Family always matters

“Annalise! Time for school!” Her mother’s voice travelled down the narrow hall, waking her up.

She sat up with a yawn, her eyes still half closed. The buzz of Kuala Lumpur coming to life woke her.

She rubbed her eyes as the rickety hand-me-down bed beneath her groaned from years of use. Throwing the threadbare covers off and stepping onto the cold dusty floorboards, Annalise walked over to her sisters’ bed.

She stubbed her toe on the corner of the bed frame and let out a groan. Limping, Annalise gently shook their tiny shoulders awake. The sound of cars honking and shouting on the street below caused them to roll over and stuff their faces into their thin pillows. Annalise sighed. It was always like this.

“Well, there’s wantan mee in the kitchen,” she said, smiling. “If you don’t get up, I’ll finish it all.”

That was a lie – hawker food was a once-in-a-blue-moon treat – but it did the trick. Alicia, the foodie, bolted upright. She ran to the kitchen shouting, “I want wantan mee!”

Sofia reached out, searching for her sister’s hand. When she was met with nothing, she sat up in bed, her hair tangled up and all over her face.

Annalise smiled and walked out.

Fifteen-year-old Annalise Chong came from a poor family. Her family had never been well-to-do, unlike the families of most of the other kids in her school. Her parents always worked until the dead of night, when Annalise and her twin sisters were already in dreamland.

Most of the Chong family’s belongings were second-hand, or hand-me-downs. While other kids were bragging about the new iPhone 13 Pro and showing off their flashy accessories, all Annalise could do was stare longingly at one. She resented being poor. Sometimes, she would get bullied or teased at her secondary school for having the shabbiest belongings, or not being able to afford to go on school trips. To put it mildly, Annalise hated being poor.


She could hear them sniggering as she took out her Nokia.

The group of girls Annalise liked to call the ‘OMGs’ were standing at the lockers, laughing behind perfectly manicured hands. One of the OMGs, who looked like she had fallen into a truck full of powder, giggled, “Oh my God, Annabelle, what’s that? The first phone ever created?”

Annalise sighed and turned around, “It’s Annalise, not Annabelle. And not all of us are as rich as you, Sarina.”

Sarina giggled. It sounded like nails on a blackboard, making Annalise’s ears feel like they were bleeding. “Yeah, I know I’m rich. D-uh. My daddy’s the CEO. And we know you’re poor; your stuff says it clearly.”

Annalise turned around and stuffed her books in her locker in a huff. She could feel angry tears forming in her eyes, but she blinked them away. She didn’t want the OMGs to see her cry.

Ignoring the whispers behind her, she held her head high as she walked to class. After all, they said, ‘fake it till you make it’, right?

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from ‘Family Matter’ by Tisha Loh Zhi Yi. It is part of a series of short stories – Secret & Lies: A Young Writer’s Anthology. Priced at RM31.90, the book is available at BookXcess. Royalties from the sale of the book will be channelled to Thrive Well’s (formerly SOLS Health) community centres.

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