This is the story of Boy who plays with my Amanda most days after school. You can tell that Boy is a good boy, raised by very conservative Asian parents, because he plays the piano – even though he doesn’t want to.
He reminds me a lot of myself at that age: unsmiling, wary of adults and highly guarded. Unlike Asian kids with more liberal parents, who are in many ways similar to their white Aussie counterparts, he knows better than to assume that you, an adult, are a friend, regardless of the number of times you’ve spoken to him. You’re not just an adult; you’re the mother of the girl he plays with often and he knows that if she loses even a couple of strands of hair, you’ll flambé his liver with your dragon-breath.
He’s well aware of the dragon-breath because he’s seen his parents turn his brother into toast; which is why he’s still tickling those damned ivories.
“But you’ve got to tell them at some point,” I say to him, in the same tone I use to remark about the weather. “You’re just putting off the inevitable,” I add.
He looks at me like I’ve never seen a dragon up close before. For some reason, conservatively raised Asian children lack the imagination to picture adults as children. More liberally raised Asian children and their little white Aussies friends are the exact opposite: once they get to know you, they think you’re a child just like them.
“But my brother quit playing just last month and my mother had a cow.” Had a cow is Aussie speak for got mad. It’s got nothing to do with real cows unless you live on a farm.
“Yes, but it’s obvious you’re just wasting her money and your time. I played for 10 years and the day I found the courage to tell my mother I wanted to stop (actually, she found the courage to tell me to stop since I wasn’t practising), was the day I could move forward with my life.”
Years later I found the courage to tell my mother I didn’t want to do accounting either but she wouldn’t hear of it.
Like most crafty Asian mothers, I believe in the wisdom to Sun Tzu who says, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It’s too early to say whether Boy will end up in the first or second category but I’ve been keeping an eye on him ever since, especially since HRH demands that I do.
“Is he trying to tackle my daughter?” he asks when I report to him the goings-on in the playground.
“Amanda says they’re just friends.” Then again, Amanda says that of every boy she plays with.
A few days hence, she comes to me and says, “Boy called me a sucker.”
Boy is less than 20 paces away, climbing rope in the playground. Instead of getting up and walking over to where he is, I project my voice over; “Boy, did you call my daughter a sucker?”
He gets to the top of the rope and says, over his shoulder, “No, I didn’t.”
Amanda goes over to him and returns seconds later saying, “He said he called me a loser, not a sucker.”
“Same thing,” I say. “Has he apologised to you?”
“No,” Amanda says, folding her arms, her surly pout suggesting I should do something about it.
“Don’t play with him then,” I say in a voice loud enough for Boy to hear.
He looks at me in protest. She too looks at me in protest.
“Yes, that’s right. Since he thinks you’re a loser you can’t play with him. Okay, off you go. Find someone else to play with.”
When we are about to go home, Amanda says, “Boy said he’s sorry. He asks if I’m allowed to play with him now.”
“Oh, I’ll have to think about it,” I say, picking up Amanda’s school bag to leave.
A couple of days hence, when ordering Amanda’s school lunch, I come across Boy. With me is HRH on his morning off from work.
“Boy, this is Amanda’s dad,” I say with a head-tilt in HRH’s direction, as I scribble Amanda’s name and class onto a white lunch bag.
“Honey, this is Boy, who plays with Amanda all the time.”
After that meeting, HRH asks me, “Why did you introduce me to him? Were you trying to scare the kid?”
HRH knows me only too well. Boy is a large Asian kid but HRH is a large adult, even by Caucasian standards.
“No, I was just introducing you since you are Amanda’s dad,” I say, shrugging my shoulders.
Soon after, Amanda returns from school bearing a name card.
“Boy asks if you like crab. This is his mother’s card.”
I flip it over to find the name of a proprietor of a group of well-known restaurants in Perth.
“What is he trying to say?” I ask Amanda.
“I don’t know. He just asked me to pass you this card.”
Weeks later, I overhear Amanda and Boy having a dispute.
“What’s this about?” I ask.
“He says I’m a rooster because I’m born in 2005, but I keep telling him I’m a Monkey.”
“Everyone born in 2005 is a Rooster,” he insists.
“Look here, smart ass. Amanda was born before the Chinese New Year and is therefore a Monkey. I should know when the Chinese New Year is because I’m Chinese.”
An Aussie child will offer up some excuse at his ignorance or try to engage me in a different topic of conversation but he just maintains the same vacant expression throughout. I turn and leave.
Yet a few more days later, he comes up to me with Amanda’s sweater. “She left this in class,” he explains, holding out the garment to me.
“Thank you for returning it,” I say, my expression exactly the same as his, one of nothingness.
On the walk back home from school I relate the incident to Amanda. “Boy returned your sweater.”
“Did he? He asked me if I was going to get it or if I wanted him to get it for me. He was stupid enough to get it for me so I allowed him to.”
“Not stupid,” I correct her, “chivalrous. It means he did something nice for you.”
Having said that, I’m still figuring out why he handed the sweater to me instead of her. Could it be he’s trying to tell me something?