“Hantu bag,” said Tiong Han. “Jia Qi’s got the hantu bag. Jia Qi, where’s the hantu bag?”
Jia Qi had been daydreaming, watching the colour leach out of the dark masses of the trees they drove past. She came to herself with a start.
“Got,” she said.
She pulled it out of her backpack to check, just in case. It was a tote bag from Marks & Spencer, featuring the picture of a huge-eyed girl who looked, Jia Qi thought, quite a lot like a ghost herself. That wasn’t why they’d chosen it, though. As the story ran, the former hantu bag had looked more suitable for its purpose – it had also been a tote bag, because that was easier to carry – one could fold it and put it in a backpack, even with ghosts inside it. But it had been black in colour and featured an intimidating lion’s face with a yellow-orange mouth wide open, its mane painted to look like flames. Jia Qi had seen it in pictures of the lion dance troupe in former years.
Unfortunately the old bag had been torn at a performance nobody much liked to talk about. Coco had had the Marks & Spencer bag and she had given it to Boris, the ex-president of the lion dance troupe. Boris had taken it to a Taoist priest to be blessed, and passed it to a friend to have it treated by a bomoh.
This had done them fine for a couple of years, Coco told Jia Qi, but then someone had said: “But aren’t we catching British ghosts? Don’t we need a Christian blessing?”
So Boris had snuck into a church to get some holy water to daub on the bag. But Boris was not Christian and had never been into a church. He was not entirely sure where to get the holy water from. After wandering vaguely around the church grounds, starting guiltily whenever he passed a holy image or genuinely devout person, he finally found a bowl in the garden full of water. It looked very much like a font. He had filled a plastic bottle with the water and made off quickly.
“But you know,” said Coco, “it turned out the water wasn’t even from the church! It was in a garden of a house next to the church. It was probably a bird-bath or something.”
“Then what did you do?” said Jia Qi.
“We just didn’t tell anybody,” said Coco calmly. “It’s nothing to do with the blessings, you see. As long as we believe the bag will work, it will work. That’s why Boris had to run off to get the holy water as soon as somebody thought the bag needed it. It works on suspension of disbelief.“