“Are you sure you’ll be alright?”
“Don’t you worry about me,” I reply, “I am sure I’ll find something to keep myself busy.”
“Alright then. Our numbers are on the fridge door. Call if you need anything. Remember don’t go outside if anyone rings the gate bell. There have been cases of ro…..hey! stop fighting in the car…” Helen yells, waving wildly as she runs to her big grey car.
A frayed pillow lopes out of the car window. It sails towards me. I catch it in mid-flight. It limps in my hands, the bulky kapok stuffing languishing on both ends, its cotton cover smelling faintly of stale urine.
I stretch upwards, close my eyes and take a deep breath. Fresh morning air. I miss this. I twist my body from side to side, gingerly ironing the kinks of sleep.
Her head is bobbing above the concrete wall. Her bandanna a streaky deep pink with sweat. She pushes herself up on tip-toes, her chubby fingers with their glittering nail polish grab precariously to the brickwork.
“You must be Helen’s aunty. I recognize that thing on your face from the photo.”
I give a tight smile. That thing… is a huge birthmark which covered my left cheek.
“I am Kitty, your next door. You like nyonya kuih? I make ondeh-ondeh today. Very sedap one. I give you try.”
Before I could protest, Kitty is in front of the house and commanding me to open the gate.
“We have tea together,” she says, toddling right in and making herself at home.
I walk into the kitchen to switch the kettle on.
“My tea no milk no sugar ok. Kosong. I on diet”
I roll my eyes.
“I dunno why but I always thought you died long ago.”
Her voice sounds suspiciously faint. I rush out of the kitchen. The door to my bedroom is ajar. Kitty is peering into my wardrobe. I clear my throat loudly. “Oh, sorry..I thought the washroom is in here. Wow! what an old big jar!”
I glare at her and point to the direction of the toilet. She waves dismissively and goes back to the dining room instead.
I watch her pick up a coconut-coated ondeh-ondeh dumpling, tear it apart before slurping the thick palm sugar syrup tickling out.
“So it is true..the stories about Helen inheriting a large antique jar. Yunno, I heard that these kind of old jars have to be careful because sometimes roaming spirits like to hide inside.” She narrows her eyes and taps her finger against the side of her nose. “And you know what else I heard? That kind of spirit will appear like a real person, like you and me.”
My left eye twitches.
“You shouldn’t listen to stories like that,” I chuckle.
She pushes the plate of ondeh-ondeh towards me. I stab my fork into one, take a small bite and syrupy palm sugar gushes into my mouth. I purse my lips and run my tongue lightly across my hidden fangs, carefully avoiding Kitty’s snooping eyes.
“This is so juicy,” I muse, eyeing Kitty’s soft chubby neck. I clench my teeth to keep myself from drooling shamelessly.
“You don’t exercise?” she asks suddenly.
“Huh? Oh yes. I mean No. I supposed I’d start soon.”
“Me also first day keeping fit. You see this? My hubby whatsapp this picture to me yesterday. Although he said joke joke only, I feel that he is trying to hint something at me. What do you think?”
I jerk backwards as she thrusts her phone in my face.
“No, not at all.” I lie.
She pops another ondeh-ondeh into her mouth and chews noisily. “I want to teach my hubby a lesson. I want to exercise so that one day, I will surprise him with my slimness.”
She reaches out and clasps my hand urgently, “Aiyoh, yunno, this morning I wake up early to go jogging. That time when I start to run, it is already bright. Then ahhh.. I saw got three pariah dogs. So I pretend to bend down and pretend to pick up a stone to throw at them. Usually dogs when they see people do that, they will run away one. But dunno why lah, this time the dogs start to bark at me pulak. So celaka!”
She looks at me as if to check if I am listening. “So I say “shoosh! shoosh!” and look for stick. But they still bark. Then I decide to walk and don’t care about them. But I could feel they are following me. Then, I saw Mrs Narasamy opening gate to throw her rubbish. So I wave at her and faster faster run to her house. Then ahh.. the dogs also start running. Alamak! mati me!”
I giggle. Kitty nods her head knowingly and continues, “I turn my head to see how near they are. Next thing I know, I crash into Mrs Narasamy’s laundry rack. Aiyoh, my whole body fell on the rack and altogether all fall on the grass. Damn shy because whole family quickly rush out of house to help me.”
I struggle to stifle a laugh at her Manglish rant.
She looks at the clock and stands to leave. She leans towards me and says in a low voice, “Please don’t tell Helen that I was here. It is our secret ok.”
“Yes, it would be our little secret,” I smiled inwardly; relishing the day I will wrap myself around her chubby body and carry her with me into the old jar.