My father learned about Malaysian rubber from me, and began burning it to make bricksby Tash Aw / May 20, 2006 / Leave a comment
A few days ago, when the storms were at their worst and the rains fell in heavy silken sheets, my father came home very late in the evening. His scooter snaked its way across the yard, carving patterns in the mud until it came to a halt outside the front door. He kicked off his sodden Batas and shuffled into the house, padding softly across the floorboards. Over the rich sour odour of his damp clothes I could smell the perfume of liquor, and I knew he had been drinking at the samsu stall again. He placed a parcel on the kitchen table, gently, as though the slightest impact would shatter it. The object was wrapped in a dirty rag and bound loosely with string. I looked at it coolly, and only for a moment. “What miraculous discovery have you made this time, ayah?” I said, returning to my book.
“This is the most beautiful thing you will ever see,” he said. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him holding the string between thumb and forefinger, pausing theatrically. “Behold,” he stage-whispered, as if to an audience.
I said, “It’s just another brick.” He sat down beside me, his gaze held by the lump of hardened clay that lay before us. His eyes looked soft and watery and sad; he cupped one hand over his mouth, as if stifling a cough. In a muffled voice he said, “goddam those Americans.” With the rain drumming on the zinc roof I could hardly hear him.
“Don’t worry,” I said, pretending to read. “Your bricks are much better.” I was lying, of course. I knew that this new specimen was special. Its edges were sharp and straight, as if someone had cut them with a blade and a ruler; its colour, too, was different: honeyed and flecked with brown, like some perfect, spiced confection.
He lowered his head, resting his chin on the table so that his eyes were level with his new-found treasure. Moths fluttered around the naked bulb above us and cast uncertain shadows over his face. “Those Americans,” he said again, his voice thin and tired but shot through with excitement.
“I think it’s time you went to bed,” I said. I didn’t tell my father what I knew: that the brick was a Super-Cream Wire-Cut, maximum four per cent iron content. Nor did I tell him…