Having run away from home, I headed to M’s house – I’d been there a few times prior, but it was quite a long way from the centre of town, which worked for me, since no one would ever think to find me there. Turning up at her doorstep with my worldly belongings, I pretty much invited myself to live with her, and she welcomed me with no questions asked. In comparison to my world, she lived a rarefied existence. The house was palatial, and seemed almost too quiet due to its size and the fact that it was just her, her parents, her brother who was rarely home, and her grandmother.
She had her own bedroom with its own big wardrobe and even an ensuite with a modern toilet – unheard of back in those days – considering back in the Templer Flats days I’d grown up in a family of 10 sharing the one toilet, this was luxury beyond belief.
I’m not sure what her parents thought when I didn’t leave to go home that night, or the night after that, or the night after that – they were just too polite to say anything, and never at any stage did they make me feel like I’d outstayed my welcome. I guess at that age and at that stage in my life nothing was ever thought through that carefully, but I spent the next couple of weeks living in blissful oblivion with M, gossiping like the teenage girls we were. It was the holidays, so I wasn’t being missed at school or anything like that.
M’s grandmother did the cooking in the household, and she made the most incredible food. I’d always been partial to Malay food, and I felt like I’d died and gone to food heaven living with M. Somehow, even the simplest dishes tasted just divine.
I went to the bank where my stepmom had banked the money I had squirreled away all those years ago, and withdrew it all – something in the vicinity of RM1000. Then we went to KL on a shopping spree. I’d always thought M had the most beautiful clothes that were super-sophisticated and graceful – my wardrobe on the other hand, consisted of the typical teenage fashion of its day ie. knickerbockers, pedal pushers and shorts etc.
So we went to Sungei Wang Plaza – the biggest mall in KL at the time, and checked out local designer clothing, and I came away with several fairly expensive outfits. We also checked out the cosmetic counters at this department store – I was ignored by most of the salesgirls who treated me with some degree of disdain, until I came to the Mary Quant counter, managed by a middle-aged woman. She was extremely attentive and kind, and I ended up spending some RM250 on makeup through her, partly as an up-yours to the other salesgirls. I think I made this woman’s day – she couldn’t stop smiling at the end of it, whilst the other girls looked on in envy.
After some two weeks, M’s mom finally sat me down. She reminded me that I was welcome to stay with them as long as I liked, but was concerned about my family missing me. And one thing she told me, that has remained with me to this day, was that she could see something special in me – that I had great potential. It blew my mind – my whole life, as a middle child in a large family, where I sometimes wondered if I was adopted due to the lack of affection from my father – I had never had anyone tell me anything to that effect.
Then one day, my family finally tracked me down. One of my eldest brother’s friends, Bernard, had been recruited to help find me. He had contacted the school for a list of my classmates and progressively tried to get information from them. The only people who knew were Fatin, Norsham and M. Norsham was the one who finally broke (she was very apologetic to me about it later) – Bernard told her that they had exhausted all options and if she didn’t tell, they were going to report me missing to the police. It would mean that I would get arrested if the cops recognized me in the streets, so Norsham told them.
My parents rang me at M’s house and tried to convince me to come home. I really didn’t want to. I had my long-distance Penang boyfriend I was hoping to visit at some point in my future. They promised me I could go visit him if I came home. I realised it really wasn’t feasible for me to keep squatting at M’s indefinitely, so I finally relented. I remember the night my parents came to fetch me at M’s house. They came in their car bearing a gift for M’s parents – a big shopping bag of oranges (very Chinese) which promptly broke as they got out of the car, so the oranges scattered all over the ground and we all comically ran around picking them up.
The handover complete, I finally went home. I was told my brother who broke the door down got in big trouble with my dad for causing me to run away. My dad was nicer to me than I could ever remember, which touched me deeply, though I had the dreadful feeling it wasn’t going to last, and it didn’t.