Short Story: Trouble With Language (Part 2)

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One week later, they met again. Pammy looked haggard, her under eye circles darkened, her eyes more guileless and fierce than usual.

“My old man (her term of endearment for her husband which sounds more of a term of respect in her native tongue than in English) and my father-in-law insist on watching soccer every night; my mother-in-law is in the middle of ‘Empress Ki’ on another TV, which runs 51 episodes. I didn’t even notice this before. No wonder Sam’s English grade tanked. How can he learn anything when his little mind is filled up with soccer stars and Korean princesses? I cancelled the ESPN sports channel and moved my mother’s TV upstairs so that she can finish the drama in her bedroom. She also has to use earphone since the wall is so thin. If the sound of the Korean language drifts out, it will damage Sam’s English absorption. We speak English at home, especially on dinner table. Fortunately my in-laws can speak Manglish, you know the street dialect of English in Malaysia. They all hate me now, but I have to put my foot down for Sam’s benefit. He will thank me when he grows up.”
“My husband is watching soccer too. Two weeks of European championship and I can’t watch anything else.” Armei said.
“Tell me about it. Without ESPN, my old man switched to those channels that speak Spanish to watch his soccer game. I told him that Sam cannot have any sound around him that’s not English. He just muted the sound and continued to watch. I told him to switch to American football. If Sam wants to be Americanized, soccer has to go. Can you believe it? He just turned wild and went to the kitchen and smashed my favorite soup bowl. That’s twenty-two dollars. He just doesn’t care. I’m the only one who struggles for this family and nobody else cares. All they want is to have fun.” Pammy’s eyes went moist.
“Don’t worry. It’s a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but it will go away. In the meantime, Sam will grow up a real American.” Lu said.
“You are right, Lu, Sam is growing to be a real American. I told him no game. OK. If he wants to play game, he can play Scrabble with me and his father. Do you know Scrabble? I bought it from a yard sale of my colleague at City Life (Pammy is an insurance agent) for only five bucks. It’s a box set.”
Pammy had pictures of her weekend activities on her cell and she showed them.
“Sometimes it’s so hard. Am I a bad person? Am I too rough?” Pammy asked when Lu and Armei crowded over to take a peek.
“Of course not.” Lu said, “when men want to do something, they become heroes or conquerors. Even if they fail, they are admired as fallen heroes or flawed warriors. When women want to do something, they become witches and disrupters. Even if they succeed, they are resented.”
“Oh Lu, that’s a bit exaggerations, isn’t it?” Armei said and thought that no wonder Lu couldn’t find a job on anthropology. Lu’s ideas are a little jarred and Lu often felt that Lu did that deliberately to counteract the bias of the larger society. Still this kind of attitude might not help her job hunt.
Pammy looked at one and then the other, not able to understand either of them.

Pammy didn’t show up the following week. Armei and Lu thought she might be too involved in her ongoing family battle to have attention for anything else, and didn’t call her to inquire. Another week passed. Just when Armei and Lu started to worry about Pammy’s well being, she showed up a changed person. She brought good news about her domestic peace. Better still, Sam is improving at an astonishing pace. For the Scrabble game, he had improved within two weeks from a beginner level to almost an expert level. Practically a genius.

Lu told Armei that something was wrong–Sam can’t go from a beginner to an expert in two weeks–but Armei told her to be quiet. Pammy was happy and there’s no need to spoil the illusion. Since the beginning of the whole thing, Pammy had become a changed person and their weekly gathering had not been as joyful as before.

Two weeks later, Pammy came, a crestfallen figure. It turned out that her husband was setting up a voice activated unscrmbler program on Sam’s cell phone so that Sam can score high for the scrabble game. For a while, Pammy was so happy with Sam’s “advancement” that she relaxed all the rules she just set up, but it all turned out to be an illusion. “What to do?” Pammy asked.

“Oh, Pammy, can’t we go back to where we were before? Can we forget about your language project?” Armei said. “The three of us haven’t had a nice Monday afternoon for quite a while.”
“Pammy, you fight on. Don’t let these small setbacks frustrate you. If you believe in something, you want to pursue it to the end.” Lu said.

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