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Friday, Jan. 28, 2005 - 11:57 a.m.

Jurong East MRT Station

The Malay mother is not embarrassed by the sudden shouts from her son, as the two of them wait on the train platform. Other commuters steal quick glances at the pair, a vignette of abnormalcy to interrupt the routine commute home. The nine year old son tugs on her mother's arm, and tries to swing from it. The mother scolds him, with the full understanding that her son understands none of her words, but only the expression of anger and exasperation. The scolding is complete with the adjustment of her tudung. The boy then starts to sing. He sings a Malay children's song, learned at a school for Special children like him; his mother picks him up from the school every afternoon, and he will never understand the cruel capitalization of the letter 'S'. The song that he sings is slightly off key, but he does not miss a single word, even as his mother pulls his small hand into the train carraige after her. If there is one single quality about his voice, it is that he sings the song with a complete lack of shame.

Pittsburgh Chinese Church Driveway

There is a little girl squatting on the driveway, chalking it with a few of her friends. They hold the fat, oversized pieces of chalk in the grasps of their tiny hands, dragging the blunt tips over the smooth grey concrete. Soon after, the driveway becomes an explosion of birds, ships, suns and stars. One of the boys says that the sun is a star, only closer to us, but another says that he is completely wrong. The little girl's mother comes out and catches her holding the chalk in her left hand. The mother scolds her with a series of questions - don't you remember what the doctor said? Don't you know you have to exercise your right hand? Don't you want to get better? The little girl hears the same three questions several times a day, when she gets caught writing in her diary, or picking up a drink with the wrong hand. She has to exercise her right hand, because it is innervated by the under-developed motor cortex of her left brain. "Left' and 'Right' hold so much more meaning for her compared to other children; the two words are like the words to start a war. The little girl ignores her mother, but the older woman kneels down behind her daughter and puts a piece of chalk in the little girl's right hand. She holds onto her daughter's right hand like an external muscle, and guides it to color in a cloud. The little girl does not release the chalk in her left hand. One day, her defiance will come to fruition.

Pittsburgh Chinese Church, Worship Hall

People in the congregation turn their heads with every sound that he makes. He alternates between loud giggles and unintelligible moans. He seems to be happy, smiling as he looks around at the rows of parishioners. There is the pastor's voice, broken by a loud giggle once every few minutes. Each time, his mother leans into his body and whispers harshly into his ear. He is almost twice as tall as she is, and she is in one word, diminuitive. He is quiet for a while, and fidgets in his seat. After a few minutes he extends a hand across her back and pinches her. She arches straight with the pain but makes no sound. She is used to his pinching - when she takes off her clothes, the skin of her back is a map of bruises. She brushes his arm away twice and her hand goes back to her lap, where it meets the other hand and clasps it, praying for her son to be healed.


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