an excerpt from ONE

SEVERAL classmates asked to try out my crutches. I let them. When they tried to walk with them, I laughed at how funny they looked, as if they were robots. When I jumped up to show off how crutches should really be used, since nobody else seemed to know how, they were so impressed. They clapped and egged me on to walk faster and faster across the classroom. I felt happy to be back.

Lesson time did not feel very different from when I had been in school previously, except I now had to place my crutches on the floor. Although I knew I wasn’t supposed to, I purposely placed my crutches such that a few of my friends (and my various teachers) almost tripped over them! I am sure they thought it was fun too.

Just before the recess bell rang, I started to worry that I might have to sit alone in the classroom till the end of the recess period. That would be awful and I wished I had asked Mummy about it.

Then my form teacher Mrs Tan came towards me. She said, “Tessie, come with me. We have saved a seat in the Teacher’ Room just for you!” The Teachers’ Room was a place that students rarely ever had the chance to go into. But special girl that I was, I was going to sit at the large table with the teachers! It would be so exciting!

I was helped into a large wooden chair between Mrs Tan and Mrs Fok. The noodle uncle from the tuck shop, from whom I had bought fishball noodle soup daily before I fell ill, suddenly appeared, as if by magic. He placed a bowl of noodle soup before me and said, “Little girl, eat up! My fishballs have been waiting for you to come back!”

The teachers all laughed at this and nodded, as if to show that they had also been waiting for me to return. Mrs Fok said with a wide smile, “Go on, dear. Eat it while it is still hot!” Madam Koh, the stern Chinese language teacher who had some months before complained to Mummy that I was extremely untidy and talkative, held out a keychain to me. “A gift for you,” she said.

It felt wonderful, but also a little bit strange. Adults who had always seemed unfriendly and distant were becoming more like the sweet aunties in my neighbourhood. Coming back to school was turning out alright after all.

But when I heard, through the open window, my schoolmates laughing and screeching happily as they played recess games outside, I wished that I was outside jumping and running too. As a tear threatened to roll down my face, Mrs Tan, who was sitting beside me, offered me a fishball. I wiped away the tear, keychain still clutched tight in my hand, and ate the fishball instead.

© Bubbly Books

by Tan Ter Cheah
from ONE (2014)
published by Bubbly Books