Now That It’s Over
an excerpt from Now That It’s Over
WHEN the boy did not turn up one morning at the childcare centre, Ai Ling did not think much of it, assuming he had fallen sick. She followed up with a phone call, but no one answered. When she finally reached the boy’s father, and found out that the boy had been out of the house since morning, she began to fret. The father, on the other hand, worked himself up into a rage at the thought of his son playing truant.
“That boy! He told me he would go to school on his own. And now this! He will get a good beating from me when he comes home.”
“Please calm down, sir. I’m sure he will return soon. Please call me once he does. I’ll leave you with my number.”
When the father called her later in the evening and told her that his son had not come home yet, Ai Ling advised him to file a police report. The boy is only five, she reasoned, where could he possibly go? It was likely somewhere familiar, a place he knew well. Unable to sit still or keep herself calm after hearing the news, Ai Ling told Wei Xiang that she wanted to check around the boy’s neighbourhood. Though Wei Xiang offered to come along to help, Ai Ling assured him that she would be fine on her own, that she would be back soon. She could tell that Wei Xiang wanted to say more about the whole matter and her involvement, but he had held back his words, perhaps waiting for another opportunity to voice his concerns. Ai Ling was grateful for the delay of the confrontation she knew was inevitable, but which she did not have the means to deal with at the moment.
In the taxi, Ai Ling remembered an incident from her childhood, an episode which had been dislodged from the tangle of her memories. When she was nine, Ai Ling had run away from home, though her parents never knew about it. She waited for the right moment to make her escape, when the front door of the flat was left unlocked by her mother while watering the plants along the corridor. She had never been outside the flat without her parents, so the idea of venturing beyond her immediate world was a strange, bewildering experience. She took the staircase instead of the lift, and after reaching the void deck, she walked across the car park in a direction that would lead her to a nearby garden. Once there, she decided to go farther, to another part of the estate she had only seen from the school bus; she recalled seeing a playground with swings and a concrete slide. To her nine-year-old mind, it had seemed like a paradise, a place where she could have all her fun.
© Epigram Books
by O Thiam Chin
from Now That It’s Over (2016)
published by Epigram Books