Xie Li Kao, the sum of our fools

“meImagine an eleven year old girl. Don’t try to imagine her at eight, five, or three years old. In just eleven, try to keep this point in mind, like a knot at the end of a sewing thread. One day, when I was eleven, Sister Tan called me into her office one afternoon, with instructions to style my hair and bring my bag. When I introduced myself, I put my bag in front of Sister Tan and beckon me to sit on the chair by the door. There were two visitors who smiled at me. A man and a woman are neither too young nor too old. They were seated on chairs usually occupied by people who would come to donate to St. Mary’s Church.

Sister Tan kept repeating: “Yes, yes.” Providence smiled at us. The Lord has accompanied us in our efforts. »

Sister Tan was almost beautiful. Her hair fell out when she washed it and she gave herself a bohemian look. She wore kurtas, long skirts, and large earrings, which she had bought in Indian stores in Brickfields. I said “almost” pretty. She had grooves on either side of her mouth that went down to her chin. With her red lips, she looked like a doll speaking from her stomach. She couldn’t stop smiling that day, it seemed like her face would split in two and her jaw would be lost.

I sat on the chair facing the wall facing the office, behind the visitors. Sister Tan started searching in my bag. I was angry. My briefcase was one of my few personal belongings at home. We were thirty girls in St. Mary’s, having no place to hide anything: eight inn in a room, wardrobe for three, desk for four, house for thirty, and that’s it. We weren’t on top of each other either, but it was nearly impossible to hide a diary or even a simple sewing project that we didn’t want to show others. I campaigned for every girl to have her own wardrobe, but I thought Sister Tan wouldn’t like it very much, being told what to do. So I kept my secrets between the pages of my textbooks and in the lining of my backpack that was falling apart in places.

Sister Tan has pulled off some homework and a craft project, a woven paperback book cover. I displayed it as if it were a masterpiece. I was ashamed. She was much less elegant than girls from good families, with a lot of different colored sheets.

“She also knows how to play chess,” Sister Tan added.

I didn’t understand how important that was. She only spoke to me about it once, one day when I was playing a game against myself. “Do you play chess or one of those games of your own invention? You asked me.

“In chess. White can take the black queen in three moves. I told myself she wasn’t too smart not to notice that I was playing checkers on the chessboard.”

The woman turned her chair to smile at me. “Very well, she can play with Ming.” I don’t know anything about her. »»

Xie Lee Kou, Our total stupidity (2014), translated from English (Malaysia) by Frederic Grelier, Zulma, Cole. The Pocket, 2020, pp. 49-51.

© Julian de Kerweiler

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