I was a little large for twelve, and I had heard that coffee stunted growth. When I began drinking it last year, my parents tried in vain to stop me, but it was no use. If denied coffee, I would steal it from the pot my father made every morning, so they gave up and let me drink it. These days, my father hardly saw the cup in my hand as he drove me to school, as his eyes were looking out at the world beyond him, his mind turning unknowable thoughts in a slow sifter. Today it got me thinking—what if my parents had given in because they too were desperate to see me stunted and secretly could not bear the sight of me? If I kept growing like this, I might become a monster instead of woman.
I could hear the girls giggling in the privacy of the cubbies, and I headed back there. Amanda had brought in a Harlequin romance book again, at least I thought so at first glance. Last time they let me listen. The cover resembled the others: it had a man and a woman gripping each other, drawn in cartoonish bright colors. The title, Lessons from the Sea, was written in raised red script. The other books we read had been mild and silly, but as I sat and listened to the passage being read aloud, it was clear that this one had a different message, a new experience. Amanda held the book spread open in her small hands and began to read:
It had been two weeks at sea and the first mate was getting nervous. He watched the new addition to the ship like a hawk does its prey. Taken from the wealthiest family in his last port of call, Catherine was a jewel to behold. He could not resist kidnapping her when he spied her walking along the water, wide-eyed, her body ripe and unexplored. He eyed her with fierce, yet tender eyes. He knew he would have her. Once on the ship, she had not panicked, but had walked about as if in a trance, day by day, resigning herself to this fate. It was only a matter of time before she gave in to his growing lust.
At the word ‘lust’ all the girls giggled and looked around them. It was confusing and exhilarating at the same time—everyone felt it. I entered the circle and listened. No one acknowledged my presence, yet no one refused me either. Amanda read the next passage:
Catherine would often rise early and stand looking out at the sea while everyone else slept. In the moonlight, her profile showed a lingering girlhood, but with a growing womanhood taking command. Her breasts pressed against the satin fabric of her dress as if to challenge the buttons. Seeing her there all alone, Miguel was sure the loneliness was breaking down her resistance and he would finally have her in his bed without his having to use force. If he could help it, he would rather not rape her.
At this, she stopped reading, and furrowed her brow.
“More!” I blurted out cheerfully. I was hooked and couldn’t wait a second longer to hear what happened.
They all gazed at me with a slight look of irritation. I had said the wrong thing.
(Please read the complete story in The Hong Kong Review, Vol. II, No. 1)