Ch. 02 – Growing up with ABC and XYZ
The days to come, XYZ will always come knocking in the afternoon, said ‘hi’ politely to mama and asked if he could take me to play outside. And mama, smiling as usual, will always say ‘go ahead’ and ‘be back before the sun sets’. Like she had forgotten how the kids on Street 1B treated me and whole-heartedly trusted XYZ to be different from those kids.
Initially, I look up at mama with teary eyes, begging her to not let XYZ take me. But mama will always insist, saying ‘boys your age should play and make more friends’. So, I’m forced to go with Zack (I like calling him Zack rather than Xavier) and would always be on the verge of bursting into tears. What a crybaby!
But Zack was different from the others. Proven!
He always smiled to me, and was ever kind. He took me around the block, introduced me to the other kids. There was Shah, Hanna, and Taufiq from the house next to Zack’s, the Odou siblings (Erica, Melvin, Kris, Rowanna, and Harold) at the end of the opposite row, and twins Halim and Harun two houses from mine’s. Zack said there was another girl, Mariam, but she seldom comes out of her house, which was the exact opposite of mine’s.
Oh, and I almost forgot. There was Anna.
After a month or so, I started going out playing even before Zack comes to our doorsteps (and of course, with mama’s consent). Sometimes, I waited outside their house. We would usually play after four until sunset. So, everyday, I was looking forward to four o’clock.
Usually, the other kids will come out earlier than that, but Zack and Anna will always, and only, come out at four. I wonder why?
So, one day, at two something (I can’t really read the clock back then), I asked mama if I can go and play outside.
“Isn’t it too early for you to go outside? The other kids are still not out yet. And it’s hot right now,” was all mama said when I asked.
But I insisted to go out and said that I wanted to go next door at Zack and Anna’s.
Mama refused to let me go. I persisted. I pulled at her leg with teary eyes.
“Mama bah…. Pleaaaaase….”
What a crybaby! Damn, was I always that annoying back then? I dunno.
Mama sighed. Then she walked to the phone. Called someone, then said thank you at the end. Then she turned to me.
“Okay, Aunty Betty said you can come. But remember, behave yourself Jeremy.”
Instantly, my eyes glitter. I smiled towards mama and said ‘thank you’ while rushing to the door.
It didn’t take me long before I was knocking at their house (Well, we do live next to each other, so, duh). Aunty Betty slide the door open and greeted me with a sweet smile as I say ‘hi’ towards her.
“Aunty, can I come in?”
“Oh, please do so. But Zack is teaching Anna ABC right now, so there’s not much you can do.”
“Yes, ABC. Owh, do you know how to read, Jeremy?”
I shook my head. Reading? I do know the letters, but I still can’t read. And the only numbers I know is one to twelve (cause those are the only numbers I see everyday).
“Why don’t you join them? Zack will teach you how to read and write. Come here, come. They’re in Anna’s room.”
Aunty Betty took me to the room at the back as I looked around the house.
It was sort of funny to look at a house similar to yours, only that everything is the opposite. Like a mirror. Well, we do live in an attached terrace house, so each house is paired up to the one next to it. So each one is a mirror to the other.
And Anna’s room is the reflection of my room.
Aunty Betty knocked on the bedroom door (wah, so polite!) and opened it. Zack and Anna looked towards us. Anna smiled and came rushing as she saw me.
“Jeremy!! You want to learn ABC with Xavier too kah?” Anna spurted.
“Abang Xavier, Anna…” said Aunty Betty suddenly with a monotonous voice.
“Yes! Abang Xavier! You want to learn from him also kah?”
I smiled an awkward smile.
“Great! Come sit next to me. Xavier is teaching me how to spell and write fruit names right now. Here, have a pencil and nah, a paper!”
“Anna, abang….” said Aunty Betty again.
“T-T-Thank you, I guess….” I said while taking a sit next to her on the floor.
Anna just smiled. A big smile, that is from ear to ear.
Although I’ve gradually lose my shyness (thanks a lot to Abang Zack. Oh, and I started calling him ‘abang’ also), I’m always nervous when it comes to confronting Anna. And I always end up stuttering.
Honestly, I can’t keep up with her. She’s just so active, so offensive, so all out, that it makes me sink, makes me retreat, makes me want to run away (and hide behind my mama. What a crybaby!). She always takes the initiative, the complete opposite of me whom always hide away.
Abang Zack teaches on, and Anna will raise her hand quite often, asking ‘Xavier this, Xavier that’ while I sit quietly, trying to perfect my writing. And sometimes we could hear Aunty Betty calling out ‘Abang Xavier, Anna’ from outside or just a simple but stern long ‘Anna….’ (Abang Zack seems to care less about what his sister calls him, by the way).
Sometimes, Abang Zack would ask if I understand and whether I could follow his teachings. I would always nod silently if I understand, and look down to the floor if I couldn’t. Then, he would try to make me understand through simpler means if I don’t understand (He’s so kind, he makes me wish I had an older brother too).
We end up not going out to play at all that day (thanks to stupid me, haha). Aunty Betty made some grenadine syrup and prepared some homemade biscuits for us to snack down. ABC biscuits which according to Aunty Betty, was shaped by Anna.
While having our snack, Anna pulled my sleeve.
“Jeremy, look at this!”
In front of her, on the tray, were the letters ‘A, B, C’ and ‘X, Y, Z’. I look at Anna in confusion.
“W-What did you want to show me?”
“This lah. This is for me. Anna… Belle… Claris!” she said while pointing towards the letters A, B, and C.
“This one is for Xavier. Eh, Abang Xavier, hehehe,” she giggled as she pointed towards the letters X, Y, and Z.
So that’s what she’s trying to show to me.
“So, what letter does Jeremy’s name starts with?” asked Anna suddenly.
“Err, J, perhaps….”
“So Jeremy is J! Jer for J. Oops, sorry, Anna’s eaten J already, hihihi”
She giggled again while I don’t know how to react. Then, she faced me with gleaming eyes.
“So, from now on, Anna will call you Jer, because Jeremy is J, hihi.”
So, that’s it. From that moment on, Anna called me Jer.
That is how I got my nickname.