The little modified lorry was there, parked every day. Taking pleasure from walking back home, I always pass it by and normally it’s surrounded by snack lovers.
And that day I discovered that they have samosas.
“How much is this?”
“One for sixty cents. Five for three twenty.”
“No. You mean five for three ringgit.”
“No. Five for three twenty. I’m the seller, remember?”
“How come it’s three twenty? Recite your six times tables now! It should be three ringgit. You don’t cheat me with my six times tables.”
His other friends who’s frying the banana fritters was laughing at him. Took him a while to get it right and finally he said.
“Sorry. You’re right, Miss Six Times Tables.”
This was the first multiplication table that I commit to my subconscious mind. No, it’s not the two times table, three, four, not even the easiest of all, the five times tables but I mastered six times table the day that I helped a girl.
I was a new girl at a strange place where the children acted quite differently. Coming from Kedah, my first day at school in Perlis was quite memorable. I had everything new. My new shoes and new stocking were white, my new pinafore dark navy blue, perfectly pressed by Mother, my ponytails all tied up with red ribbons, I had my new bag with me. I was ever so ready to go to my new school and meet my new friends.
I was placed in a class called 1 Hijau. Hijau is green, in Malay. It was the last class after Merah (red), Kuning (yellow) and Biru (blue). Everybody knows it as 1 H. I stayed with the same classmates for 3 years. 1 H, 2 H and 3 H.
During the first day at the school I realized which class I socially belong. There were only 5 people in the class of 40 children that has new clothes. Others had clothes two sizes bigger or with holes in them with a pair of shoes that used to be white long time ago that has zap ons that didn’t really work anymore.
I can’t say that I came from a rich family but there were a lot of poor people around us. Children that came from fishermen villages or a farmer based family that can only come to school because the government made it compulsory, if not they’d be helping their family affairs.
Among them there was a girl called Nadia Irzwana. Beautiful name, ain’t it? She had long hair, a permanent sad face, an incomplete ensemble of pinafore (she didn’t own a belt), socks that can only pull itself up with a rubber band placed around it and shoes so worn you can see holes in it.
We were not best buddies. I had my circle of friends and she was quite content to be left alone.
Father would send me to school with his trusted motorcycle. He would stop at a stall and I would cross the road to buy my brunch.That was my meal for the next 6 years. Thirty cent worth of nasi lemak (this was in the 1990s) and Mother gave me additional fifty cents to buy drinks or anything that I like, be it stationary or snacks from the canteen.
Life was basically normal for me. Everything was going well. I loved school. I loved my friends. The only problem I had was with our Math teacher.
She would made us stand on our chairs and ask the multiplication tables one by one. When you got it right, then you can sit down with a face that can be translated as winning the Olympic games.
I never had that kinda face. I hated Maths. I didn’t even looked at the little pieces of paper printed with all the multiplication tables with the hope that one day it will help us in the future (it did, in my case) In the end I always came up last and punished with several gentle taps on my hands as a precaution and a warning that there will be more next time.
I just don’t see why we had to memorize it. Other students, hating to be punished again by the teacher would religiously put the figures in their heads so that they can sit down the soonest possible and pull hideous faces at the students that were still standing up with stressful head trying to calculate it manually.
It was always tense during Math period.
One day the same teacher (who was my class teacher) asked for 20 cents from each student so that we can buy some colored papers to decorate the class. The school was having a competition in the most cheerful class and the teacher thought that it would be nice that we could participate.
So as the class monitor (I had responsibilities!), I dutifully asked for the money.
All paid up without much hassle except one. Nadia Irzwana. When asked why, she just hid her face and said she doesn’t have any money.
“Don’t your mother give you money for recess time?”
“I don’t have a mother.”
“You don’t understand. We don’t have any money. I don’t know how to pay you.”
To think of it, I never saw her at canteen during recess. I never saw her anywhere near during that half an hour when pupils lining up and pushing other people and cutting lines to get to the food.
Then I started crying. I don’t know how I can explain it, it just got to me. I just realized that this little person was so poor that she doesn’t have money nor food. She didn’t even ask for it. When all the children were playing, she was hiding somewhere, starving and trying to pull herself together until the school is over.
“It’s o.k. I’ll pay for you. I have some money.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you. Thank you so much. I don’t know how to pay you back.”
“No. No need. It’s o.k.”
She hugged me and I would give all the money to the Math teacher and everything was fine.
Next, Math period.
I know that I’m going to get it this time. We were learning a new multiplication tables yesterday and it was the six times tables. Everyone was ready set on the chairs when the teacher came in.
“6 x 7?”
“42” said the girl in front of me.
Oh God. What should I do?
“6 x 8?”
“48” was my reply.
What? Where did that come from?It surprised me and the teacher. She tried another question, and another which was not in our syllabus.
“6 x 9?”
“6 x 12?”
Even I can’t believe what I was saying. It just blurted out from my mouth without even thoroughly processed in my head.
“Sit down.” Finally she said.
What was going on? I don’t get it. What happened just now? I hardly look at the notes nor the figures and I got everything right? That was unbelievable.
And at that particular time, I glanced at Nadia Irzwana and she smiled. Of course this was a friendly smile but I can’t help but wonder if she has anything to do with this.
We were 9. This can’t be possible!
But strangely (but true) I remembered everything. I remembered all the multiplication tables after that and had no problem in Maths anymore.
Was it the twenty cents?
Anyway I haven’t heard anything from the girl anymore. She seemed to disappear with time. But I will always remember that miraculous day when I invested my twenty cents to help a little girl and gained my six times table or I might say, a new perspective of life.
I should be the one thanking her.