It was 6:15 in the morning. Talitha looked at herself in the mirror and frowned. She was about to readjust her school uniform when there was a knock on her bedroom door.
“Talitha, come on!” It was Mom. She sounded impatient. “You’re gonna be late.”
“Alright,” grumbled Talitha before leaving her bedroom. Grabbing her red backpack, she pouted all the way to school.
Just another unpleasant day…
Sometimes Talitha hated being an overgrown, teen chubbette. It was already bad enough that most people would make fun of her weight, calling her ‘fat’ and making her feel ugly. Telling her that she should try to be more like her taller, slimmer, and (considered much) prettier sister Tara.
Now, these. For a 15-year-old girl, her breasts had developed earlier than most girls in her class. Talitha always needed bigger, more loose-fitting tops. Unfortunately, not many stores sold her size.
Even her high school didn’t have any uniforms that would actually fit her size. Her shirt was still a little bit tight in the chest. Feeling self-conscious, Talitha often put on her favourite black vest or jacket – even if it was hot outside. The trouble of living in the tropical area.
Every day, she had to put up with the same level of discomfort. People’s different reactions. Boys ogling at her breasts like hungry, drooling dogs over premium steak. (Worst of all, some had even tried groping her. Such disgusting, lecherous creeps!)
Some girls envied her and made fun of her breasts too. Talitha didn’t get it. What was to be envious of her? She couldn’t get the right-sized tops easily for her to wear. Boys harrassed her.
“I wish mine were big like yours.”
Seriously? Would they also like her occasional backpain? Talitha shook her head in exasperation. Other girls were even nasty enough to comment on her breast size this way:
“No wonder boys still like you eventhough you’re fat. You’ve got big tits.”
Sometimes, Talitha wanted to cry – or hide in her bedroom forever. What did she do to deserve any of this? Talitha wasn’t even an attention-seeker. Even grown-ups didn’t make her feel any better.
“Don’t wear anything too tight,” some of them warned. “You don’t want to be the target for sexual harrassment.”
Actually, wearing loose-fitting or oversized tops didn’t help at all. When a guy was being a creep, then a creep he definitely was. No excuses. It didn’t matter what she wore.
“That outfit’s too big on you,” Mom exclaimed in disapproval. “You’re already big enough.”
Oh, thanks a lot, Mom.
“Besides, you’re still young. It’s okay to look a little bit sexy.”
— // —
Alya never understood why Talitha, her best friend since high school, had always wanted to look more like her. Tall, skinny, and…flat-chested.
It was true. Eventhough she wasn’t a tomboy, some people still mistook her for a boy from afar…or a lesbian butch. Alya hated that. How prejudiced! It didn’t matter that she always let her long hair down.
Of course, that only happened whenever Alya was in her sports outfit or jeans and T-shirt. Plenty of guys were still interested in her, especially if she put more make-up on.
“That way, you won’t look too boyish,” some of them would say. “You have a very androgynous look.”
Alya cringed. Even her ex-husband Lando once commented nastily:
“Your tits ain’t big. I feel like being with a man.”
Then why had he married her in the first place?
Alya’s phone beeped. It was almost midnight in her apartment. There was a text from Talitha. Alya read it and gasped.
“I HATE MY AUNT! I HATE MY FAMILY! THEY ALWAYS MAKE ME FEEL UGLY!”
Alya called her best friend immediately. She could hear her loud sniffling from the other end.
“Tally, what’s wrong?”
“My aunt…told me…to lose weight…so…I could get…a husband soon…like Tara has…”
— // —
“Nice, big boobs.”
Talitha glared sideways at Paddy. He just grinned before saying: “Come on, babe. You know I’m just joking.”
“I tried memorising my lines for that demo teaching video online and you only noticed them?” Talitha lightly punched his muscular arm and he pretended to wince in pain. “You suck.”
“I know.” The tall man with glasses grinned again as he slung an arm around her shoulders. When he felt her arm around his waist, he knew that she wasn’t really angry with him. “You did a great job, sweetheart, but you know I always notice them.”
“You silly lad.” Talitha laughed as Paddy kissed the top of her head.
“And you know it’s not just about your boobs,” he went on. “Your legs too.”
“I’m kidding, babe.” Paddy looked at her lovingly. “It’s all of you.”
Talitha giggled. “Okay, I believe you.”
Long ago, before Paddy asked her if she’d like to spend the rest of her life with him, her best friend Alya had encouraged her.
“Patrick loves you. Don’t be paranoid.”
“I don’t know, Ally. It’s just too good to be true. He’s so gorgeous. What does he want with someone like me?”
“Arrgh, listen to yourself!” Alya had sounded angry on the phone that day. “Patrick is right. You’ve been told crap all your life, about your looks and all. Talitha, you’re beautiful. He’s a great guy and you two are great together.”
Looking at Paddy now, Talitha still couldn’t believe it. He was like a dream come true, but hopefully not too good to be true.
That was why she was afraid to have this dream threatened by the reality she was currently in.
“Tally, have you told him yet?”
“What?” Talitha could still feel that mysterious lump in her breast. It frightened her. “Not yet, Ally. I should make sure with the doctor first.”
“Don’t delay,” Alya warned, sounding scared. “In the end, you’ll have to find out anyway.”
— // —
Alya was observing the conversation in front of her. There were two women sitting at the crowded hall of the safehouse for battered women. That was where she worked as a volunteer and a women’s rights activist.
“So, what was his excuse, Imah?” asked the woman carrying a sleeping baby in her arms.
“Which one, Tina?” replied Imah with a raised eyebrow. “His cheating or his abuses?”
“Either.” Tina shrugged. “Mine cheated on me because he found me not as attractive as I was before, especially with my now sagging breasts.” She shook her head in fury and disbelief. “That idiot knows I have to feed our baby here. That’s just the price I have to pay. No regrets. I’d rather be a good mother than leaving my baby hungry to death just to satisfy my husband.”
“Men!” Imah spat. “They claim to be the most logical, but their demands are impossible. Mine was just the same. It’s all their excuses to justify what they always want to do.”
Alya’s heart just went out to them. Their pain reminded her of her own.
— // —
Talitha sighed. She’d tried to hold back her tears and she failed. She felt really small and weak that day.
“Oh, Tally,” Alya typed on the chatroom. “I’m so sorry to hear that. What are you going to do?”
“What needs to be done, I suppose.” When she heard a car roll into the driveway, Talitha typed a quick reply: “He’s home. Gotta go.”
“You should tell him.”
Talitha shut off her laptop and wiped her eyes. She waited until the door opened and his footsteps were closer. She inhaled slowly.
“How’s my lovely lady?” His strong arms circled around her waist as he buried his nose and mouth into her thick, dark curls. Talitha smiled and placed her hands on top of his.
“Same old same old,” she lied and then turned around. It was a risky move to face him, because Paddy’s hazel eyes automatically caught something in her brown ones.
“Talitha, babe. What’s wrong?”
This is it, Talitha thought. Smiling up at him, she said, “I’ll tell you, but…can we do this first?”
There was silence when she pressed her cheek against his chest, with her arms around him. Paddy hugged her back, while she closed her eyes as she listened to his heartbeat, letting her tears fall. She could feel his hands through her curly locks.
He’d probably seen her tears or feel that she was shaky.
“Whatever it is, you know I’m always here.”
I hope you still mean it after the surgery, when I’ll be losing one of these. Wiping her eyes, Talitha pulled away and offered him a sheepish smile. When Paddy smiled back at her, Talitha felt a surge of relief.
“Okay,” she sighed. Paddy sat down in front of her, their hands still holding each other’s. Breathing deeply, Talitha began:
“I just got back from the doctor today…”
(Jakarta, 30/12/2017 – 19/1/2018)