Eh, tomboy

Monday, October 14, 2013
Lian Low

Photo of Lian Low
Lian Low

Want to know what the participants of the 2013 Writers Victoria mentorship program for writers from non-English speaking backgrounds, have been working on? Here’s a sneak preview from Lian Low…

"In August 1991, I turned fourteen in Kuala Lumpur, and a few months after, my life would change forever when I stepped off at Tullamarine airport. Since the day before I was born, our family faced Australia: Australia as our future, our salvation from a country that favoured the Malays over the Chinese, Indians and other ethnic minorities from equitable positions. I grew up in middle-class bliss ignorant of the race riots of the 60s; my great-uncle’s deafness from being hit on the head with the butt of a rifle from a Japanese soldier; my tomboy way of being and desire ever being a threat to Malaysian sensibility.

At fourteen, my biggest love was Angie Lim. Actually, that’s a lie, at fourteen my biggest love was Lucky, my shaggy caramel-white, tick-infected mongrel dog. I would spend evenings squatting next to Lucky parting his thick fur to look for ticks, find the juiciest ones fattened from his blood, pluck them quickly in disgust and squash them with my slippered feet. Sometimes the ticks were so monstrous and engorged that they could hardly walk. After a tick-picking session, I would rest with Lucky and then day-dream of Angie amongst tick-carcases and blood spots.

Why did I start liking Angie? She was skinny, had shoulder-length hair held together with a clip, a neat fringe, light brown eyes that she sometimes hid under big square plastic frames. Everyone liked Angie. Maybe it was peer popularity that I was responding too. Maybe it started when we played chess for the first time. We sat opposite each other, clock ticking away, and when she realied she was going to lose, she made jokes but was really sweet about losing. She was like an aloof cat that became friendly all of a sudden, allowing me to stroke and play with her as she gently purrred.

Unlike Angie, I was below average or so on the popularity scale. My parents had me skip a year level in this Kuala Lumpur international school and I arrived when friendship groups had already formed. I was hardworking and studious to the point when Mrs Ang an English teacher exclaimed that she wished that she had a whole class of me. If I wasn’t playing chess at lunch time, I would be in the library reading a book. One day while on the way to the library,

I found myself in Angie and her friends’ company and immediately became self-conscious of my faceful of zits. Angie and her friends looked like they had stuffed marbles in their mouths and didn’t want to speak in case those glass balls fell out. Then one of them, Sui Cheng, turned around and said, “Lesbian, you know what they are don’t you?” I just shrugged my shoulders, then Angie jumped in, “You know girls with girls”. Everyone screamed with laughter. I felt a warm burn under my skin. It was like they were laughing at me, they knew this about me.

I hugged my folder with my pictures of Australian penguins and animals closer to myself. Everyone else walked the other way, holding on to their folders with pictures of boy pop and movie stars stuck on the front cover."