Chapter Five: EAST OF THE HEART

Chapter Five: The Great Plan
1925 – George Town, Penang

Mei Yee did not go down to the formal dining room to join Mrs. Wong and the other ladies in the household for dinner. In fact, she had not left her room since her late lunch. Ah Ping conveyed to the matriarch of the Wong family that Mei Yee was suffering from a splitting headache, and had requested to be allowed to rest in her attic room. Mrs. Wong, who was only concerned that the bride-to-be must be well and prepared for the wedding ceremony, gladly granted Mei Yee the leave of absence. She then took the liberty to arrange a light dinner to be sent up to Mei Yee.

Ah Ping knew only too well that her mistress had lost all her appetite to eat. When she returned to the attic with the dinner tray, she found Mei Yee staring out of the window. The sun had already set, leaving the sky with a charcoal grey hue. There was no wind or stars, only a melancholy stillness to accompany the devastated Mei Yee. Ah Ping did not utter a single word but quietly placed the dinner tray on the table, and left the room. She was careful not to disturb her mistress who was deep in her thoughts, and wrought up over her feelings.
As Mei Yee gazed into the darkness of the city, her mind returned to her mother in Fujian. She was still much incensed with hostility against her mother. She kept asking, WHY? WHY? WHY would her own mother do this to her? The more she questioned, the more hateful she became towards her mother. There would be no forgiveness from her. She was unrelenting. In truth, she would no longer regard herself as a part of the “Lim family”. Most of all, she would cease carrying the responsibility of honouring the family’s name. They had clearly meant to abandon her in the worst possible way. Hence, Mei Yee would reciprocate with the same renunciation. She reached into her silken pocket and took out the jade bracelet that her mother had given her before she left the village.
Ever since Mei Yee arrived in Penang, she has been holding onto the bracelet like it was a priceless treasure. She did not even dare wear the bracelet, as she felt that she was unworthy. The jade bracelet was the only connection she had to her mother and her village. So, she kept it in her pocket and only held it each time she felt homesick. However, now looking at it, she felt nothing but disgust. Mei Yee took hold of the bracelet and smashed it on the windowpane. The crackling sounds reverberated with Mei Yee’s shattered heart. Then Mei Yee flung the broken pieces of the jade out of the window. That very ritual sealed her status as an orphan. She then erased all the memories of her past. She made a vow that she would not shed another tear for as long as she lived.
The very next morning when Ah Ping came to the room with a breakfast tray, she announced that Mrs. Wong had excused Mei Yee for the entire day. Mrs. Wong wanted to make sure that her soon-to-be daughter-in-law was well rested. Mei Yee was thankful for not having to appear before the rest of the ladies in the family. She still did not know how to face Ai Ling and Sun Lee. Knowing what she knew now, she could not bring herself to be in the same room as the two women. Despite how much she could feel their contempt for her, she felt she deserved every ounce of it.
“I need you to do something very important for me, Ah Ping.” Mei Yee said in a somber tone.
Ah Ping’s heart skipped a beat. This was the first time she has ever heard her mistress speak in such a grave voice. Instantly, she stopped clearing the breakfast tray and stood still.
“Yes, mistress Mei Yee. What would you like me to do for you?” Ah Ping was almost afraid to hear her mistress’s answer.
“There is no one here that I trust, but you. I need you to promise me that you will do this for me and you will not tell a single soul.” Mei Yee stared hard at her personal attendant friend.
Ah Ping kept silent but nodded her head.
“Can I really count on you, Ah Ping?” Mei Yee asked firmly.
Ah Ping nodded again, without saying a word.
“I mean it. You cannot tell anyone, and you must do exactly as I tell you. You promise?” Mei Yee insisted.
Ah Ping finally replied, “Yes. I promise, mistress.”
“Good. I am really counting on you. So, please do not let me down.” Mei Yee said seriously.
“I will not let you down, mistress. I really promise.” Ah Ping assured her mistress.
“All right. I believe you. Now, this is what I want you to do for me.” Mei Yee said and pulled Ah Ping closer to her. She proceeded to whisper her instructions into Ah Ping’s ears.
Before Mei Yee could finish her sentences, Ah Ping’s face turned white. She looked at her mistress in disbelief.
“But mistress…” Ah Ping began, but Mei Yee stopped her from speaking further.
“It is what I want you to do and you already promised me that you will carry it out for me. So, please save your words. Say no more. Just do the deed as I have instructed.” Mei Yee was adamant.
Ah Ping was too shocked to move or blink. She continued to stare at her mistress with fear in her eyes.
“This is really what I want. So, please go now and get it done for me. I shall wait for your return. Again, remember not a word to anyone about this.” Mei Yee warned Ah Ping.
As Ah Ping did not budge, Mei Yee stood up from the chair and pushed her out of the door.
“Do not come back until you have got it. Please make sure that no one sees you. Wrap it carefully in your handkerchief. Now, go!” With those words, Mei Yee closed the door behind Ah Ping.
The young personal attendant stood outside her mistress’s door for a while. She did not know what she should do, but she had already made a promise. Thus, she must fulfill that promise. After she had gathered herself, she walked towards the small door and disappeared into the network of stairs and alleys behind the walls. She headed towards the direction of the main kitchen. Despite how deeply perplexed she felt, Ah Ping knew that she had to make good on her promise to her mistress. So, she walked silently with tears running down her face.
The sun had risen directly above the Wong mansion, casting a scorching heat upon all its inhabitants. It was exactly noon sharp when Ah Ping returned to the attic. This time, she brought a tray containing a teapot and two small teacups. Mei Yee had been waiting for her anxiously. When she saw Ah Ping, she immediately pulled her to the middle of the room.
“Have you got what I asked you to bring? “ Mei Yee asked eagerly.
“Yes, but…” Before Ah Ping could finish her sentence, Mei Yee directed her to show the requested item.
Ah Ping gave a heavy sigh and reached into her pocket. She took out a carefully wrapped handkerchief. There was something inside it. Together, the two ladies stood staring at the object in Ah Ping’s hand.
“Are you sure this is it?” Mei Yee had to be certain. There was no room for mistakes.
“Yes, I extracted it myself from the kitchen storage.” Ah Ping explained.
“And no one saw you in all this time?” Mei Yee asked nervously.
“No one saw me.” Ah Ping replied with sadness.
“Good. Very good. Thank you for doing this for me. I am very grateful. Now, please leave the handkerchief on the tray and go. I need to be alone.” Mei Yee spoke in her serious tone again.
Ah Ping did not want to leave and yet she knew that it was pointless in staying. Her mistress had made up her mind and there was nothing she could say or do. A part of her felt responsible for what her mistress was about to do.
Sensing Ah Ping’s reluctance to depart from the room, Mei Yee said, “I do thank you for everything that you have done for me, Ah Ping. You are the only person who has been kind to me without asking for anything in return. I wish there was a way I could repay you, but it has to be in another lifetime. You must leave me now. Thank you again.”
Tears started swelling in Ah Ping’s eyes again. She could not help herself. Mei Yee walked towards the crying girl and embraced her like a sister would.
“There now. Don’t be silly. Everything will be fine after this. Don’t cry anymore.” Mei Yee said gently.
Ah Ping held Mei Yee tightly and sobbed even more. After she had recovered, Mei Yee reminded her that it was time to go. Silently, Ah Ping walked out of the attic room and collapsed outside the door. She buried her head between her knees and continued to cry uncontrollably.
Inside the room, Mei Yee was re-arranging the tray to face her. She admired the pretty china teapot and teacups. Mrs. Wong certainly had a refined taste in everything she bought. The blue intricate designs on the china suggested an artistic influence of the Ming dynasty. Hence, they must have been very expensive. The Wongs would certainly not use anything less.
Mei Yee smiled as she poured the tea into the two cups. Then with great care, she unwrapped the handkerchief. Nestled in the white cotton fabric, was a folded piece of pink paper. After spreading out the paper, she could see the white powder. Ah Ping had delivered her promise, and brought the rat poison to Mei Yee.
Such a small amount it was, but fatal enough to kill a buffalo, Mei Yee mused.
Mei Yee lifted the pink paper and dropped the powder into one of the teacups. Nothing was wasted. Everything dissolved into the tea instantly.
Before her, sat the two beautiful teacups – one was filled with an ordinary Oolong tea, and the other was drenched in rat poison.
Mei Yee had two options laid out in front of her.
Option one – drink the ordinary Oolong tea and get married in less than 2 weeks. Her husband would never really be her husband in every sense of the word. In fact, she may not even see much of her husband. They may never be in the same room if Mrs. Wong had her way. From the wedding night onwards, Mei Yee would have to surrender to the fact that she was to be desecrated by her husband’s elder brothers. They each would take their turn in violating her until she was pregnant with child. However, if the child she bore was not a male child then the process would be repeated until the profane mission was accomplished. She would have to continue living in the household pretending that it was all a natural course of propagation, and not some repulsive fornication. She would have to look at the grim faces of her sisters-in-law every single day and feign her innocence in the whole marital charade. As long as Mei Yee complied with the Wong family, she would live in the confines of opulence, abundance and extravagance. She would never have to worry about not having enough to eat or wear. Mrs. Wong would ensure that everything would be provided for her. However, the real question remained tugging at her mind. Could she really live every day of the rest of her life like that? And if she could not and would not, then she would have to seriously consider the second teacup.
Option two – drink the rat poison infused tea and die instantly. Her life would end and everything would stop here. There would be no wedding, no husband and no dishonoring of her entire being by her husband’s brothers. There would be no future, no fear, and no shame. Along with those, there would also be the death of her hopes and dreams. She would not have any opportunity to make something of herself. Most of all, there would be no chance at real happiness and a life worth living. All would be lost and denied from the moment her last breath left her body. Could she really condemn herself to a life cut short due to the offensive circumstances? Would she not regret? More than anything else, all Mei Yee wanted was a chance – a chance to live a life defined by her own terms. Could she really go through with killing herself? Did she really want to die in the first place?
Mei Yee sat for what seemed like an eternity, staring at the two teacups. Each presented two very different and frightening paths. Yet that was all she had. There was nothing else left for her. Both of the options were variations of Hell – one was on earth and the other would take place in the after-life. None of them were good enough, but what could she do?
Unwilling to abdicate the possibility of a better future for herself, she hacked into the deep recesses of her mind and forced herself to think very hard. She desperately needed a third option. Is there one to be found?
Then it hit her.
The third option uncloaked the confusion in her mind. It came to her like a flash of lightning.
The third option showed her what she had to do. If she planned it well and did it right, she would have a chance. Within Mei Yee, hope began to simmer.
Option Three was a real possibility. Option Three meant hope and a pathway to her dreams.
Mei Yee decided to choose Option Three.
Without a second thought, Mei Yee knocked down the two teacups before her and stood up triumphantly.
Ah Ping heard the strange noises from outside the door. She feared the worst had happened. So, she quickly rushed into the room and was surprised to find that her mistress was very much alive. She did not quite understand what had transpired, but was extremely relieved to know that her mistress had chosen not to proceed with the suicide.
Mei Yee smiled at Ah Ping. It was no ordinary smile. Optimism was rising in the horizon, and she was ready to seize it. It was time to plan something great.
To be continued in Chapter Six….

Being Afraid Is Human, But Staying Afraid Is A Choice.

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