From the Pen of an eleven year old Home-schooled girl!
I whipped my head around, and padded down the stairs.
“Run and get the milk, will you?”
“Alright,” I said, picking up the 100 kyat from on top of the rusty kitchen counter. “What – they’ve raised the price even more!”
“I know,” said Mama from the kitchen. “The Khans next door told me: though the price is raised only for us Muslims.”
I shook my head in sorrow, and stepped carefully over the broken door: the firing a few nights ago had broken it, and it was lying drunkenly in one corner, the chipped wood in splinters at my feet.
I ran down into the street where the musky smell of the cement powder greeted me, welling up inside my nose. I ran to the corner of the street where the local shop stood – if you could call it a shop. Broken splinters were littering around and about it, with all the cement in powders at your feet, and the rusty counter was no better than ours.
“Salam, Rania!” Said Mr Basil, who was trying to look cheerful which made his already weary face look like an orangutan’s.
“Salam, Basil Sahib,” I said, like half the alley says to him.
“I’m in a bit of a hurry,” I said. “Can you give me one bottle of milk?”
“Certainly, child – certainly.” He said, fumbling around in the dark shop for the milk bottles. “Seeing is a bit of a bother for me now, as you know….”
The poor man is in the desperate need of glasses, but can’t afford them. No one can, at least in our village.
“Here you go, dear,” he said, handing me a dusty bottle of milk. “Yes, I know it looks a bit dust-covered,” he added hastily as I eyed the layer of dust settled upon the bottle. “The dust hasn’t gotten inside, I assure you…”
I took the bottle, gave him the kyat, and ran back. I ran extra quick, because Mama had said that if I came early and finished my homework, she’d let me go over to the Masoods and watch television.
Television is a rare thing here. The Masoods are the only ones who own them in the whole village. Often it crackles and doesn’t work properly – sometimes is just goes blank blue on the cracked screen – but that’s probably because it’s so old. Very old, in fact. Nearly thirteen years old, with a cracked screen and a wavery voice and wires poking out from every inch – but it’s a blessing for us, because it keeps us updated about everything that’s happening or going to happen.
“About time!” Mama said briskly, as she poured the milk in the pan. “I started to think you weren’t coming at all!”
“Are you making honey milk, Mama?” I asked, tasting the delicious scent of the basking golden honey, seeping in the warm milk – one of my personal favorites.
“Not for you!” Mama said, fumbling on her Abayah. “I’m taking this down to poor Umm Manha down the alley. Poor thing, she is already so old, and she burned her whole leg when they set fire to that part of the alley!” Her eyes widened with the fear of the fire. “Thank god none of them – well, you know.”
I did know – only too well. Of the terrible happenings down in the southern part of the alley. How they set fire to the whole place, bombing and gunning it down. Mama and Papa were thinking of running away when the return boats came. “It’s far too dangerous,” Papa had said. “We’ve had fire set to our house numerous times. We’ll be running to Malaysia as soon as the return boat comes.”
But could we run to Malaysia? It seemed as if it was the obvious place to run to from this hell – this living hell where Bhuddists set fire, gunned, bombed, and killed Muslims. Going to Malaysia was like escaping to Heaven. Yet there had been news of boats that were found out by our attackers, and destroyed – either on the port, or straight in the sea.
.”…And now, the greatest skating star of all times, Torpentina Ramsey!” The announcer announced, as Torpentina came onto the rink and performed the most dangerous and beautiful moves on the ice.
“She’s wonderful, isn’t she?” I said, gazing at her with admiration. “Look at her – I want to be just like her when I grow up!”
We were at the Masood’s’ house, watching the television, which, for once, seemed to be working properly. My friends were with me – Aassia, Sarah, and Maria. We were watching it with the utmost delight, as the American skate dancer was doing the most wonderful piece of ice skating – she truly looked a skating star, whirling around on the ice.
“I don’t think there’s much chance,” said Sarah haughtily. “For all we know, we don’t own a single penny to have lessons like that.”
“She does look wonderful, though,” said Aassia, her glowing eyes taking the screen in. “She’s a most talented skater.”
“We learned another word in school today,” said Maria gleefully. Being a year younger than the rest of us, and being a little uneducated, she always like to pronounce the “new words’ she had learned every day. “It was called “torpedo”. Doesn’t Torpentina look like one?”
My eyes were in starry skies as a saw the television screen. I was suddenly thrust into a wonderful scene, where I, instead of Torpentina, was swirling round, doing loop moves, and doing it all as a professional skater.
“Rania! Rania! Hey, listen!” Aassia was shaking me, as I suddenly snapped out of daydream – or evening-dream, to be exact.
“We’re going!” She said, slipping her tattered shoes on her cold feet.
“Oh,” I said, somewhat disappointed to see the ice-skating show end. “Oh – right…”
Suddenly, an ear-splitting explosion filled the air. Concrete chips filed in through the broken windows, and a dangerous smoke of burning wood wafted in the air…
Mrs. Masood screamed from the kitchen, and suddenly her scream was followed by a series of gunshots, burning fire, falling wood and concrete.
There was no place to hide, to crouch, to huddle. I stood in the middle of the room with Aassia, Maria, and Sarah.
“Shocking business…extremely shocking…the poor children…”
“I simply do not know – the attack was the worst ever. I -“
“The poor Masood – and the children – whatever had been going on?”
“It is beyond my ability, you know. When I think of it – thank god they were breathing…”
I sat up, unable to make out where I was. I was on a… bed? What was I doing there?
“Rania!” Mama rushed towards me, squeezing me exceptionally hard. “Oh Lord – when I think – I’ve a good mind to run away first at first chance -“
“Where are we, Mama?”
“Dr. Asif’s – you know, in his clinic…”
“where are my friends?”
“They’re in those beds over there – “
“Mama, what happened to Mrs. Masood?”
“Erm -” Mama faltered, looking desperately around for another subject, “Nev – never you mind. And… Well, Dr. Asif says that since nothing happened to you girls, you can go home – I’ll take your friends home, too.”
I understood. Mama was hiding something from me.
“Mama, I’m not a three-year-old child, you know,” I flashed. “What happened to the Masoods?”
“Well,” said Mama, sagely, “Their souls are in Heaven.”
“And the house?”
“How come we got out alive?”
You were in the north gable of the house. The attack was on the west gable, where the Masoods were in the kitchen.” Mama’s voice shook. “Your friends dragged you and themselves out of the house.”
I stared out the window, at the destroyed house with saddened eyes.
“We’ve got to go,” said Papa, as he took off his boots. He and Mama had just come back from the Masoods’ funeral. “The next boat to Malaysia is coming in twelve days’ time. We’ll go straight then.”
“You could not be righter,” agreed Mama, hanging her scarf on the broken doorknob. “We should get out straight away, and settle in Malaysia.”
I agreed. I wanted to get out of here as soon as I could. It was too much for me – the broken, crumbling house of the Masoods, the funeral, and the tiny Masood children, who were left orphans, and nobody wanted to do anything with them. Mama took them in to raise. This got Mama a lot of raised eyebrows. Umm Manha said that we had enough on our hands, not to mention looking after two six-year-old twins.
Mama didn’t let this get to her. “Mariam was my friend,” she said sorrowfully, her eyes misty as she spoke of Mrs. Masood. “I promised her that if anything happened to her, I would be responsible for her children.”
The twins were a hard job to look after. First, they asked questions about where their parents were – and at first, I tried to invent up all sorts of stories: like their parents are ill, or they’ve gone on vacation, and something like that. Finally, Mama gave in and said that they’ve gone to Heaven. Next, they started moping – which included not talking to anyone, nor eating anything, and crying all the time – even in the middle of the night. After that they started to become mischievous – yanking off the bedsheets, mucking up the kitchen, and tearing all my dear books.
Eventually they finally stopped their ridiculous rants and became normal – though they still cried every night about their dead parents – and I wouldn’t blame them.
Aassia came trudging up to our house on Monday morning, dodging all the cement and chips of rotten wood, carrying something in her hands. I rushed out the door, not even thinking of the little girl whimpering at my feet, demanding television.
“Hi, Aassia!” I said joyfully.
“Hey!” She came up to me, nearly out of breath. “Listen, I’ve got to go, I haven’t much time, but I want to give you this.”
I looked at what she was holding out – an old magazine with the picture of…
“Torpentina Ramsey!” I shrieked excitedly.
“Yes,” said Aassia. “I saw it in the rubbish dump. Here are a few more, look.” And she held out several more copies of the magazine.
“Rania!” Wailed a whimper voice, lisping. “I want television!”
“Alya, I’m sorry, but we haven’t got one!” I said, for about the forty-fifth time. “And see, I’m talking to Aassia now. Now, be a good girl and go and read your book. Then, after dinner, I’ll take you to the shops.”
“Shops!” Squealed Alya. She loved going there.
“The magazine’s called Skater’s Crystal,” said Aassia, trudging back up the road, handing me the sheaf of magazines. “I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“Bye!” I called, as I took the magazines and Alya inside.
Every night I sat up in bed, reading Skater’s Crystal. It was filled with knowledge about ice skating: the moves, the tricks, even little tips. Loop moves, swirl moves, and fling moves filled my head. It also included interviews with Torpentina Ramsey, which I read to my wholesome delight. I hid the magazines under my bed, covered in newspapers, just in case the twins laid their hands on it. It had so much in it, so much to learn from it, so much to see in it. I topped the Skater’s Crystal magazines as my most prized possession. I began to wish with all my heart to learn how to ice skate, but it was hardly possible, the place where we were living in.
“Have you finished packing up the clothes, Rania?” Mama asked, hastily shoveling food in Alya and Ayla’s mouths.
“Yes!” I said wearily. We’d been up since five in the morning, packing stuff into moldy old cardboard boxes. The boat was supposed to come at ten o’clock that night, and the whole day was supposed to be for packing every nook and cranny of the house.
“Why do we have to get up so early to do the packing?” I groaned. “We have the whole day for it.”
“Yes, but time flies, young lady,” snapped Mama. “And we wouldn’t want to miss the boat to Malaysia, would we?”
“Time doesn’t have wings,” said Ayla serenely.
“I wish I had wings,” said Alya longingly. “Then we could just fly over the ocean to Malaysia, couldn’t we?”
“Yes, dear, but we aren’t going to fly to Malaysia, we are going to sail,” said Mama patiently.
I packed up the last of the clothes, tying them tightly by jute string. I couldn’t wait to get into the boat that took us to Malaysia. Papa had explained that we’d need to be really quiet when we were going to the docks and when we were getting in that boat. He’d told us that some Buddhists were sometimes on the lookout for any Muslims that escaping. I’d heard of many people who tried to escape but got caught by the Buddhists or drowned at sea. It filled me with shivers of terror, but I knew that the only way to get out of Rohingya was to sail there. Shivering slightly, I glanced around the empty house, which was only filled with boxes and bags. This house had been a home to me ever since I was born. I had lived in here for eleven years. Here I’d made promises and kept secrets and played and eaten and slept. But now we were leaving it – we were leaving everything for a better life in Malaysia.
I shoved my beloved Skater’s Crystal carefully in one of the bags. “I’m done!” I called.
It was ten o’clock. We were slipping silently past the huts like shadows in the night. Ayla was half-asleep but Alya was wide awake, running fast, rustling everything she went by. Heaving all the bags and boxes was hard enough, let alone control a six-year-old.
“Alya!” Come back this instant!” I hissed.
“What?” She yelled. She was a good way off and couldn’t listen my whisper.
“I SAID, come back right NOW!” I half-whispered.
She strained her ears, then nodded her head and came running to me. In her speed, she knocked over a large wooden crate of iron nails. The nails spread out on the rocky road, clinking everywhere, while the crate rolled around and disappeared out of sight.
Then suddenly there was a terrific bang, and, just for a fraction of a second I saw the wooden crate being shot by a bullet.
Five hooded men came, their guns raised. They reminded me of Death Eaters.
They cocked their guns, and shooted.
And then there we were, running for our lives, dodging this way and that. We managed to throw them off our scent, though we could hear faint gunshots in the distance. And suddenly we were in full view of the docks. We threw our bags and boxes in, and piled up in the boat. There was Aassia’s family with us, too. And suddenly the Buddhist shooters came into the distance. The boat’s master started the rickety, rusty engine. We propelled forward, and one of the shooters fired two bullets at us, but they just hit the water and sank.
We’d gotten away. We were sailing towards a clearer tomorrow.
Three years Later!
Torpentina Ramsey leaned back into the seat of the limousine, looking out on the quirky Malaysians moving up and down the street. Her secretary, Rosemary Clark, was sitting next to her, with a clipboard and pen in hand.
“What brings you to Malaysia, Miss Ramsey?” She asked, with a curious expression on her face. “Especially in winter?”
“I wanted to visit the place where I first learned to ice skate,” Torpentina replied, her green-gray shining. “I used to live in Malaysia for two years and I learned to ice skate here.”
“How interesting!” Said Rosemary.
“Yes,” agreed Torpentina, pushing out her long red hair out of her face. “I’m going to donate 500 $ to this place. This place was the spark of my career.”
They stopped outside a place called Ice Skating: Training for Beginners. Torpentina got out of the limousine, with Rosemary clutching her clipboard behind her. A young woman stood at the entrance.
“Good afternoon, Miss Ramsey,” she said, taking her inside the building. They took a long tour of the whole place, where Torpentina saw beginners learning, training, and practicing. Suddenly, her eyes fell on a fourteen-year-old girl with night-dark hair and soft brown eyes skating. She was wonderful at it, doing all the moves the right way, even inventing up as she went along.
Torpentina felt an immense interest in her.
“This girl skates wonderfully,” she said, indicating towards her.
“Oh, yes,” said Dora Cheok, who was the woman showing her around. “She’s from Burma, as a refugee. She came here in Malaysia three years ago, and she told me all about it.” She paused.
“Do go on,” said Torpentina, wanting to know more.
“They lived three months in a refugee camp, and then her father got a job as an officer for the subway. They moved in a neighborhood a few blocks away from here, and two months later, when her father was promoted as a lawyer for luxury liners, she started coming here. She showed a passionate desire to learn how to ice skate. She also has two little adopted sisters, who often come here to learn skating.”
“What is her name?” Torpentina inquired.
Dora looked towards the girl fondly. “Rania,” she said softly.