The Weight of Our Sky(10)

He smacks me on the side of my head, none too gently. “Oi. You deaf? Melayu atau Cina?”


The voice is loud, older, and it rings out from the non-Malay half of the theater.

“Hah?” The man turns; I turn; the entire auditorium turns to see where it’s coming from.

“She’s Eurasian.” The speaker is a Chinese lady in her midfifties, her dark hair pulled back into a neat bun, her elegant blue cheongsam scattered with tiny pink flowers. She walks calmly toward us. “You know. Eurasian. Serani. She’s one of my neighbors’ girls. We live near Petaling Jaya.”

The man snorts disbelievingly. “Then why can’t she tell me so herself? No voice? Or no brain?”

“Can’t you see how frightened she is? You think it’s easy to talk to you?” She sniffs. “I see your face; I also would be scared to talk to you.”

There is a pause, and the man seems to think this over, staring at the auntie, who meets his gaze unflinchingly. Then he shrugs. “Fine, Auntie, you win. Take her home.” He turns to the Chinese and Indian moviegoers. “In fact, you can all go. Bye-bye. Have a nice night.”

The non-Malays quickly file toward the exits, none of them daring to look at the desperate faces of those they leave behind. The soft sounds of sobbing waft over from the huddled Malays—twelve in all.

I can’t do it. I can’t go. I can’t leave Saf.

“What about them?” I say loudly, trying to keep the tremor from my voice. “What will happen to them?”

Silence. Everyone seems to freeze. Then the sounds of harsh laughter. “Only what they deserve, girl,” the man tells me, smiling that vicious smile.

The auntie jabs me in the small of my back. “Come, girl, I take you home, come.”

“No!” I squirm at her touch, looking desperately back at Saf. “I can’t leave her! I can’t leave my friend!” A hand lands gently on my shoulder as the auntie leans forward to whisper in my ear. “Girl,” she says, “it’s no good staying, it will mean you both die instead of just one. Listen, please, come with me.” The hand drags me away, steering my reluctant feet to the door.

The men begin to move toward the little group then, with all the menacing grace of hunters stalking their prey. I can taste the salt of my own tears on my lips. I’m sorry, I mouth over and over again. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.

The last thing I see as I turn back is Saf’s pale, frightened face, her eyes huge with despair and unshed tears, her hand outstretched in mute appeal.

Then the doors close, and there is nothing but the heavy weight of oppressive silence.



I’m on my knees, gulping air, a million pinpricks of pain shooting through my arms and legs. Spots dance in intricate patterns in front of my eyes, and my thoughts are racing so fast I don’t feel like I can ever keep up. From far, far away, through the fog of pain and panic, I can hear a voice: “Are you all right? Girl, are you all right?” A hand on my shoulder, shaking me gently, then harder, then harder still. “Aiya, girl, get up, get up!”

“I can’t breathe,” I manage to choke out. “I can’t breathe.” The Djinn has me in a viselike grip, his arms like steel bands squeezing against my ribs, forcing the air out of my lungs. The street echoes with my rasping and wheezing. Through the dancing spots I can just make out the auntie’s kindly face hovering beside me.

“You can,” she says simply. “Just take your time. I wait here with you.” And she sits next to me primly in her fitted blue dress, for all the world as if we’re waiting for tea to be served.

Tap your fingers three times on your right knee, three times on your left, three times with your right foot, three times with your left. Again. Three times right knee, three times left . . .

It takes thirty-three sets of this for me to feel right again, except Saf is gone and nothing will ever feel right again, ever. I am shaky and exhausted and want nothing more than to evaporate into tears and nothingness.

“Are you finished?”

I jump; I’ve been so focused on the numbers that I’d honestly forgotten she was even there. “Um. Yes?”

Did she see me? Has she been watching me this entire time? I can feel an ugly hot flush creeping across my face and down my neck. You’re not supposed to be seen. You’re never supposed to be seen.

I’ve gotten used to keeping my little quirks hidden. I’m pretty smart anyway, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that to be inflicted with djinns ranks right up there as among the worst things that can happen to you when you’re sixteen years old and studying in an all-girls’ school. Girls are vicious creatures. You could tie your hair wrong one day and be ostracized by your friends the next. Your mother could come to school dressed in an embarrassing outfit one morning and by that afternoon you could be the butt of jokes for the entire school. To be different is to be mocked mercilessly. Be unique at your own peril.

Every day for me is like its own special, specific challenge: find ways to appease the Djinn and his voracious appetite for numbers, without letting anyone realize that I’m doing it. Finger-and toe-tapping is easy enough to explain away—Oh, that lesson was so boring, I had to move around to keep myself from falling asleep! Sometimes I get too engrossed in getting the numbers right; Oh, just daydreaming, I say, dropping some hints about a boy and smiling mysteriously, letting everyone assume I’m another silly girl getting starry-eyed over the opposite sex. I tap my tongue with my teeth, blink my eyes in sync with my counting, chant numbers in my head, count words in textbooks, tap with my fingers hidden in my pocket or with my toes encased safely in my canvas school shoes. Safe. Nobody ever has to find out my secret.

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