Whenever I see that photograph, I remember that Christmas I had spent in America as a young girl. It stands out in my memory like a wrinkle on an otherwise smooth piece of linen. It was not particularly spectacular. On the contrary, it was one of the worst holidays I had.
I spent my childhood in California, the sunny state. My fondest memories include frolicking around in the playground with other tiny tots, dressing up as my favourite Disney princesses, and re-enacting scenes from the movies with my neighbours. I grew up in a tight-knit neighbourhood, so close that news about one another traveled like wildfire everyday.
An annual neighbourhood tradition of ours was to celebrate Christmas squashed together in someone's house. The more, the merrier. For an only child like myself, Christmas parties gave me that fuzzy feeling at the bottom of my stomach. I loved to pretend that all the children were my sisters and brothers. After all, Christmas the time for family and we were a substitute for one another's flesh and blood.
We assembled at the Japanese family's house this year. Everyone chipped in to bring some food for the pot luck dinner. A delectable spread of all cuisines fathomable awaited us on the dining room table. Our mothers had whipped up storms and we hardly suppress pouncing on the mouth-watering array.
The children sat at separate tables from the adults, and we dug into the sumptuous food heartily. Between mouths of turkey, we bantered on about hateful school, favourite cartoons and things only children would be interested in.
All of a sudden, Yashiko, the eldest son of the Japanese family, whipped out his Game boy with a flourish. I had always eyed his constant bragging with disdain. His slitty eyes and rotund shape contributed to my perception of him as a villain. He was not well-liked among us children, as he was terribly spoilt, unlike his demure siblings. Needless to say, he reciprocated my distaste for him mutually, as I was "too outspoken for a girl".
Looks of jealousy were plastered all over the others' faces, I pretended not to care. Inside though, I craved to move my fingers over the smooth, cool plastic of the buttons. He noticed and taunted me ever so subtly. "Why, you aren't interested in my cool Game boy?" It took every fiber of my strength to not give him a hard pinch. Espying the struggle I was going through, he emanated an evil smirk.
"Hey, kids! How about you all go up and watch a movie?" One of the adults suggested. Hiromi, Yashiko's sister, led us to her room and inserted the cassette tape into the player. A Land Before Time, one of my favourite dinosaur movies! My anger dissipated almost as quickly as it had arisen.
Halfway through the movie, Yashiko claimed to be getting some drinks for us. There was something fishy about his sudden display of consideration. Skepticism lurked at the back of my mine. I decided to wait a while longer before charging impulsively at him. He had been gone for such a long time. Was he planning on poisoning us, by any chance? It seems absolutely preposterous now, but children do have overactive imaginations.
I opened the door, till only a tiny sliver showed through, I was about to go out when a stubby finger emerged. It was Yashiko! A malicious idea jumped into my head. Should I slam it on his finger? The old proverb "love thy enemy" came to mind, but I dismissed it. Although I may have despised the morsels of flesh on his bones, I would never intentionally harm him.
All of a sudden, I felt a push from behind and I feel forward, resulting in the distortion of Yashiko's finger. An audible crack was heard as his piercing shriek reverberated through the air. Conflicting emotions tumbled over in my mind. Glee at Yashiko's pain, shock at what had occurred, the revelation that I was in huge trouble. Or not, I thought, as I camouflaged myself by slipping effortlessly into the group of children.
Blood spurted out from Yashiko's maimed finger and he was immediately sent to hospital. Amidst the flurry, I felt inanimate and numb, not being able to register what had just happened. No adults had questioned who had committed the heinous act, so I was more than happy not to reveal my wrongdoing.
In total, Yashiko required twelve stitches to move his finger back into position, and fifteen more to sew the skin back into place. The combined look of disappointment and fury that he gave me spelled it all out. So why didn't he tell? All the adults were anxiously fussing over him, all he had to do was tell them the truth.
To this day, I have no idea why he chose not to tattle on me. Perhaps it was because he had the tiniest amount of compassion for me, or that I might reveal his previous acts of cruelty towards me.
As I reminisce about this, I fervently wish that it was the former. I have no idea if the push from behind was a figment of my imagination or a deliberate attempt to implicate me, nor do I plan on finding out. Some things are better left as mysteries. Also, I am not inclined to pretend that Yashiko and I became the best of friends. It was just a part of the Christmas holiday I had that sticks to me unwaveringly like a leech, haunting me from time to time.
Sometimes, people are just not who they seem to be.