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The International Writers Magazine: Childhood Memories

Sleep
Jo Green in Malaysia

I
t took us about an hour travelling down this long, winding river heading into a far-off forest. We were in a thin wooden boat floating through miles of tall, green scenery. The splashing water around me was a murky brown colour and the rain that hammered down on top of me obscured my vision.

Mummy sat behind me while Tamsyn perched on the bench seat in front of me. I held on tight to my scruffy teddy bear, Alfie, and watched as Daddy paddled against the current along with two other men who were leaning out at the front.

The rain was getting harder and harder so the men decided we should all stop for a bit of lunch. I didn’t want to sit down though, the ground was all wet and sandy. I really didn’t want my skirt to get dirty, the pink and white flowers already had water marks on them.

We set off again up the stream, this time I sat near the front. The rain had weakened and I could see the grey clouds slowly disappearing behind us. I started to hear more than just the mad crashing of water against the side of the boat. Parrots were squawking in the forests around us and every so often we would catch a glimpse of one flying across the river above us. Little birds were busy collecting food and returning it safely to their nests. A couple of times I caught sight of a fish, jumping and twirling in the air, its small fins glistening in the sunlight that was gradually appearing.

Suddenly there it was, the longhouse. It stood above us with all its tall, brown stilts and rows of rooms that stretched along the bank. As we walked up the stairs I noticed the older men returning with dead animals. A fat pig, which I was told was a wild boar, was hanging on a stick between two men’s shoulders. I was afraid that this was going to be supper that night. I decided I would have to sit next to Mummy or Daddy, just in case I needed to secretly put my food on their plates.

I do not remember eating it now; suddenly all I can think is that we were heading to our rooms.
We were the only children going to bed. All the others were still dancing and singing around the fire. Daddy had done a funny dance in the middle of the veranda, just like all the others. He had tried to make Tamsyn and I stand up as well but I was so tired. Tamsyn was so funny though, she stood up, she spun around, she was full of energy. She hated going to bed, I knew she would have carried on dancing all night if she could. All I felt was my eyelids dropping, I was completely exhausted.

An old woman led all four of us into this small bedroom at the end of the longhouse. I felt scared; it was not like home at all. I grabbed hold of my brother’s hand; I needed protecting from these strangers. As we entered the room another lady joined us. She usually sat outside the room sewing. She helped us all find the toilet and get our pyjamas. They did not leave though. They stayed. They just sat there and watched us.

We nestled down under the thin, square patterned blanket, like packed sausages. The two women sat opposite us, observing every move, waiting for us to fall asleep. Tamsyn’s eyes were full of panic as she lay next to me, our noses almost touching. She looked frightened; it made me even more so. I smiled at her. I then closed my eyes and opened them again, looking straight at her. I instantly closed them again. She saw what I was doing, could see it was a game. We lay there, ‘asleep,’ and gradually drifted off.

© Jo Green April 2006

Jo is a Creative Writing student at the University of Portsmouth

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