"Ah, but you weren't listening earlier, when Tuan Mansor was going on and on. I was looking at you."
"He was talking about my life, Azizah." I smiled at her. "Hardly much there I don't know about already, don't you think?" "Did the orang Jepun do that to you?" She pointed to my hands. "Maaf," she apologized, "but . . . I was always too scared to ask you. You know, I've never seen you without your gloves."
I rotated my left wrist slowly, turning an invisible doorknob.
"One good thing about growing old," I said, looking at the part of the glove where two of its fingers had been cut off and stitched over. "Unless they look closely, people probably think I'm just a vain old woman, hiding my arthritis."
We stood there, both of us uncertain of how to conduct our partings. Then she reached out and grasped my other hand, pulling me into an embrace before I could react, enveloping me like dough around a stick. Then she let go of me, collected her handbag and left. I looked around. The bookshelves were bare. My things had already been packed away and sent to my house in Bukit Tunku, flotsam sucked back to sea by the departing tide. Boxes of Malayan Law Journals and All England Law Reports were stacked in a corner for donation to the Bar Library. Only a single shelf of MLJs remained, their spines stamped in gold with the year in which the cases were reported. Azizah had promised to come in tomorrow and pack them away.
I went to a picture hanging on a wall, a watercolor of the home I had grown up in. My sister had painted it. It was the only work of hers I owned, the only one I had ever come across after the war. I lifted it off its hook and set it down by the door.
The stacks of manila folders tied with pink ribbons that normally crowded my desk had been reassigned to the other judges; the table seemed larger than usual when I sat down in my chair. The wooden stick was still lying where I had left it. Beyond the half-opened windows, dusk was summoning the crows to their roosts. The birds thickened the foliage of the angsana trees lining the road, filling the streets with their babble. Lifting the telephone receiver, I began dialing and then stopped, unable to recall the rest of the numbers. I paged through my address book, rang the main house in Majuba Tea Estate, and when a maid answered asked to speak to Frederik Pretorius. I did not have to wait long.
"Yun Ling?" he said when he came on the line, sounding slightly out of breath.
"I'm coming to Yugiri."
Silence pressed down on the line. "When?"
"This Friday." I paused. It had been seven months since we had last spoken to each other. "Will you tell Ah Cheong to have the house ready for me?"
"He's always kept it ready for you," Frederik replied. "But I'll tell him. Stop by at the estate on the way. We can have some tea. I'll drive you to Yugiri."
"I haven't forgotten how to get there, Frederik."
Another stretch of silence connected us. "The monsoon's over, but there's still some rain. Drive carefully." He hung up.
The call to prayer unwound from the minarets of the Jamek Mosque across the river to echo through the city. I listened to the courthouse empty itself. The sounds were so familiar to me that I had stopped paying attention to them years ago. The wheel of a trolley squeaked as someoneprobably Rashid, the registrar's clerkpushed the day's applications to the filing room. The telephone in another judge's chambers rang for a minute, then gave up. The slam of doors echoed through the corridors; I had never realized how loud they sounded.
I picked up my briefcase and shook it once. It was lighter than usual. I packed my court robe into it. At the door I turned around to look at my chambers. I gripped the edge of the door frame, realizing that I would never again set foot in this room. The weakness passed. I switched off the lights but continued to stand there, gazing into the shadows. I picked up my sister's watercolor and closed the door, working the handle a few times to make sure it was properly locked. Then I made my way along the dimly lit corridor. On one wall a gallery of former judges stared down at me, their faces changing from European to Malay and Chinese and Indian, from monochrome to color. I passed the empty space where my portrait would soon be added. At the end of the passageway I went down the stairs. Instead of turning left toward the judges' exit to the car park, I went out to the courtyard garden.
Excerpted from The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. Copyright © 2012 by Tan Twan Eng. Excerpted by permission of Weinstein Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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