I grew up an unwanted girl child. Father had wanted a boy, but it was not to be. Mother wasn’t quite so obsessed or so she said. However, she did want to please Father, so she tried again, and again. It was “Bingo!” the third time. When I was teenager, Mother told me that she was so happy that she’d given Father his boy child because she would no longer need to endure birth pangs again.
Unfortunately, I had already usurped the rank of firstborn by the time their long-awaited son was born. Once I asked Mother why my younger sister was always treated differently from me. The reply was swift and unequivocal: after three years of waiting, they’d become more accepting of a second daughter; after all, the coveted position of “eldest” had already been taken.
My parents weren’t cruel to me in the overall scheme of things but favouritism was clearly present in all they said and did. Father took a back seat and left our upbringing to Mother, who duly hired a live-in servant to look after us and help keep house just days after Sister was born.
Ah Moi was as protective as any lioness would be of her precious cub. I, on the other hand, was mercilessly bullied by Ah Moi and more often than not my body bore the red tell-tale stripes of severe caning. Both our parents worked, and Ah Moi was left in charge. Whenever she complained about me, which was all the time and every day for 12 miserable years, Mother caned me. I would be caned for the smallest misdemeanour, such as daring to giggle whilst reading a funny comic when my baby sister was sleeping.
Life was a drudge, but I had a saviour in Ah Mah, my paternal Grandmother. Our family tradition was to visit both sets of grandparents at weekends: Father’s parents on Friday nights, and Mother’s parents on Saturday nights. Oftentimes I would ask to stay with Ah Mah, and she became my refuge. It always felt like a holiday whenever I stayed over, and the memory of her uncomplicated love and kindness has never left me.
Mine was a Christian family, and I was sent to a girls’ school affiliated with a Methodist Church. We attended two different churches. My siblings and I attended Sunday School at our school church, and then joined our parents at Mother’s old school church for Sunday services. Perhaps my most precious memory of church was standing upon a chair with one parent on either side and lustily singing the hymns during service.
However, it was in school that I learnt to love Jesus. It was a Christian school, and at the beginning of each school day, the teacher would take us through a short time of worship comprising three choruses and a little prayer. It was during our corporate worship both in class and during the regular Wednesday church services in school that I learnt to love the Lord and to pray.
One year, having passed out of Primary 2 with flying colours, I was most excited indeed that instead of the cane that usually met me after getting my grades, Mother said she’d buy me a gift for coming first in class. What did I want, she asked? My answer? A Bible.
I remember well taking a bus with Mother into downtown Singapore and entering one of the larger Christian bookshops. We rode the escalators to the top floor of the shopping mall in air-conditioned comfort. Inside the store were shelves of books, cassettes, leaflets, bookmarks printed with inspiring verses, and other knick-knacks such as keychains with encouraging words or adages printed on their fobs. The Bibles were located at the very back of the bookshop. I wasn’t interested in a children’s Bible. I wanted a regular Bible and that was what Mother bought me – a clothbound RSV Bible with an outer paper jacket. It was my treasure, my joy.
The Bible became my friend. I was an avid reader in any case, but now I wanted to devour this precious hard-won book I’d earned by virtue of coming first in class and school. (Our school graded all its pupils against each other by class and cohort. There were three Primary 2 classes.)
One late afternoon, I was upstairs in my bedroom when I thought I heard a call. I rushed downstairs and was midway down the second half of our winder stairs when I literally saw what seemed like a blanket of dispersing sunlight encroaching upon the risers before me. Meanwhile, looking downwards three feet ahead of me was a steadier disbursement of rays from a see-through core of brightness. Some of those rays bounced against a portrait of our Lord on the wall to my left. It was a surreal moment. I felt as if I were being enveloped in the shining presence of Jesus. I remember standing there agog with my mouth open and wondering whether I was imagining things, whilst at the same time calling out “Thank you, thank you,” in my mind. As I write, I can see my barefooted 8-year-old skinny self in skimpy brown shorts and a light T-shirt stranded on that staircase gawping at the Light!
I am a couple of months short of 60 as I write this. I believe to this day that the Lord showed Himself to me for a purpose. (I had, in my innocence been praying to Jesus to make me a Christian. I later learned at 12 years of age how to give my life to Him.) Perhaps it has made me more receptive to the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Paul speaks of at length in 1 Corinthians 14. Perhaps my remembrance of this encounter even now is encouraging me because of what the pandemic has done to our Bed and Breakfast business in England. The Lord has His purposes and it is not for me to enquire why, even though I, like a recalcitrant and often questioning child, may ask.
Janz Duncan lives with her husband in the Lake District National Park, England where they have a Bed and Breakfast (https://bownessbedandbreakfast.wordpress.com). During spare moments, she enjoys writing and walking with her husband and rescue Great Dane. Her work has appeared in Trouvaille Review, Burgundy Balloon and Highland Park Poetry.