“Putri & Amanah


Image Credits: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore. (Source)

Jom makan (phrase)
Let's eat!
! You must be hungry after standing for so long,’ I offer, like I’m climbing over a slippery, mossy cliff to reach you.

You quietly follow, your eyes only aiming at the ground. I bring you to a
kedai kopi (noun)
Coffee House.
at Lorong Telok. It’s the only one I know that sells roti bakar kaya after breakfast. We find a seat and I order two sets of
roti bakar kaya (noun)
Kaya toast, a Singaporean breakfast dish consisting of toasted bread and coconut jam.
, one kopi for me, and one teh-o for you.

The sun is out now, so the fireworks should be safe. You’re still silent, just like the first time I met you at the garment factory. Though I’m happy enough to just be beside you.

You’re the only person I talk to at work. The other girls are always unkind, sniping at anything; from the hems I sew or my knobby knees, whatever that means. Only you have the patience to teach me how to weave so smoothly between the fabrics. 

I already know so much about you, like how you resent your parents for being so protective, and yet you still listen to them. How you can’t seem to enjoy rock n’ roll. I bet I’m the only one in the workshop that knows you love badminton. I wonder now if you ever realised I always let you win.

This needs to end. I want to talk to you again. Can we just talk?

‘Look, it’s been so long since we talked. And you never look at me anymore and—’

‘I know.’ You draw the longest sigh. ‘To be honest, I could care less about what their small minds are gossiping. I’m avoiding you at the workshop because we have so many orders nowadays. What work will the other girls be doing if they keep gossiping about us—they barely do enough as it is.’

‘Then, you still want to spend time with me?’

‘Of course! But the others have been feeding nasty rumours to my parents. So they keep me busy at home when I’m not working. They’re sending me to the madrasah
A college for Islamic instruction.
even on Saturdays now, saying that it’s time to be a proper lady, so I can find a proper suitor.’

‘But you are a proper lady!’

You finally laugh, lilting your head backwards. A gush of clear water sweeps over my veins. It’s been so long since I last heard the sound of your joy. I take a deep breath, letting the air fill every corner of my lungs, enjoying the relief flowing through me. Finally, we can talk.

‘Well, such is the fate of the lone daughter in the family.’ You finally look me in the eyes. ‘Even though it felt so grand in the beginning with everyone standing in the Padang, it was beginning to get boring after all the marching.’

You pause, waiting for me to speak. But I am still at a loss that you’re finally talking to me.

‘I’m just happy to be with you,’ you say. You’re looking at the floor again but I don’t mind it as much now.

The waiter sets our simple lunch on our table. I dip the kaya toast into the eggs. I don’t know why but everything about it feels so modern, like those American breakfast that the fancy Aurora department store is advertising. It looks so easy and quick to make. I appreciate its simplicity, but I long for richer flavours of my mother’s cooking.

I remember the salted fragrance of fried fish gently coaxing me to leave my slumber on some mornings. By the time I step into the living room, the dish will be ready for all of us. I’d marvel at the colours too, the splashes of purple from the rice, the greens from the cabbages, the harkened yellows of the fish and the salted eggs, the sanguine reds of the sambal.

I snap away from the fragrant daydream of my mother’s food. You’re pouring a healthy stream of
kicap (noun)
Soy Sauce.
into your eggs. I know the recipe for my mother’s
nasi kerabu (noun)
A Malaysian cuisine rice dish, in which blue-colored rice is eaten with dried fish or fried chicken, crackers, pickles and other salads.
, so maybe next time I can cook for you instead, Amanah.

Would my mother approve of you? I think so. You are always steadfast, disciplined, sensible. You’re the complete opposite of me—I can already imagine my mother appreciating that.

And you don’t have to worry about my mother. It won’t be the first time she sees something like this. Her own sister is living with a ‘close’ friend in a nice apartment at Kota Bharu. My mother would always bring me along whenever she’s visiting her sister. I remember the way they used to smile at each other; they always smiled at the same time.

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