I never told my friends out of shame that two men had cowardly tricked me and I narrowly escaped ‘the shame chair’ in the house I shared with other Vietnamese refugee girls. To the girls in the house, they still believed that I harboured a secret of what happended that night.
Owl spoke highly of his friend – Bun – saying that he was a good man and he would like to introduce him to me. Owl took Bun to my house around noon one day and asked Sister Night for permission to take me out. Bun seemed to be a quiet man who always smiled, but his face gave me the impression that he was cheeky. In the car, I had a short conversation with Bun before we arrived at Owl’s house. Owl left me there with his two sisters – Loquat and Crabapple – while he and Bun went out, telling me that they’d be back shortly. When Owl was still not home at 10pm, I panicked, and realised that I had to spend the night at Owl’s house. I asked Crabapple to ring Sister Night and inform her. When I left the next morning, Owl still wasn’t home.
Thanks to the phone call made by Crabapple, Sister agreed that I passed the chaperone test to reenter the house. I was glad that I didn’t have to suffer like Blueberry. Blueberry told Sister she was going to visit her married brother. When Blueberry came home the next morning, Sister told her that she contacted her brother and was sure Blueberry wasn’t at his place. Blueberry had to confess that she went to see her boyfriend and missed the last tram to the train station so she spent the night at his flat. Sister had Blueberry tied to a chair in the kitchen for ‘hanky-panky’ and lying to her, and afterwards chuckled and said: “Now you cannot do anything but stay in this house.” Everyone who entered our house or stood at the entrance door at that time could see Blueberry as she wriggled in her chair. When the girls went past her in the kitchen, Blueberry awkwardly smirked to cover her shame. She stayed in that chair for hours.
Sister Night – on behalf of her order – stayed with us as a supervisor so she was free to treat us the way she liked and no one dared to go against her for fear of being kicked out. From forcing Turquoise and I to visit a psychiatrist to tying Blueberry to ‘the shame chair’; from removing Wood because she disliked Foxy – Sister’s ‘brown-nosed daughter’ – to keeping Summer-scent with her for six years; from allowing priests and brothers to freely come to our house to harshly restricting ordinary men.
Owl and his sisters attended the same class with me at RMIT. When the girls in my house all went out at weekends or public holidays, I used to ask Owl’s sisters for me to stay with them because I feared being alone.
Owl eventually locked me out and told me he didn’t want me to come to his house anymore. He also revealed that he hatched a plan to trick me with Bun’s cooperation, and tried to make Sister believe that I spent the night with Bun. Owl’s plan was also to humiliate me by having his friend rejected me shortly on a date. Owl didn’t explain why he hated me so much. I guessed it was because I laughed at the Playboy pictures stuck on the wall in his room. I rarely spoke to him when I stayed at his house, and would laugh when he complained that he helped me with my school assignments but his marks were always lower than mine.
It’s the shame chair,
In the house that is communal.
It’s the shame chair,
That imprints the mind with nightmare,
That reforms girl who ain’t moral,
That serves as a warning to all.
It’s the shame chair.
by Benny Lin.