Certainly, no one reacted the way I expected. I know it's kind of a small thing but as far as I'm concerned, parents are best known for exaggerating their child's success (at times) and feeling strangely proud of the little things that their child achieves and little brothers are better known for not giving a damn about their older sibling's achievements/news/whereabouts. But when I broke the silence and harmony in the car, mom and dad only shrugged their shoulders and smiled, saying, "Good lah," while Edmund, suddenly waking up from lying on mom's laps, turned inquisitive and started asking more questions about what I was blabbering about.
Edmund : What did ah ko say? He win what? What's oral competition?
Matt : Umm... reading competition...
Edmund : Ah ko win reading competition ah?
Dad : Yes lah, ah ko got first prize.
Edmund : Of course la. Ah ko trained by Aunty Anne one. Sure good!
It was true that my reading skills were honed and sharpened by a certain teacher by the name of Aunty Anne. Mom sent me to her for English tuition because she was one of mom's best friends and also Grace's official godmother. I was under her observation and training for almost a decade to get me where I am today and mom, being so pleased with my result has never stopped encouraging her other friends to send their children to Aunty Anne. This time, it's Edmund. By the way, just for the record, the bad English I use here (or anywhere else for that matters) is not to be blamed on Aunty Anne. I blame me for the lack of attention in her classes back in the days and the lack of proper excercises. Please forgive me.
Still, taken aback by this sudden, unexpected comment, I quickly kept quiet and my face grew hot. Usually, it's either mom or dad who starts the I've-never-regretted-sending-you-to-Aunty-Anne conversation but this time, Edmund gave his fair share of comment. Mom, being her encouraging self started saying to Edmund, "Then you have to learn and be hardworking from now also, so that you can grow up like ah ko." Honestly, I wouldn't make that much of an 'ideal brother' (I mean, with all that lazing around at home... who wants to be me?) but I was in no position to quarrel. Edmund did nothing but stare at mom for a few brief moments and turned to dad who had both his hands on the stirring wheel and said this :
Edmund : Dad, I don't like to recieve first prizes you know.
Dad : Why? You have to always strive for the best mah!
Edmund : I don't know why but I like to see my friends get first prize lah. I just don't like to get first prize.
Dad was obviously speechless by this as he didn't add another word when Edmund sank back into his seat. Seriously. That was so strange. I was actually stunned to hear these words from Edmund's mouth that I wasn't able to say anything to protest. The whole atmosphere in the car fell silent and awkward.
Then it came crushing down on me that I felt the same way too when I was at his age. Gosh, I still feel a little bit like that now. I never liked the idea of me going up on stage to shake hands with some stranger and receive a certificate or a trophy, only to have a horrible picture taken of me descending the side stairs of the stage and risk the possibility of me stumbling offstage due to my clumsiness and break the trophy. No way! It doesn't mean I don't like winning. Hell, I love winning for the feeling of success is as sweet as can be! Still, I don't really anticipate the whole idea of making a fool of myself on stage. I prefer someone else to get the prize on behalf of me. Things are even better if I was in a group.
I guess I can say that this is one of the many insecurities I have. Insecurities, that's the right word. A guy with not so much of self-confidence, of course I'm bound to have insecurities! Well, first of all, I'm not exactly the popular jock in school and certainly am not the kind of guy everyone looks forward to be friends with. The only appearance I've made on stage so far (as long as I can remember) in my four years of schooling was that one time that when I entered the elocution and that was that. I don't have any recollection of any prize-giving ceremony I attended that involved me. My only main worry (besides the one that involved me falling off-stage) is the fear of being ridiculed on stage. Shit like that happens in school, you know.
Even when I was younger, I had no inclination or whatsoever towards the alluring stage of my school's empty hall or the cheap stage set up you see during Chinese weddings where wasted relatives belt out horrible renditions of a Teresa Teng number! Yuck! Children will always flock happily up the stage at the end of the wedding dinner without any invitation and will prance around in their tiny little skirts or smart little tuxedos only to have half-drunken family members cheer for them. I on the other hand, had never ever went near or joined them in their little concert. When every other children jumped and pounded on stage, I just stood by the side and watch them with a slight distaste while clutching at mom's hands.
Thankfully, throughout my life, I've never actually been in on many award winning situation, therefore, never the need of risking myself to all the stage
Now I wonder what Edmund's reasons are for not wanting to be another award-winning kid like every other foolish competitive kids in school, preferring only to watch and celebrate the joy of his friends. Maybe it's in the family gene. You know, under-achiever and all. Cause Grace and I had never won anything destiny-changing in our schools or any competitions that we took part in and I just couldn't remember any of us being status hungry. We managed to see that there's so much more to life than getting good grades from a very young age. Can't exactly remember me striving to be the first in school or any other undertakings for that matter. Yeah, it's probably genes. I mean, what kind of normal child wouldn't want to excel? Twisted, I'd say.
"I want to eat supper," Edmund broke the sound of the moving vehicle in the night under the orange street lamps. When mom and dad refused to spend another hour at the nearby hawkers, he turned cranky and didn't stop wailing. It was close to midnight and we had to wake up at 7a.m. the next morning to make it for mass. None of us was keen on wasting an hour of quality sleep to watch Edmund chew on his food at the hawker centre filled with scrawny looking ah peks holding their beer bottles loosely. We could all tell he was sleepy himself - with him rubbing the eyes vigorously. Dad started scolding him for being unreasonable for he just had dinner a couple of hours ago and he started retaliating, making the sound in the car almost unbearable.
Dad did not give in to him and we headed straight home, with Edmund wailing and repeating the sentence, "I want to eat something," softly, after every wail. To be thinking, this whole crap would end when we reach home and Edmund's going to wake up the next morning looking as bright and feeling as good as ever and everything's going to be ok. What we all needed was some sleep. And there was Frank Sinatra singing, "...this is reality..." on the radio at the moment we turned the junction where it parted the hawkers and home. Gosh, this is life.