? not strong? Neighbours wondered and talked about it in between the intermittent conversations about their own children, recounting television programmers and topical subjects such as which diplomat has taken a holiday with which showgirl. Why was the child concealed?
Could be a spastic case … and I said to her, just between the two of us, why don’t you take your baby out … fresh air has never been known to kill anybody …
You shouldn’t, that’s crude. But I really wonder … I remember saying to her once, no offence meant, my little boy’s just beginning to crawl, so why don’t you let him keep your baby company? For reasons of health, she says, but Ho! her other two kids tumble in and out of the house without so much as a sign of exhaustion.
Last month, in the afternoon, a lorry ran over this child. At the time of this sad accident, Soo Meng, as was his name, was no longer a subject of speculation.
© NUS Press
by Arthur Yap
from Noon at Five O’ Clock: The Collected Short Stories of Arthur Yap (2014)
published by NUS Press