“Mum! Lizzy took my homework again!” Ruth failed to understand what made Lizzy think it was fun to hide her schoolwork around the house. What was her deal? She could do all of Ruth’s homework if she wanted to; if so, Ruth could enjoy the next episode of her favorite TV show.
“Go find it then!” Lizzy’s head popped out of the attic as she stuck out her tongue. “Come on!” That pesky midget, Ruth thought. She ran to the attic, thinking that her
younger sister probably hid her homework here. She may think she’s smart, but I’ll get back at her, I swear.
“Ahhh! What is that thing?” Ruth screamed.
“Hmm?” Lizzy emerged with a confused look. “Hey, I didn’t set any booby traps here.
That, whatever it is, is not my fault. Now why are you screaming?”
“Be...because of that.” Ruth pointed a trembling finger at the strange object on the ground.
“Don’t worry, Ruth.” Lizzy waved dismissively. “It’s probably just an old box of Hi-Five CDs. You know, those five Aussie adults that sing...”
“Okay, okay, I get it.” Ruth wouldn’t fall for Lizzy’s trap again. “Now, if you’re so brave, why don’t you go wrestle with the monster.”
“Pff! Watch me, scaredy-- Eeek!” Lizzy jumped back and shook her leg violently. “Get this thing off me!”
Ruth gasped when she saw a strange thick string wrapped around her sister’s leg. “What was that?”
“Anything wrong, girls?” Fortunately, her sharp-eared father raced up the steps to the attic and arrived in the nick of time.
“Something got entangled with my leg!” Lizzy wailed.
Surprised, Father took a closer look at the sinister serpent-like object. Then he let out a loud guffaw.
“What’s so funny?” Lizzy looked less than amused. “Hello, there’s an emergency situation here!”
“I see you don’t know what a cassette tape is.” Father wiped away his tears of laughter. “Don’t worry, it won’t bite. It’s not even alive.”
The two sisters shared a glance. “What’s a cassette tape?” Ruth asked, confused, as her father helped to untangle Lizzy. Father showed us the sealed plastic unit.
“A cassette contains something like a length of audio tape, videotape, or film wound on a pair of spools, for insertion into a recorder, playback device, or other machine.”
“Singlish?” Lizzy, a true Singaporean girl by heart, needed a translation in the local slang.
Father sighed. “Like, you know, black-black thing with black-black tape. Like correction tape for listening to music.”
“Ohhh…” Lizzy nodded her head. “Your generation’s version of the iPod.”
Father nodded. “At least all you Gen Z kids can understand it that way. Better than not getting to know about cassettes at all.”
“Was this yours?” Ruth noticed a piece of masking tape stuck at the back with Father’s name on it.
“Yeah.” He nodded. “I still remember the day I got this. I was ecstatic. I could now have the freedom to listen to Cantonese songs. Also, we listened to Teresa Teng, Andy Lau, Jackie Cheung…”
“All old Chinese singers,” Ruth noted.
“Yep. We also liked to listen to the Beatles.” Father smiled as he started to hum Hey
“Wow. That’s so cool. Your own portable MP3,” marveled Ruth.
“Yep. But with current technology being much more advanced, treasures like these get
sold in junk sales or left forgotten in attics. Of course,” he chuckled, “there is the occasional prank.”
“You didn’t need to remind us,” the two sisters muttered ominously.
Lizzy pointed to the cassette. “Hey, do you think it will still work after all these years?”
“Maybe,” Father said. “Let’s try to play it. Does anyone have a pencil?”
“Why do you need a pencil?” Ruth was bewildered.
“Hang on, I’ll show you. I’ll be right back.” Father went down the attic steps.
When he came up, he used the pencil to rewind the cassette tape. He also remembered to get some new batteries. (The old ones in it were so filthy with dust that everybody immediately started sneezing.) With bated breath, he pressed the ‘play’ button. Silence. Everyone sighed, resigned to the fact that some old things would never work again. But then they gasped and cheered. The familiar tune of ‘Hey Jude’ resounded in the attic.
Ruth swayed to the music. Staring at the now-prehistoric invention, she wondered what other fabulous treasures were lost in the relentless flow of time.
Thee Sim Ling is 12 years old and lives in Singapore. She enjoys doing HTML (HyperText markup Language) which can be used to create websites. When she grows up she wants to be a writer.