by Amir Muhammad
The New Straits Times. 26 January 2011
It was in kindergarten that Luk knew he was different from the other boys. This happened when the class was told to draw elephants.
When the black-garbed teacher saw him, she rapped him on the knuckles with a heavy wooden ruler.
"What are you doing?" she demanded.
"It's an elephant," he replied. "I know it doesn't look like one yet but --"
"Good people don't use their left hand! That's something only the Devil does!" The ruler connected again. It hurt.
Luk forced himself to continue with his right hand. The elephant looked even weirder now, and since he had not heard of Cubism (give chance, he was only 4!) the result made his head hurt. And that's when he knew that left-handedness was not close to Godliness.
So when he drew at home, he would do it secretly in his room. But one day, his mother walked in while he was doing it, and she caught him blue-handed (he was colouring the sky). She was more sad than shocked; she had always suspected something, but had pretended it would go away if she ignored it.
She tried to change him. "Think of how lonely you'll be when you grow up," she said. "You won't have any friends." A part of him that thought: "What sort of friends won't accept me for what I am?" But he knew this rebellious thought was probably planted by the Devil to lead him astray. And he wept.
"Electric-shock therapy can do it," said an uncle with some relish, but no one was resourceful enough to find out how this could be done. "Is it because I coddled him too much?" his mother Puan Kas wondered to her friends, who murmured in sympathy as they mentally rehearsed how they would spread the scandalous news to their other friends. "You've been such a good mother!" responded Puan Rah to her. "It's up to him to change. Don't let him mix around with left-handed people, they will only influence him." And Puan Kas replied: "But he doesn't know any..." -- she forced herself to say the words --"left-handed people."
And it was true, he didn't. Well, not at first.
In secondary school, he suspected there were other boys like him, but their orientation was not shown openly. They would laugh along, albeit uneasily, when people make jokes about how unclean and unnatural the left-handed must be.
One hot morning, a senior called him aside after he left the Biology lab. This senior, Om, was smoking behind the canteen. "I saw the way you held that test-tube," Om said. "You're ... left-handed, aren't you?" Luk was too shocked to respond.
"So am I, " said Om, and sure enough: the cigarette was in his left hand. "But no one knows. Here, hold it."
"But I don't smoke," said Luk.
"You don't have to, just hold it, " said Om.
Luk was nervous but excited as he took it in his left hand and obeyed Om's instructions: "Hold it. Rub it. Stroke it. Doesn't that feel good?"
And Luk said: "Yes. Yes. It feels so good." But it was also lit, so he passed it back before he singed his fingers.
At the end of that school-day, something else happened. He was waiting for the bus when Om and a few of his friends came by. Luk wondered if they were all left-handed, too. But before he could wonder any more, Om signalled for Luk to follow them behind some trees that had supposedly been there since the Japanese Occupation (which Luk doubted). Luk happily followed his new friend. When they were out of sight of the rest of the school, Luk's happiness was cut short, because Om and his friends took turns to beat him up. The result was not pretty, and it ended with Om, glowing with contempt, spitting at him. "Freak," he said.
Luk stayed on the ground. Movement might be too painful. Might as well just lie there for the rest of his damned life. In a corny display of pathetic fallacy, it started to rain. This actually made him feel better, because he was very fond of playing in the rain and never got sick from it. That was just one other thing that made him weird -- or special, depending on how he wanted to look at it.
The Luk that we see now is not quite the same Luk of the beginning of this story: he's a dozen years older and had consulted many teachers, some with names like Google and Yahoo. He knew of many successful left-handed people, and he recited their names. Winfrey! Obama! Gates! Einstein! (But, alas, Bieber too.) But he could already hear the objections of those around him: "Those are Westerners! They aren't like us. We have values!"
Luk wondered what Om hated about him; it was probably what Om hated about himself. He wondered how he would get through the rest of his teenage years, and if things would indeed get better.
Through the rain, Luk saw a figure clad entirely in white running towards him. Was this an angel or a Japanese ghost or a prefect? He was curious but a bit apprehensive (you never knew with prefects). The figure put out a hand to help him up. Luk looked up but couldn't see the face properly, or appreciate the significance that the hand being offered was not the traditional one.