“IT’S NOT THAT PARENTS aren’t aware of their children’s right to education. Every family wants a brilliant child who will grow up to be professional and lead lives better than the parents, right?” Ho said flatly.
We were having teh tarik “kurang kurang” manis at the corner Mamak. The still night air was calm. It wasn’t that noisy this time of the night as we gathered at a blue plastic foldable table laden with newspaper wrapped Nasi Lemak with day old hard boiled eggs jostling for space on plastic saucers.
The workers unstacked more plastic chairs to open up tables forming a large ring beneath the great Angsana tree as late night customers poured in.
I looked around. The fluorescent tubes casted a sterile light around us. Most of the tables had MLM seniors like Ho who were “following up” with their prospects to explain the business plans in detail. Each had a mock leather PU briefcase with all the necessary documentation to “sign up”.
Ho didn’t launch into his sales pitch. As a senior manager in a manufacturing plant he was once happy to discuss production and assembly lines or golf.
All these changed when his new Regional Director, a young man in his early 40s took an instant dislike to Ho and started to order him around.
Ho was miserable but still employed. It was a numbers game. It would cost the company to retrench Ho as he had worked more than 30 years.
“Why this?” I asked him curiously, as he was well off to retire. Ho had invested wisely from young. He swirled his teh tarik pensively.
“You have how many?” he asked. He meant children. Before I could answer he sighed as if he had forgotten and continued.
“My wife and I always encouraged our only boy to study hard; we promised we would send him to UK to study medicine if he made the grade. You know how my wife felt that local university would not be able to produce doctors of a certain calibre as those from Edinburgh?”
I remember her well, this wife. Her preoccupation with designer brands, holidays aboard and well, the good life so to speak. I am stunned whenever we meet up.
We have met many times over the years at wine and dines when I, the naïve writer am often flabbergasted when the women gather together to have a private tête-à-tête with pre-dinner cocktails.
It’s always some exotic destination that they’re returning from or heading to next.
Our last conversation was a when she returned from Russia, extolling the sights and beauty of Moscow. She had bragging rights to a real Cossack winter hat that she had bought, mistaking it for a faux mink!
Imagine that, I thought to myself, that’s a mistake anyone could make right. It would be possible to put it back and say a polite, no thank you, surely? Even in Moscow?
And lose face? Come on Kate…
“Come, Kate, you must follow us on an Alaskan cruise. Forever writing your stories. Come holiday with us,” Amanda drew me back into her trap.
I remembered smiling too widely that night. My dress felt dated, shoes too cheap and my purse weighted a ton like a fake from Chow Kit in the presence of Almighty Originals.
My make-up cracked under the weight of her stare. Every line on my face etched itself deeper like a scar against her porcelain fine skin.
“Amanda, she had a massive stroke and lost her job, Kate,” Ho said.
“I’ve put her in a nice nursing home which her friends could bear to visit. That really cost a bomb!” Ho laughed like a maniac at his own joke.
He had used up most of their savings for Amanda’s treatments which included oxygen therapy and hospitalisation. On a single income now, Ho struggled to juggle payment for his son’s international school fees, club memberships and generally keeping up with the lifestyle they had. Now the boy is going abroad.
Ho smiled wryly, “I have to take up this second job to pay for my boy’s monthly stipend. I need to send him at least RM7000 a month for living expenses.”
“I’m almost flat broke!” Ho confessed. “I have to remortgage my home.”
I was again stunned. I hadn’t a clue the sacrifice he was willing to make. How would he make it without losing face?