The father’s authority in the house was akin to that of a King. Everything had to flow in accordance to his will. The curtains must be royal red. The marble flooring must be sparkling clean. The photo frames on the walls must be dust-free. The books on the top shelf belonged to him while the bottom shelf belonged to his wife. He sat on the first seat at the dining table, from which he could monitor the expressions of each family member. Women sat on the left while the men on the right. He ordered the servants to align the dishes in one row. If just one bowl were to be misaligned, he would send it crashing to the floor. A few people figured this to be his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but many others believed this to be his imposed authority and control over everyone who lived under the same roof as him.
He made all the decisions in the house while his wife acted like a mere spectator who agreed to all his decisions and fulfilled every request. Apart from ensuring the chef cooked his favourite food, she had to ensure it tasted good. If he felt there wasn’t enough salt, not only would the dish be thrown off the table, his wife would also suffer his wrath… in his room, behind closed doors. But now, he was alone for his wife made a secret disappearance from his life. That was what he claimed and implanted in everyone’s mind but he couldn’t force his young son to believe his words.
“Mother did not leave by herself. You forced her to. I know it,” his son snapped one day at the dinner table. It was the first time everyone heard this young man stand up against his father and everyone knew this would cost him terribly.
The father froze momentarily with his fork just an inch away from his mouth. He put it down and placed his palms casually on the table. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Is this how you speak to your father Ron?”
His son looked up. His father uttered his name. There was no affection hidden in his tone. This was the time he knew he crossed the boundaries. But that didn’t stop him.
He pushed his plate away and stood up. “I don’t think I need to repeat myself. You know it better.” He then stormed off into his room, knowing his father had his eyes following him as he climbed the stairs and disappeared.
After several hours of solidarity, Ron began to feel hungry. He crept out of his room and made his way quietly into the kitchen. “I should have finished my dinner at least,” he whispered to himself as he groped his way to the refrigerator. Suddenly, the lights turned on. It was the newest servant in the house.
“Would you like me to prepare something for you Sir?” She asked politely.
Ron smiled. “Yes please.”
“How about an omelette?” She suggested as she walked over to the refrigerator and picked up two eggs.
“Brilliant idea!” Ron gleamed.
She busied herself with the pan and spatula, breaking the egg into a bowl and whisking it carefully.
“You know how to cook. Pretty interesting,” Ron said.
“How old are you, may I ask?”
“I’m 11 sir.”
“What! You’re too young to be near the stove!” Ron exclaimed and quickly turned off the stove. The young servant seemed startled as she took a step back.
“Sir, you don’t have to worry,” she tried to convince. “I’ve been here for the past year and I’ve learnt everything from your mother.”
Ron turned and folded his arms across his chest. He stared at her for a few seconds and realised why she was living in the house.
“May I ask you a question?” Ron spoke softly.
“Yes you may, sir,” she replied, a little petrified.
“What mistake did your parents do?”
The young servant looked up and Ron could see the tears welled up on her eyelids. She bit her lip while her chin began to quiver. He shifted uneasily but he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Before he could utter an apology, the young servant ran out of the kitchen, leaving him to clear up after her.
Ron awoke much earlier the following morning to satisfy his hunger. He had made himself a strawberry jam sandwich before returning to bed the night before, feeling ashamed of his question to the young servant. As he walked towards the dining table, he spotted her arranging the cutlery and utensils.
“Good morning,” Ron greeted. The young servant looked up and nodded with a smile, and continued to lay the table.
“Uhm… I’m sorry about yesterday,” Ron swallowed. “I really didn’t mean to hurt you in anyway.”
Ron looked intently at her while she seemingly ignored his apology. Disappointed, donning a frown on his face, Ron turned and was about to walk towards the kitchen that the young servant called out.
“Sir,” she stood there, fidgeting with her apron. Ron turned.
“Y- You don’t have to be sorry,” she continued. “Because I don’t know what my parents did anyway.”
Ron’s frown turned more intense, with a tinge of confusion.
“Do you know what they did?”
Before Ron could even reply, his father called out to the young servant.
“You little wretch!” He bellowed. “Clean my shoes you swine! I want it shiny!”
Ron turned and stared disgustingly as his father stood on the top of the stairway, looking down to the dining area.
“Why are you talking to him?” The father shouted. “Come into my room and clean my shoes!”
He turned and walked off to his room.
“I’m sorry, I have to go,” she scurried off to the father’s bedroom.
Ron fell to the chair and buried his face into his palms.
“What on earth is happening in this house,” he whispered. He then felt an arm resting on his shoulder. It was Aunt Su, his only companion in the house.
“You need a walk my boy.” Her words was the only soothing remedy.
After an hour long drive to and from the city, Aunt Su and Ron walked through the garden and spotted his father’s best friend, Mr Don, accompanying him for tea at the garden benches. His son, Dan, was seated, crossed legged, and sipping his tea.
“Oh look, the sophisticated brat his here,” Ron remarked while Aunt Su chuckled. “Don’t you think he got a little more handsome?” Aunt Su added.
Ron threw a disgusted look and Aunt Su laughed even harder. Just then, he heard a loud crash. He spun around and saw the young servant kneeling down and putting the broken pieces of glass and biscuits back onto the tray. He shifted his gaze to his father who was walking sternly towards her.
“Couldn’t you even handle a tray of plates properly?” His father screamed. “What are my guests going to eat now?”
“S-s-sorry sir,” she stammered. I will go get more right away!” She ran off to the kitchen while the father walked back to his guests.
“Aunt Su,” Ron called. “You carry on. I will catch you in a bit.”
Aunt Su walked away while Ron hid behind a bush just adjacent to the garden benches.
“You couldn’t even handle a kid?” Remarked Mr Don.
“She’s a liability,” the father said.
“But a wonderful asset,” Mr Don smiled.
The young servant brought the plates of biscuits and carefully arranged them on the table. She bowed and scurried back again.
“Why don’t you keep her?” the father suggested. “She could be of value to you. She could do anything.”
“She doesn’t have a choice, does she?” Dan said.
The three of them chuckled and carried on with their tea session while Ron quietly crept away, feeling appalled.
The following morning, Ron became ever more determined to speak to the young servant about her parents and especially about herself. He got dressed and walked down, only to find another servant laying the table. He walked into the kitchen but she wasn’t there. After tirelessly searching the entire mansion, he walked over to the head servant to enquire about her.
“She left with Mr Don early morning sir,” he replied.
“Do you know what time she would be back?
“I don’t know, but I doubt. She carried her sack along. She might never come back.”
Ron’s mouth fell agape.
Read Chapter Four