Crouching Clover, Hidden Monkey

By Aster Ren Kivy

Amongst the slums of Kelapa Gading, my birth came as both a triumph and a curse. In June of 2000, my sister was born a Gold Dragon daughter. In 2002, after five generations of only daughters, my mother fell pregnant with a Water Horse son. And in June 2004, it became apparent that the generational pattern would come above all else. Even a child.  

I was born a Wood Monkey daughter on a day my mother doesn’t remember the details of. On the two separate occasions I’ve asked her about the time I was born—to get my astrological chart, as one does—she has given me different answers. One on the cusp of dusk, with the sun and moon cresting the sky together; the other with the sun rising, blazing and bright. My father can’t seem to remember which one it was either, and my birth certificate is apparently too precious for even me to see.  

The only token I have from my birth, besides my own body, sits in a glass cabinet at my parents’ house in the southern suburbs — a brown teddy bear dressed in an orange and white striped shirt and a pair of blue jeans. A gift from my grandparents. My sister’s birth gift was an anklet made of pure gold, to match her birth year, adjustable and so priceless that she still wears it well into her twenties. My teddy bear represented more than me — on its left paw was a patched button that, when pressed, played an English song. To teach me and my sister the language we would be speaking when we moved to Australia in the coming years, they explained to my mother when she received it. The first English words I heard came as she pressed the button and watched the bear sway, a high-pitched whine cloaking them.  

I’m looking over a four-leaf clover 
that I overlooked before. 
One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain, 
the third is the roses that grow in the lane. 
No need explaining the one remaining 
is somebody I adore. 

Not a single person in that room knew English well enough to understand the lyrics, let alone understand the idiom of finding a four-leaf clover. But it was a lovely melody to hum along to, and it made newborn me giggle. That was more than enough.  

In my parents’ glass cabinet, beside the bear, sits a horse handmade of blue-tinted blown glass. The three staples of my childhood home: the big tub of raw rice at the bottom of the pantry, the wooden cross at the top of the entrance archway with withering palm leaves tucked into it, and the precious glass horse in the cabinet that — according to my mother when I asked her — was “worth more than anything I could earn”.  

Before I knew what worth meant, my singing bear was my most beloved belonging. Even in elementary school, when the button stopped working and the singing never came back, I loved it with all my soul. It was a gift for my mother’s Wood Monkey daughter, and I was proud to own it.  

It wasn’t long until I learnt greed and all its faces. I learnt what a rainbow baby was. I learnt that before I was my mother’s daughter, there was a son in my place. I learnt that my mother’s passing wishes of raising a boy weren’t just passing wishes. All of a sudden, every time my sister’s anklet glinted in the sunlight, my blood boiled with scorn; every time I passed by the cabinet in my parent’s house and came face-to-face with the blue glass horse, I mourned something I didn’t even know how to mourn for. They had both been given priceless artefacts to symbolise their births and their yearly animal; I was given a singing stuffed bear that no longer sang.  

Through the years following, a certain sort of enmity corrupted my relationship with my mother. Things I haven’t told her have rusted our red string — how having to learn about the Water Horse from my sister, and not from her, hurt more than learning about him in the first place; how I no longer wanted to be her daughter, or a daughter at all; how a desperate part of me wishes I’d been given something more meaningful when I was born, but despite all my efforts, that singing bear is held in a place within my heart that I think I’ve lost the key to.  

The bear itself is gone. Sometime over the months with me living out of home, my mother decided it took up too much space in the cabinet. I haven’t yet told her how I feel like she threw a part of me away with it. I suspect I’ll never tell her.  

I write this at noon, with ten days to Christmas. 12 hours ago, I drove to the city to pick up my best friend and roommate from her work’s Christmas party, and at 1:17, I sat at a red light at an intersection in a small shopping town. In February, at that intersection, another friend suffered an allergic reaction that had us up at 3am waiting for an ambulance. A few weeks ago, a different friend came down from the Northside to visit me, and I drove her to that intersection to get some bubble tea. Two years ago, a high school friend and I laid on the pavement of the empty car park as the sun bubbled over the horizon, and he held me when I told him I didn’t think living was worth it anymore. And last night, at that intersection, the car beside me had its windows rolled down. One old woman in a Volkswagen Polo with its blue paint peeling at the edges. Her glasses sat on her head and a silver rosary hung from her rear-view mirror. She was listening to something so familiar it ached in my bones; a song I never knew the title or singer of, until the hour before this essay was written.  

I turned my music off and rolled down the windows, the night air thick and humid. Her speakers were crackling, the music quiet enough that I leaned my head against my door to hear the lyrics better, behind the static whining. I hummed along — because while the lyrics may have left me, the melody has not.  

I’m looking over a four-leaf clover 
that I overlooked before…  

And for the 30 seconds our cars sat together in the deserted intersection, I was untouched by what my own life had become. I was my mother’s Wood Monkey daughter again.  

ARK (he/they/she) is an enigma slowly discovering how to be a human through their writing… or at least they’d like to be. Often found escaping reality by means of D&D, anime, and maladaptive daydreaming, ARK hopes to write stories that make you see the world around you with glimmering eyes and a warm appreciation for your own existence.


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