Chapter 1:

Departure|Return

A Christmas Sale


25 December 2014Bookmark here

Who knew six-year-olds could snore so violently? Among my five siblings, Amanda's snoring was second to none, especially in the morning. She was the snoring equivalent of a rooster. If I snored as loudly as her every morning, Mother would have dropped me off at an orphanage ages ago. Normally, I would just get up to attend to my chores when she started snoring. But today was different. It was Christmas day, and I wanted to sleep for a few more minutes. Also, the weather was great; the bare ground was pleasantly cool, making it harder to get up. Sadly, life had other plans.
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"Get up, it's morning."Bookmark here

My eyes remained shut.Bookmark here

"Joseph."Bookmark here

I squinted.Bookmark here

"Do you want me to get a cane?"Bookmark here

Obviously, that was not a question, it was a threat. In response, I rose to my feet in a timely fashion, any desire for sleep instantly banished. Mother never messed around. One time, she flogged me out of bed when I told her I wasn't feeling well.
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"Here." She handed me a coin. "Get some porridge and beancakes for your siblings. Get back soon to fetch us some water. We're going out."Bookmark here

"Er... Where are we going?"Bookmark here

"Just do as I say." She almost shoved me out of the way as she tiptoed past my sleeping siblings. She picked up a broom and a makeshift dustpan, put on her headwrap, and walked out through the doorless entrance. My siblings were all still sprawled out on her mattress without a care in the world. Courtesy of Mother's special treatment.
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"Did you not hear what I said?" She peered through the doorway, effectively scaring me out of the house.
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I ran as fast as I could to the nearest porridge vendor.
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***
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"Good morning, please. I would like to buy some porridge and beancakes."Bookmark here

"Don't you know how to say please?"Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

"What do you want?"Bookmark here

"Porridge and beancakes, please." I handed her the coin.Bookmark here

"You can only get two beancakes for the price of five now. And about half a bowl of porridge."Bookmark here

"Er... Can I please ask why?"Bookmark here

"That's the way it is now."Bookmark here

"But... it's Christmas."
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"Don't be silly."Bookmark here

"...Okay, please give me only porridge."Bookmark here

"Do you want sugar?"
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"Yes, please." I watched as this middle-aged woman, dressed like an octogenarian, rose from her stool and reluctantly scooped porridge and sugar into a poly bag. She hastily tied it up, put it in a black poly bag and set it down on the table.
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"Take it."
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"Thank you."Bookmark here

She didn't respond. She just sat down and looked away.
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Witch.Bookmark here

Running back home wasn't as tiring as I thought it would be. Although the sun was up, it was hardly visible through the thick haze. Hence, the cold morning. Good weather for running.
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When I got back, Mother was waiting for me outside right in front of the bathroom.
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"What took you so long?"Bookmark here

"..." I had no idea what to say to her. I literally ran the whole way.
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"You won't respond? Okay, hand over the food. Fetch me some water, so I can take a bath. Don't bother taking a bath yourself, we don't have time. Wash your feet, put some shea butter on your face, comb your hair, and let's be off. We're going Christmas shopping."Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

"This man here is one of your uncles. Say good morning to him."Bookmark here

"Good morning, Uncle."Bookmark here

"Yeah, how are you, Son?"Bookmark here

"I'm fine, thank you."Bookmark here

"What about your brothers and sisters?"Bookmark here

"They're fine too."Bookmark here

"Good."Bookmark here

"Uncle here will be driving us to town. Get in the car."
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This man Mother introduced as one of my "uncles" was the most suspicious looking man I had ever laid eyes on. From his buzz cut to his leather flip-flops, everything about him gave off an ominous vibe. He had the build of a manual labourer, but he tried to emulate the mannerisms of an office worker. Needless to say, I didn't like him.
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It was a long drive, thanks to the heavy traffic, but it was a quiet one. Mother and Uncle didn't talk much. I was just staring out the window, trying to figure out the meaning of "Christmas shopping".
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The car stopped, and I saw Uncle hand Mother a white envelope. Ten-year-old me didn't think much of it. No, I was too distracted by the sight in front of me: a shopping mall. I'd never been to a shopping mall so I was really excited. The car park was huge; I'd never seen so many cars in my life.
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Uncle said he'd wait for us, so he parked his car while Mother and I made our way into the mall. I cannot fully describe this heavenly episode with mere words. Air conditioning, floor tiles, Christmas trees, fancy lights, stairs, glass windows, escalators. This was the first time I'd seen such things, so I couldn't help feeling amazed.
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We spent hours window shopping. I got hungry at one point and when I told Mother, her exact response was: "We just got here. What's wrong with you?"
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That kept me quiet for a while, but eventually she noticed I had trouble keeping up with her. I hadn't eaten all day, I needed sustenance. She gave in and bought me a guava. I was disappointed; we had guavas at home. In fact, we had a guava tree. That aside, this guava tasted different.
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In the end, our "Christmas shopping" was just window shopping, and we made it back to Uncle's car before it got dark. But the strangest thing happened.Bookmark here

"Joseph, go on ahead with Uncle; there are some things I need to take care of."Bookmark here

"But I want to go with you."Bookmark here

"That was not a suggestion. It's late; go with Uncle."Bookmark here

I held on to Mother's skirt in protest, but she smacked my hand off and literally threw me into the car. Uncle gave her a nod and drove us off.
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At first I sat quietly, but after a few minutes, I looked outside and realised we weren't heading home. Without thinking, I panicked and started wailing. Uncle glared at me.
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"If you don't shut up, I promise I'll give you the beating of your life."Bookmark here

I swear, I almost pissed myself. The look in his eyes was terrifying. I tried to hold back my tears and conduct myself in a proper manner. Where was Mother? Where was this person taking me?
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"I own you now. Henceforth, you'll be in my care. We're going to my hometown. Behave yourself, and we won't have any problems. Do I make myself clear?"Bookmark here

"...Yes, Uncle."Bookmark here

“You will address me as Master from now onwards. Is that clear?"Bookmark here

"Yes... Master."Bookmark here

25 December 2021Bookmark here

Looking back now, I should have seen it coming. That hag always treated me like a nuisance. A year ago, I was rescued from my master's hometown by some anti human trafficking unit or other. Master had suddenly passed away. They say he was poisoned by his wife. Well, they're right about him being poisoned. I spent some months in a shelter and now, I'm finally on my way to visit Mother. I scraped up some money to buy her presents. Mostly guavas, but I don't think she'll mind. I bought firecrackers for my siblings too. I've spent years dreaming about our reunion. But none of those dreams were bloody or violent enough. I guess that’s why I’m so excited to see her in the flesh. I only pray she isn't dead already, but if she is, then that's too bad.
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