I slashed the widest trunk in the clump and sawed at the green fiber. Liquid like viscous water spurted and oozed. The knife was no good. Why was I picking the broadest trunk? Father said to get about a foot long, he didn’t say anything about girth. I hacked at a narrower one, sawed and sliced more than halfway through and disembodied it. Sour, dank, fluid soiled my fingers and trickled down my arms like watery glue. How a trunk with juices so foul bore fruit so sweet, I didn’t know. I couldn’t wait to rid my hands of the rancid stickiness.
My father sucked his teeth and undid the folds at the waist of his checkered cotton sarong. Opening the right side then the left, and closing each side again, folding and tucking the part of the garment over his navel. At home he wore a sarong and singlet. When he opened and closed his sarong, it reminded me of a beetle, flown to die at our front door, the way it opened and closed its wings for the last times. Father should have worn the silk sarong, this was a special occasion. But perhaps he saved those for weddings, playing father was not a comfortable role for him, so why wear the best? His rubber slippers slapped against his heels as he paced from the front door to see if the Nudim had arrived, to the back door to check if I had done right. His feet turned out more than usual as he thrust one hip after the other.
I hated his waddle walk because I had the same walk. He and his side of the family gave it to me. It is the soiled-girls-walk. In school they said after a penis has entered a girl, the pelvic joints loosened and you walked with your feet thrust out to the sides, to accommodate the newly created tear between your legs. If you walked like that, some boy had had you.
My father’s sister who prayed five times a day and was a virgin at fifty-two because she refused to marryoh men asked for her hand alright, but she chose to dedicate her evenings to reading the Quranshe walked that open-wide walk. I didn’t tell the girls at school about her. I kept it to myself like it was an assurance that I was a virgin, when of course I was. I was not allowed five feet near a boy. Once my cousin greeted me at a bus stop in town and when I got home from that very bus stop, my father slapped me on the face for talking to a boy. Someone had reported it to him while I was in transit. No questions asked. I did not get to say it was his own brother’s son. In all I probably uttered three words to my cousin.
In the kitchen with the cement floor just scrubbed and shiny-damp in patches, my mother, scowling, re-stirred and re-tasted the chicken curry she had bravely cooked for twenty. “Ten years old, ten years old, big buffalo still not yet, other people’s son has it done by six, our son ten, and still not yet. How did it get to be like this?” Implying my father had allowed it. “When they big like this they can get ill, they’ll take long to get better. If he doesn’t get better who is going to take care of him?”
Suddenly she pulled my hand face up, tapped the wooden ladle in the middle of my palm, leaving half a teaspoon of curry burning my skin and asked, “Enough salt, or not?”
“Enough,” I said, burning my tongue.
“She’s the only one can taste salt from sour,” my mother mumbled and continued on about my brother Li.
“Now we are doing it what else you want?” my father yelled. He turned to me and snapped,“rinse the trunk.”
What would the Nudim do with the banana trunk? My father said we were to ready a banana trunk, a brand new man’s sarong, no brand was stated but we bought the best, Elephant Brand, and RM$2.25 offering money.
When the Nudim arrived on a banana leaf-green Vespa, his sarong deflated in our driveway after billowing like a sail as he rode up Evergreen Road. He wore a white skull-cap which looked like it was part of his head and that if you took the skull-cap off, you would remove the top half of his skull showing his brain, soft and simmering.
Catch the blade if the Nudim missed? Was that what the banana trunk was for?
Once in the house, the Nudim was swift. He and my father decided it was to be done in the living room. He said a prayer, placed his palm on Li’s forehead and offered some chants for my brother so it would not hurt. But Li had his own way of avoiding pain. He was going to pass out. I was called. My mother being a woman was not allowed in, and besides she’d pass out first, so would my father, the neighbors were Chinese infidels and the relatives had not arrived. There were no Muslims in our neighborhood which was why my father had chosen to live there in the first place. He didn’t want to be near nosy Melayus. I was a girl of thirteen, still a child, but strong enough to prop my brother.
I stood and held Li’s right arm. The Nudim stood facing Li and pulled Li’s foreskin towards him. My jaw dropped, my eyes bulged, I kept my head down and stared at my brother’s penis as if there lay the very clue of when he would fall. It was the most remarkable thing I had ever seen. My brothers’ penis was not new to me, he was shameless, he’d swim buck naked, he’d pull down his shorts to fart in my sister’s face, but I had never seen the foreskin stretched so, and the slipping and receding was most fantastic. Where did it stop, how far would it go, I wondered.
But not the Nudim, he knew how much he needed and before Li knew it, the Nudim snipped it, separated the loop of skin, and dabbed oil of white root on the cut. My brother was supported to his bed with his sarong held out so no cloth touched the new wound. When he laid down, the part of the sarong over his loins was pinned to a line tied to a hook in the ceiling.
For a week, twice a day I cleaned him. I made a good nurse, gentle and thorough. My mum’s one attempt was tentative, “is this right? is this the correct way?” her neck craned left to right, right to left like a crazed rooster as she inspected her work. My brother squatted on a low stool with his legs wide opened, as vulnerable as no one else on earth, but shouting cusses at my mother just the same. My father plain didn’t know what to do, so the task fell on me--BIG sister. I wanted to say as I cleaned, “Ah, when you grow up, don’t act big ah? I’m the one who cleaned your dick.” Or, “don’t forget who cleaned your kote’ when you were circumcised?” It made me laugh to pretend I needed to torment my siblings so, for I didn’t, I was big sister to all three, especially to Li.
The first time I heard Li said khi ho lang kan, which was Hokkien for “go let some person f--- (you),” I broke a fresh red chilli pepper in two and rubbed them on his lips till his lips burned for a week. Whenever he got into a fight Li drying tears and snort on his sleeves would scream: “I tell my sister then you know!” He would come for me and I’d square it out for him. Hand to hand combat. Nothing felt better than punching a boy in the face except maybe seeing his lips bleed, never mind if I too was bleeding and my heart banged against the cage of my chest, like it would burst out of my ribs. Nothing beat the moment I threw my arm and hit flesh and teeth.
But the boys got bigger and so did my breast. And they knew where to aim.
Blood running down my lips was better than the shameful pain in my breast. I ended my boxing days. Li stopped getting into fights and became an animal expert.
He kept a long-tailed macaque that bared its teeth at the females in the house and would feign a hurt knee when my father came home from work. The monkey held one knee and jerked it with pouting lips just as soon as my father rode up on his Lambretta. It was a pathetic creature, and the jerking reminded me of when the animal played with his own penis, I was terrified he might repeat this in front of my father.
One day Li opened his mouth and lowered a half-dead snake he’d found, into that little cave of his being like something you see in a circus. Ina, Hussein, and I watched horrified but not wanting to spoil the show in front of Maknya’s clan. About a dozen of them of all ages came out to see and we knew the whole Chinese village would hear of it. They were sufficiently impressed. They asked us to help harvest fruits in their orchard and we were paid in fruits which never seeemed as sweet as when we stole them.
I stroked with cotton at the drying yellow scab like a golden crown on my brother’s penis. I made sure of reaching underneath the folds so my brother’s penis won’t be infected. His penis didn’t look like it belonged to him. The tip looked like the tongue of an idiot child, the wound that I cleaned were its lips which I peeled back with cotton dipped in brown iodine that turned warm yellow as I swabbed. I made sure this ring is stripped each time so the medicine reached the wound and the cut would close clean and good. My brother was ten, a big buffalo, he must not become ill from this.
The banana trunk? Turned out during my father’s time boys sat astride
one during the ceremony. “Where got people use them these days,” my mother said.