Friday Flash: Love Lane

Love Lane, Georgetown, Penang

Love Lane, Georgetown, Penang

Love Lane it was called. I stood under the street sign and then stared at my toes that were burning under the scorching sun. I was here, finally. I had traipsed through what felt like miles and miles in my jandals trying to imagine what it would have been like to finally meet her. I walked down the lane squinting as I looked for the numbers, some had them, some did not. I walked past a really cute gallery, and some backpacker inns. A bunch of drunk Europeans were seated in front one of them laughing.

I bet it did not use to be such. Love Lane, was were the kept women were kept. Concubines and mistresses. So ah-gong told me.

It was almost the end of the street when I finally found it. It had been turned into another one of those inns for backpackers, I had not known. I walked in and was greeted by a graceful little old lady, bending over her newspaper squinting. She sat up and smiled, can I help you? she asked. Her voice soft and gentle.

I am looking for Madam Dog – I said it in Hokkien. Apparently they used to name their children after animals. It was a form of protection against the evil spirits.

A frown formed on her forehead, slowing, creasing from the eyebrows. Then she took of the gold frames that were sitting at the edge of her nose and she pointed to the door on her right.

Should I go in?

She nodded.

Right to the end. The end. She said.

I walked in and followed the corridor to the end. There were doors to rooms on both sides of the corridor and at the end was an old lady, older than the one I just met. She was perched on a rafia chair, cross legged. Under the ceiling fan, fanning herself.

Her stance never changed from the stories I have heard of her. That was the stance that made his head turn.

I approached her and stopped just a few feet away from her. She lifted her chin to look at me and then she folded her fan and sighed.

A-ma?

She shook her head. I am not a-ma, I am Madam Dog.

I reached into my bag and retrieved the white envelope. I handed it to her and then sat at her feet waiting as she read it hoping that she would begin to speak. I saw her eyes tear  and watched the droplets roll down, getting caught in the creases of her face.

She was right, she was not really my grandmother, I just felt compelled to call her so after ah-gong’s stories.

She held the letter in her hand, tightly and her eyes scrolled up and down the pages. She would turn the page, and then turn it back again, sat and stared at it in silence before reading it again. This time aloud. I listened and listened hard.

He wished he had met her first, he said, but it was so very unfortunate. He already had children. But he loved her so very much, too much.

He kept it from her for the longest time, his family. His reason being he loved her. So he rented a place right there on Love Lane and came to see her each night.

She stared at the letter and opened her fan to begin fanning herself again. There was a long silence before she looked up and said to me.

Write this down.

Your love, she said, turned me into a prostitute.

I looked deep in her eyes and found a sort of knowing. I knew then that before him she had dreamt of being a woman in her own right. A wife, a mother, a grandmother.

That is all, she said.

I folded the piece of paper and tucked it into my backpack. My heart was heavy, but I felt a sort of satisfaction for her. He kept her from being anyone else’s A-ma.

No man should be able to use love as an excuse.

No man, not even the grandfather that I am proud of for so many other reasons.

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in response to the picture prompt.

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