Halimah made a steaming cup of tea for her father who was near the railway
tracks, bent over some old newspapers. She was bothered that the amount of tea
leaves left was too little for a second round. She adjusted her dress which was
torn over her knees and left shoulder before climbing out of her hut. She was
careful not to hit the cup on the narrow door.
Halimah's father was kneeling
down, engrossed in the pile he had collected. He spat betel juice on the stone
slabs and barked at her for the delay. She scratched her head and drew back the
fringe that covered her heart-shaped face. Her father gulped the hot tea and
shoved the cup back into her hands. Chasing her to start work, he mumbled the
dates of the newspapers to himself, trying to arrange them in order for Uncle
Aziz. She was glad he did not ask for a second cup. Running towards her hut, she
nearly bumped into Uncle Aziz pushing his cart filled with bundled up papers,
Back home, Ibrahim was still asleep, curled up with Lat the stray cat.
Halimah chased Lat out and kicked her twin brother roughly. He jolted out of his
sleep and scolded her for giving him a fright. "What's so scary?" she yelled
back, pushing forward the bowl of last night's porridge. Ibrahim grudgingly
drank the porridge. He knew Halimah would not have had any side dish of sambal
saved for her own breakfast only. She was not that type. "That would have
enhanced the taste somewhat," he thought and drooled a little.
Halimah washed the pots and pans outside and watched the slum dwellers
finally rising to attend to their many businesses. Begging was the most popular
amongst the children in this part of town while the men
usually resorted to helping out contractors in transporting cement and other
heavy duty labor. Halimah's mother and some of the other women were out selling
baskets woven by them during the week. Although Halimah was only ten, she could
weave a basket in half a day which impressed the other women.
She rolled up her long, dry, brown hair into a messy bun and dragged Ibrahim
with her. They had to start early or the office crowd would be gone. They would
have to use whatever they earned for lunch and track down foreigners in the many
tourist spots to secure dinner later. If business went well, Halimah had
promised to take Ibrahim out to watch a show at the cinema. They had been saving
the past week and if luck allowed it, they would have had enough by Saturday to
enjoy a little luxury.
Ibrahim did not seem enthusiastic when she reminded him of their outing. He
scratched his head and threw his shirt over their father's bicycle parked
outside. He walked on uninterestedly to the bus stop and sat sulking by the
corner. Halimah tried cheering him up by allowing Lat to tag along but he still
seemed moody. Giving up, she started out alone, begging from the people crowding
the fish market nearby.