I’ve never kissed a boy, but I know twenty ways to kill one. Not that I ever would. I’m a nice girl. At least, I think I am. I don’t hate boys. I’ll kiss… when I meet one who’s worthy. Anyway, they all smell, and gawp at me like I’ve got two heads.
Mamma Mia opens my bedroom door and says, ‘Hey.’
She enters, slips under my doona, and snuggles her head against mine. A faint waft of Shalimar bewitches my nose. Now, if boys smelt better, the way we ladies do, maybe I’d show a little more interest in the weaker sex.
With a tiny grunt, Mum lifts her bum, fishes out her phone from where it’s caught in her dressing gown pocket, brings it to eye-level, and says, ‘You ready?’
‘Nope. But show me anyway. I bet I look a fool.’
She presses play and a clip from our local news fills the screen.
“And now, a story about a remarkable young lady who packs quite a punch. Let’s cross to Amy Blake at the Johnny Lee Martial Arts Centre and Gym. Amy… tell us more.”
“Yes indeed, Bruce. Good evening. I’m here with seventeen-year-old Camilla Lee. Camilla teaches women of all ages, self-defence after school…”
It’s a human interest story broadcast live a few hours ago from Dad’s dojo. Mum recorded it for posterity, just like she’s recorded every other event in my life.
Thirty seconds into the clip, my first judo black belt gets a mention, and a photo of eight-year-old me, trying to act tough, in an oversized judogi tied with said belt, flashes on the screen. I yelp and duck my head under the doona. I could kill Dad for sharing. He’s the other face in the photo, proud as ever, standing behind me, his firm hand gripping my shoulder. With his shaved head, tanned face, and white beard, he looks like a Chinese warrior monk. He’s not a monk, but he is a warrior.
I take after Dad, which is to say, my eyes and long black hair scream Chinese. Mum is Australian born, from Italian stock. I have her olive skin, perky chin, and splayed toes, but that’s all. She’s tall and full-breasted. I’m a compact 144cm and… yeah… still hoping.
The clip finishes with me leading a dozen overweight mums in hand-to-hand combat. Mock fighting for the cameras looks ludicrous. It was harder to fight our giggles than each other.
The clip ends and Mum says, ‘Dad and I are very proud of you.’
‘Thanks. Can I stay home tomorrow? I feel a cold coming on.’ I really don’t want to face tomorrow’s certain teasing.
She takes my hand and says, ‘Nonsense. You did great.’
I shrug and shake my head. Mum wouldn’t say anything else. All mums are biased.
We say goodnight and kiss cheeks. Then she slips out of bed, kills the light, and shuts my door with a soft click.
I’m happy. Life is good. Exhaustion takes my hand and leads me to sleep. Dreams come and go, then take a strange twist. Men, smelling of sour sweat, rush into my room. A voice barks orders.
I know how to climb out of a bad dream; how to jolt my nerves and return to reality. Only this time, I hold back. It’s ridiculous, but I have a horrible feeling that waking will somehow make it true.
‘There she is. Grab her legs. I’ll get her arms.’ The abrupt command doesn’t belong in my bedroom. Disconcerted and befuddled by sleep, I’m slow to react. My bedcovers disappear, snatched away, along with any hope it’s a dream. Cool air raises goosebumps on my arms and bare legs. My eyes spring open. Three assailants surround my bed, their faces unknowable in the partial light seeping through my doorway. Terror nails me in place. For a heartbeat, I’m in denial… then I scream.
Rough hands grab my wrists and ankles. I’m shaken like a blanket full of dust.
From another room, Mum yells, ‘Run, Camilla, run.’ Her voice is shrill with desperation. She’s too late. They have me.
I buck, squirm, and twist. Their grips tighten. My limbs contort like a rag doll. Their grunts echo mine. Pain sears my shoulder socket. It will dislocate if I twist any harder.
Desperate, I bury my nails into the forearms of the thug clasping my wrists. It works. He drops me, no hesitation, almost deliberate. My head thuds against the floor. His foot pins my hair. I grab his ankle and press my thumbnail into his Achilles tendon.
He yelps and swings his other foot. I turn my head. His boot scrapes my cheek. Wild and frantic, ignoring the pain, I throw my elbow around his leg, pull my mouth to his calf, and sink my teeth through his trousers. He cusses and tries to shake me off. I hold tighter, but lose my bite. He jerks his leg free, regathers my wrists and hauls me up.
They shuffle me out like an uncoordinated, six-legged beetle. With every other step, the goose with my arms stomps my hair. Pain rips across my scalp. Maybe I shouldn’t have pissed him off.
‘You’re hurting,’ I shriek, but it falls on deaf ears. Panicked, I buck some more and yowl like a tormented dog.
A fourth goon, bossy, joins the fray. In machine gun Chinese, he curses, ‘Useless fools. Three of you, and you can’t handle the Devil’s whelp. Move over.’
The boss shunts aside the hair-stomper holding my wrists. Before I can get a proper look at their faces, he drags a heavy-duty plastic bag over my head. It snags my nose, then my chin. The sound of it crinkling muffles his grunts as he cinches it tight around my neck.
I gulp a deep breath before the bag smothers me.
We enter the light. The thick bag blurs their faces like out-of-focus photos, but I can tell three have close-cut, jet-black hair. The fourth is huge, bald, and sports a goatee.
My breath explodes and fogs the foul tasting plastic. I’m in desperate need of air. Suffocating is shit awful, but I’m not done yet, not while I’m still conscious, though that won’t be for much longer if I don’t catch a breath. I slam my knees back and forth, and with erratic, full-blown jerks of my arms, I twist my shoulders counter to my hips. In Kung Fu, it’s called the slippery-eel defence, but it’s useless, and I’m tiring fast. We tussle and continue our relentless crawl towards the living room.
Mum’s howls intensify as we round the corner and she sees me. ‘Let her go, you filthy bastards.’
I double my effort to break free.
‘Hold her,’ someone calls.
‘She’s a fucking wildcat,’ says the taller thug, grappling with my legs. I sense a smidge of admiration and a shitload of delight in his tone. It fires me up. I buck and writhe like a furious bronc trying to toss a rodeo cowboy.
But it’s hopeless. Four on one is a losing battle.
Come on, Camilla, focus. You can do better than this.
Unable to draw breath, or to expel the carbon-dioxide trapped in my blood, my muscles are fast filling with anaerobic lactic acid.
Too damn fast.
Spittle sprays tiny viewing windows in my fogged up world. I’m frantic for air.
Mum’s desperate cries spur me on.
My lungs are bursting. The plastic sucks against my lips like a blockage in a vacuum nozzle. I’m going to pass out.
Again, I sink my claws into the thug, pulling my arms.
I jerk my right hand free.
Hang in there. Don’t black out.
He tries to grab it back, but I evade him and drive my index finger into my mouth. The plastic pops. I wrench my finger sideways to enlarge the airway, then suck in lungfuls of air, glorious air. My pounding heart rushes oxygen-rich blood to the big muscles in my legs and torso where it mixes with my adrenaline and powers me for one last effort.
They try to capture my free hand. No fucking way. I fling myself side-to-side like an angry shark thrashing on the deck of a boat. It works. My left leg breaks free. I use it to kick the shorter brute, still grappling with my remaining leg. He doesn’t dodge fast enough, and the nail of my big toe splits his lip.
Got you, you fucker.
‘Hold her,’ he says.
I kick again. Split-Lip ducks and loses his grip.
Yes, I’m nearly free.
Both my feet thunk to the ground. But damn it, I’m arched with no purchase and no balance. The boss gorilla is pinning me with the bag around my neck. He’s re-gripping and seems determined to choke me. I try jerking my head from side to side, back and forth.
I cough and slobber. Strands of drool dribble across my chin, over the plastic, and under my captor’s fingers. The world’s best natural lubricant, saliva, does its magic. He attempts to re-grip, but his hold is tenuous. I throw my shoulders hard left once more, and he drops me. I try to break my fall, but fail. The back of my head smacks the floor. Before I can gather myself, hard knees drop onto my belly and knock the wind out of me.
No. Not air; not again.
I’m reduced to fast, guttural sounding micro-breaths. What really sucks, is that I’m pinned under the knees of the heaviest goon, the one with the goatee. The fat prick must be triple my weight. I want to fight on, but with this temporary paralysis of my diaphragm, I’m fading fast. I try to gouge his eye, but he sways away and catches my wrist.
Mum sobs, ‘Get off her.’
Dad’s voice cuts through the commotion. ‘That’s enough. It’s over.’ This is for my ears as much as theirs. He wants me to stop.
I sag back. I’m finished, anyway.
The goatee-retard presses his hand to my chest and pushes himself to his feet. His fist scrunches my T-shirt and tries to pull it over my head.
I bury my elbows and catch the hem. He’s grinning, toying with me like a cat with a mouse. He grabs my panties and tugs one side down. I raise that leg to hinder him. It works, but now he tries ripping them.
At last, my belly stops spasming. I suck in a breath, rake my nails across the back of his hand, and swing my knee at his head. He ducks and moves out of range as I aim my other foot at his chin. My panties are safe, but the slob still has my T-shirt. He tugs. The collar rips.
My squeals draw laughter.
The gunman behind my father raises his voice and says, ‘Jumbo. Enough. We’re not here for that.’
But Jumbo is worse than a recalcitrant child. He has one last try, grumbles, then hoists me up and slams me to my knees.
He yanks my wrists together, leans close to my ear, and whispers, ‘You’re mine, you little bitch. I’m gonna have you.’ His dog breath beats against the plastic bag while his mate secures me. There’s a zip sound and something thin cuts into my skin.
It’s over for me. I know it.
I’m facing my parents. They’re on their knees, arms similarly restrained. Behind them, two gunmen hold silenced pistols, execution-style, to their heads. The bag still obscures my view, but I can make out the bitter twist of grief etched on my parent’s faces.
I raise my eyes to the gunmen. Their intent is clear-cut. Pure malice fills the room. They stand balanced, feet apart, eager.
Vomit surges up my throat. I swallow it back. It leaves a taste as vile as the men surrounding me.
Is this how I’m die?
A calm, an acceptance I don’t expect, comes over me.
They may have bowed Dad’s back, but his chin is high. He nods at me and, in formal Chinese, says, ‘Daughter, I love you in this life and the next.’
Oh, the misery in his voice.
I nod back and say, first in Chinese, then English, ‘I love you too, Dad.’ It’s a struggle to speak, to form the words, to find my voice. Not because of the bag, but because my heart is breaking.
Mum moans and shakes her head from side to side.
Dad looks across at the man behind her and beseeches him, ‘Please don’t do this. Please, not my wife. Not my daughter. For the sake of our ancestors, please don’t do this terrible deed. Let them go.’
‘Yes, let my daughter go. I beg you, please.’ Mum’s anguished voice is heartrending, her Chinese a little imperfect as always.
Someone behind me addresses my father. ‘Time for you to pay.’
Another one, derisive, says, ‘Shit. Look at the Devil’s long face.’
Devil? Dad’s an angel. They have the wrong man.
A foot scrapes next to me. Something hard and cylindrical presses behind my left ear.
Mum wails, ‘No, please. Stop. She’s an innocent. Anything, anything else, please, just not this. Shoot me. She’s not part of it.’
These lowlifes want my parents to watch and suffer.
I’m trying to come up with ideas, to find a way out of this mess, but I go blank. Just four words come to mind. Four words which have always rolled off my tongue with ease. This time, they’re the hardest I’ve ever uttered.
‘I love you, Mum,’ I whisper in English.
‘Camilla, oh, my darling—’ The gunman cuts her short with a hard jab from his gun.
Behind my father, the apparent leader of this execution squad waves his gun in a get-on-with-it gesture at the man behind me, and says, ‘Dong. When you’re ready.’
I cast my eyes one last time to Mum.
Please, God, don’t let this be goodbye.
With reluctance, I swing my gaze to Dad. He dips his head left, then right. It’s our code. We trained for this a few years ago. It seemed silly back then.
Had he known this might happen? There’s no time to consider that possibility. I must focus. He will signal me. I hope he realises that the plastic bag hinders my vision. I might not see the agreed cue; a double blink.
My eyes need to be keen. I fight back tears; can’t afford them.
Calm yourself, girl. Take a breath. Slow it down.
Dad’s timing must be perfect, and my reaction instantaneous. I guess he’s eyeballing Dong’s trigger finger, looking for the moment it tenses.
Mum screams, ‘No…’
My last seconds have arrived. I’m winding up like a spring.
Everyone except my mother is watching my father. My executioner draws the moment out. The intruders still themselves. My eyes fix on Dad’s stoney grimace. I dare not blink. Timing is crucial.
The man behind my father nods. The pistol firms behind my ear.
Wait for it…
There! Dad’s chin whips down.
I snap my head away from the muzzle. There’s a boom of explosive thunder, a flash of lightning, and oblivion swallows my light…
Death makes time travel possible.
I saw my father’s nod. A heartbeat later, I don’t hear the gun’s retort, but the voice of an angel.
‘Camilla? Camilla? Are you awake? Don’t try to speak, honey, not yet. I’m Nurse Tia and you’re in the hospital. You’ve been in a coma for two weeks.’
Nurse Tia’s voice has a melodic lilt. It’s from the heart, and welcoming. When my eyes focus, I see she’s Asian; Thai perhaps? Her café latte complexion is a couple of shades darker than mine. Full lips sport a magnificent smile.
Two people I love dearly sit beside my bed; my octogenarian uncle, Benjamin Chan, and his wife of sixty years, Auntie Edith. Lines of concern and relief ripple across their wizened faces.
The Chans are Chinese, originally from Hong Kong, and long-term family friends. Uncle Benji’s a retired lawyer who helped Daddy set up his Martial Arts Centre fifteen years ago. Auntie Edith assisted Mummy with the accounts. She also babysat me for ten years, and though she’s not a blood relative, I consider her my substitute grandmother. I never knew my real grandparents. Daddy’s an orphan, and Mummy’s parents, both heavy smokers, died from cancer before I turned three.
The Chans shuffle to my side and embrace me in their frail arms. Nurse Tia tells me they kept a bedside vigil from day one. Auntie Edith leans over. Her fat tears land on my pillow. There’s no need to say my parents are dead.
Oh shit. Here come my own waterworks.
Uncle Benji hugs me. His raspy sobs shake my bones and break my heart. The room swells with our pain and loss.
It’s too much. The terrible weight of grief crushes my soul. I can’t contain my wails. My life is over. I’ve no sisters or brothers or cousins. Those lowlifes stole my family and my future; made me an orphan at seventeen.
Yes, I survived. But how to go on without my parents? They were my guiding lights. All that’s left… is a void.
My heart aches as if there’s a knife buried in my chest. My bed shakes from the waves of sobs racking my frame.
Tia looks on helplessly. A tear slides over her cheek. She makes room for a doctor. He takes one look, scowls, then says, ‘I’m going to give you a sedative. You’ll sleep for a while.’
I know I should be grateful the doctors saved me, but my parents are dead, and here’s the shameful truth…
The only sleep I want… is the big sleep.
It’s been a chaotic week since I woke from my coma. Medical tests, procedures, physiotherapy, and unending questions from doctors, counsellors, and police investigators help pass the time.
The good news… I’m alive and have total recall. If one more doctor describes my recovery as a miracle, I’ll scream. They tell me I’m as hardheaded as Mum always claimed. The bullet ripped off the top of my ear, burst my eardrum, glanced off my skull, cracking it, but didn’t penetrate.
So, yeah… I dodged a bullet. The subsequent swelling on the brain is the reason doctors kept me comatose. And here I am… three weeks of my life gone, and all I’ve got to show for it, is a fuck-ugly head, and the perfect look for next Halloween. Yeah-yeah, nothing’s changed, ha-ha. The butchers shaved an enormous chunk of hair above my tattered ear. A dozen staples in my scalp add to my Frankenstein’s monster make-over. Two school friends visited me yesterday and made light fun of my Goth appearance. They teased that the hottest girl in school was now the ugliest. We laughed, but later, alone, I cried. And then I got angry. Not at them, but at me, for being a piss-weak cry-baby.
I’ve cried a lot this past week. ‘Inconsolable,’ I overheard one doctor say, and he’s right. I am. Tia has become a close friend and confidant. She holds me when she can. But at night, after she leaves, I cry alone. On day four, I wiped the last tear and promised myself, ‘No more.’ But promises can’t ease the wretched ache and terrible guilt that clings like a remora to my conscience. I survived. My wonderful, sweet parents didn’t.