“No! Let go! I don’t want to go!” Three-and-a-half year-old Golly screamed. The small and slightly built little girl did her best to dig in her heels, but she was no match for big, lumpy, strong Ah Moi, who, despite holding Baby Keng in one arm, was able to effortlessly drag and practically lift Golly off her feet as she marched her terrified charge to the back gate and what lay beyond. It was a HOLE – the HOLE that would become the basis of many waking and sleeping nightmares throughout Golly’s life.
Golly had not always been called ‘Golly’. Her father, as traditional in his outlook as his father and grandfather before him, had been disappointed that the birth of his first child should bring forth a girl, and not a handsome lusty boy. With disappointment writ large on his face, he had decided to make the best of things by calling upon the superstitious beliefs of his forebears: give the child a boy’s name, and the next one will be a boy. Hence, Golly was given a boy’s name that no one ever used in the household.
Golly was an ‘It’ until one day a fortnight after her birth when she was taken to her maternal grandparents’ household. There, two of her older cousins met her for the first time and fell in love with the baby. The baby with the boy’s name now had champions. As they held Golly in their arms, they noticed that her hair stood up on end like a gollywog’s. Golly now had a new moniker: it was not pretty nor inspiring, but it had been given with affection laced with some good-natured teasing. Not that the little babe understood any of this at the time. Nonetheless, Golly now had a name to call her own – named after a black doll that was a favourite of her cousins.
It was never easy for Golly or her parents as she grew out of babyhood and into her toddler years. Both parents worked. Her mother, in particular, worked long hours, which meant that she barely survived on what little sleep Golly allowed her between bouts of restless crying in the small hours of the night. As Golly grew from a scrawny baby to an equally scrawny tot, she was made to understand even at that young age that she was not and never would be anyone’s golden child. Her father, in particular, drummed home the ‘fact’ that she had been picked up from the rubbish bin. At the tender age of three, Golly understood with deep soreness of heart that she would never be cherished nor loved as she yearned to be loved. She did not belong.
Golly’s low self-esteem would continue to plummet in the following days. Mummy had been nursing a rather large tummy over the past few months. Now she was not at home. Where was she? Her paternal grandmother smiled upon her as she rocked little Golly on her knee. Mummy was away and would return with a new brother for Golly. Her brother would be handsome and fun and all things wonderful. Father’s and Grandfather’s dream would be fulfilled.
And then the unthinkable came to pass: Golly’s new sibling was not a boy, but a little baby girl. However, the baby had been born on an auspicious night, the night when Father’s beautiful Keng Hwa plant bloomed. The Keng Hwa only blooms at night and Father’s bloomed but rarely. Father was an avid gardener who lavished his garden with the tender loving care that Golly could only dream of. Golly’s sister was soon named ‘Keng’ after the Keng Hwa: she would harness the luck of the Keng Hwa flower and their next child would surely be a boy.
Mother was now too stretched to work full time and also to look after two children. A live-in servant was hired to take care of the house and kids. Thus did Ah Moi become a member of the household the day Keng returned from the maternity ward. Keng became her reason for living: like the child who is reared from the mother’s womb, Keng became Ah Moi’s de facto child. She was the child that Ah Moi’s Catholic God had granted her in the middle years of her spinsterhood. On the other hand, Golly became an appendage that Ah Moi desperately wanted to lose: Father had told one and all that Golly came from the tip; perhaps Father would be grateful to her if she did indeed lose Golly altogether.
There was no reason for Mother not to believe the lies that Ah Moi told her. Each day, when Mother returned from work, Ah Moi would regale Mother with a litany of Golly’s wrongdoings. Mother was an inveterate believer of corporal punishment; and every day save Sunday, when Mother herself became the children’s guardian, saw Golly being shouted at, smacked and caned for a curiously long list of crimes so that welts formed on her body and blood often flowed from her legs where the bamboo cane had broken the skin.
Then came the day when Ah Moi hit on the perfect plan. She would bury the wretched child. Having put Keng down for a nap, Ah Moi opened the back gates that overlooked a piece of rough land at the back of the house. She began to dig. When the hole was large and deep enough, she returned to the house for the little girl.
Golly was petrified. She could sense the quivering tension and excitement in her tormentor as Ah Moi approached – and she proceeded to yell the house down. The noise awoke Keng, who duly added her voice to the cacophony. Not to be outdone by a three-and-a-half-year-old, Ah Moi scooped six-month-old Keng up in one beefy arm and then grabbed Golly by the collar at the back of her dress, dragging the little girl out of the house and into the backyard.
Golly screamed – a piercing scream that told of fear and outrage. It was too much for Ah Moi and she changed her grip. Still holding Baby Keng safe in one arm, she shifted her grip and clamped a large work-worn hand around Golly’s skinny forearm. There was now no chance of Golly pulling away.
Ah Moi’s strength was legendary: she was stronger than Mother and at least as strong as Father if not stronger. The little girl of three-and-a-half could only save herself if she made as much noise as possible. Perhaps the neighbours might hear her – provided they were in. Sobbing with fear, Golly tried to drag her feet as best she could. She wanted to call and scream but her choking hiccuping sobs were effectively closing her throat. Ah Moi had now reached the opened back gates.
Golly had become resigned to the inevitable as she stared into the yawning cavity that lay before her when their elderly neighbour wandered into her own backyard.
“What’s wrong?” she called to Ah Moi as she stared pointedly at the hole, the spade, and the hysterical tear-stained Golly.
“Nothing!’ called back Ah Moi. “I was just trying to save Golly from falling into the hole.”
When Mother returned that evening, Ah Moi gave Mother her own version of affairs before the neighbour could speak to her about it. Golly received a caning because she had dared to go out of the back gates and had almost fallen into a hole. The injustice of it all!