In Separation

Picture-Perfect Family
A Beautiful Portrait
Mother, Father, Daughter
Yet, no smiles.

The child.
Makes or breaks,
Tragic that it has come to this.

The woman.
Shows strength in subservience,
Gives gift in giving.

The man.
Masculine only in the mind,
For his heart feels for the feminine.

The real sufferers are the innocence
The innocence bears much of the guilt
The guilty questions the guilty both guilty of doing good.
Guilty of doing wrong.
Guilty of their rights.

Who leans, who sows
What is it that matters most?

The mistakes of our generation
The future of the next
The mess you left
Is theirs to clear.

So who is to blame?

Anticipation

Think of it like a pocket watch.

that is forever waiting in the hands
the hands that will not stop moving
but will continue to move regardless the time
and with every numeral it passes
a beat is made.

but it doesn’t stop
the hands keep moving
the beat stays constant
with a slender metallic chain
it wraps around the hands
just waiting for that opportune time

to stop.

Yucks!

We fear more than we love. We shrieked and we run away from what disgust us. There is nothing wrong with that. Disgust is a natural and reflex action. It keeps us on our toes. It keeps us sane.

On the train ride home yesterday, I was oblivious to my surrounding. Given that it was the last train and the clock was going to strike twelve soon, I was drop dead tired. I was never a night person. Even when I was a kid, I would pester my parents at eight in the evening just to bring me home so that I could have a good night rest whenever we were out. Things have not changed much. I still wanted to go home, fast.

In order to pass time, I randomly watched YouTube videos so that my eyes would not fail me and make me miss my stop at Clementi.

As surreal as it was, I suddenly felt everyone in the cabin retreating away from me. I was surprised. Clearly, I hadn’t shit in my pants nor was my body odour that bad that everyone had to create a demilitarized zone around me. I looked around me. I looked below me. A pool of yellow half-digested noodles swimming in acidic fluids. Someone had vomited.

I was affected. Whoever this person was, he had vomited at me, at my feet. I was disgusted. My body was tingling and feeling all dirty, as if I had been brutally gang raped and my sense of self, exposed and naked to the public.

I looked towards this drunk Indian national. I stared at him. He was trembling, hard. He was sweating and he had vomit residues all over his face and body. By now, everyone in the cabin was practically in a safe distance, away from this threat. I was the only foolish victim still within his perimeter.

Call it my ‘little man’ or that sixth sense in me, but I felt wrong. No, I cannot be like ‘them’ and retreat. No, I cannot. The more I looked at him, the more my disgust turned to empathy. He wasn’t drunk. He was afraid, embarrassed. Who wouldn’t be? He had made a fool of himself, in a foreign land. Unanswered questions of “What the hell happened” and “What am I going to do” were written all over his stressed black face. No, he wasn’t drunk. He was sick. I looked closer at the vomit. Fresh instant Maggi noodles, not fully digested still. Probably his dinner, or the only meal he had ate for the day. This guy was in a mess.

My hands reached into my bag and I took out a bottle of water and offered to him. He was hesitant. I gestured towards him to drink up. He slowly brought his hands out towards mine, took the bottle and drank. No words, no Thank You’s, no smiles. There wasn’t a need for one anyway. I gave him a thumbs up, a gesture to see if he was alright. He nodded slightly. That was all I needed.

I alighted at the next station, Clementi. I do not know what happens next. Probably ‘they’ will snap photos of this foreigner and rant about it behind their monitors and keyboards. Perhaps a kind soul would check on him and offer medical help. Probably. Perhaps. I don’t know.

All I know was that when I left the station, I felt a sense of regret coming over me. If only I had brought along a pack of tissue or a face towel so that I could have offered to him to clean himself up. He really needed one.

Pockets

I keep dreams in my pockets.

When I was ten, I wanted to be a Blue Ranger.
I wasn’t handsome enough to be a Red,
nor black enough to be the Black.
So I had to settle for Blue.

When I was twelve,
I wanted to be a soldier.
The kind that would go into battle at twilight,
motivating men to give their all
annihilating stinky bugs and aliens,
telling them “Welcome to Earth”
before I shoot their brains out.

At eighteen, I became more humbled.
I simply wanted to be, Iron Man.
Rumbling out with the baddies,
tumbling in bed with ladies.
I would wake up at twelve every day
and make out with random strangers every night.

Which reminds me, when I was nine,
I wanted to be…
I don’t remember.

I keep dreams in my pockets.

At fourteen, I ran away from home,
away from the monster in the baju butterfly,
she who calls herself, my Mak.
I wanted to be an artist and run to Hollywood.
A traveller, setting my sights on new land and faces.
“But dreams are bad, dreams are contagious”, the monster told me.
“Don’t follow your dreams, don’t be delusional
listen to me, fold your dream and put it in your pocket.”

And so I did.
I fold it into small and smaller and smallest
aeroplanes
and I shove it deep deep in my pockets.

When I was fifteen, I learnt to wear pants with pockets
spacious enough to store all my dreams
of that Gameboy Advance, that PSP,
of that Clementi chick, that Bedok babe,
of love notes and receipts
of phone numbers on crumpled papers
of tissues and drawings
of friendship and penmanship
of heartbreak and heartache
of beginnings and ends
of God and grace
of words and words

all of it,
I learnt to keep in my pocket.

My Mak also keeps her dreams in her pocket
in her baju butterfly
those humongous pockets
big enough
to store her dream and ours
a lifetime of unfulfilled desires,
her despair, her desperation.

My Mak is a strong woman
She left school at fourteen.
At fifteen, she was the best epok-epok seller in her kampong.
Curry, egg, sardine, veggie,
she had baskets of pastries
and she would sell them all, till her pockets were full,
full of coins and notes and spare change and crumbs.
At night, she would count her blessings,
every cent and every dollar of it
before she goes off to sleep and dream.

My Mak wanted to be a nurse,
the kind that wears a white and blue gown to work
injecting sick kids with laughter
And mad men with renewed meanings to life.
Now, she is a nurse
Working twenty-four hours a day,
Cooking lunch and dinner
And washing clothes in between,
emptying out one pocket at a time.

My Bak also keeps his dreams in his pocket
but it keeps falling out every single time
through the infinite black holes.
He never knew how to sew those holes
so his dreams kept falling out
he could never catch them back.

My Bak is a strong man,
so strong that he never once got angry
so strong that he could work for days without sleep.

My Bak have eye bags so deep,
that the black stress lines could fill up an entire column on the Berita Harian.
I once asked, “Bak I want to know.
Tell me about your childhood, your marriage with Mak, tell me.
I want to know.”
But he only smiled back to me,
as if in kindness, as if in peace.
I once rummaged through his pants for answers while he was deep asleep
and all I found were pink slips of TOTO and 4D results.
His dreams dependent upon the coincidental chance of four magic numbers,
each one of them, numbering up his destiny.

I still keep dreams in my pocket.
I still wear pants with pockets
only now, I go out carrying a bag
so I have more storage, more pockets to fill.
My Mak still wears her baju butterfly.
She is now on her twenty-third hour shift,
an hour more before she can rest
and dream of that white and blue gown that she never got to wear.
My Bak doesn’t wear pants anymore.
He now wears a sarong at home, renouncing his dreams.
I ask him, “Why Bak, why.”
And again, he smiles to me, kindly.
His lips are stuck. He doesn’t know what to answer.
He only whispers, “Fiz, Don’t be like me.”

When I am old and have a son of my own,
I will tell him, “Go and keep your dreams in your pocket, now.
Go make your bed.
Go sweep the floor.
Go find a job.
Go get a life.
Don’t dream. Don’t delay.
Go, go.”

And he will listen to me, he will obey.
He will stomp away and sulk
But he will obey me, and he will listen.
And at night, I’ll read him bedtime stories of Peter Pan,
of Thumbelina, of Cinderella and other lost souls.
Of his Grandma with big pockets to fill
and his Grandpa with holes in his pockets.
I will tuck him into bed, switch off the lights
and let darkness consume his dream.
I will kiss him in the forehead and whisper in his ears,
“Son, wake up.
Go and empty your pockets, now.”

Woman of work

“I was taught since young that love was something you work at. You work at it all your life because that is the greatest work you’ll ever do here on earth.”                                             

– ‘Loud Mouth Loving’

From young, I’ve seen you work. I’ve seen you from washing toilets to washing people’s laundry. I’ve seen you getting up at five in the morning to cook breakfast before you head off to work. I’ve seen you coming back at noon just to wash our clothes, clean the house and most importantly, cook dinner, before you leave again for work and not returning till the clock strikes ten. I’ve seen it all, or so I think.

I’ve heard your stories. Like how you left school and your noble ambition to be a nurse just so that you can start working at fourteen and support your family. Ha, it’s quite ironic that you won’t even allow me to quit school just to support you.

And yet, all these while you’ve been tough with me. You’ve reminded me time and time again that no matter how successful I make myself to be in this arts industry, all of it is useless if I don’t even know how to make my own bed in the morning or scrub the toilet when it gets dirty.

You’ve never once uttered “I love you” to me because unlike me, you never believed in the power of words. You are a woman of work. And all your life, you’ve been working and you will never want to stop working because to love is to work and one should never stop working at it.

Selamat Hari Mak.

Mountains

A reconnaissance soldier escapes from his camp. He hates the regimentation. He hates the barbed wires. He journeys northwards, never once looking back. He chances upon a rocky terrain of mountains. He desires to climb and reach for the highest summit. He wants to see the world clearly, from the top. He takes days, and eventually, months, to get to the top.

 Once he was on top, he looks down and he marvels. He sees the distant rivers and lakes as small squiggly blue lines found on maps. He sees patches of pastures, one after the other. He feels like he was close to God but he knows, he wasn’t. He knows, God had created the very mountains he was standing on and he was grateful. The mountains was God’s gift to him.

 As he looks further down, he sees his company marching up along the mountains, heading north. They were like a blob of green. All three hundred of them. Moving at a single heartbeat, at a single footstep.

He shifts his gaze further up. He looks beyond the mountains. He sees a battalion of enemy troops, marching up along the mountains as well. He panics. He shudders at the sheer size of the enemy troops. Both sides were heading towards each other. They were bound to meet and engage in bloodshed on the steepest slopes of the mountains.

 He doesn’t know what to do. He could dash down and warn his convoy. But knowing his people, they wouldn’t turn back. There was something he hated about them: it was their pride. Knowing that there would be a possibility of battle, they would not turn back. The officer in charge would instruct his men with cheap, motivational words to move forward and faster. And he will be forced to fight alongside them, following them as they march on to the drumbeats of their own doomed death. He knows he would be a dead man.

 He could dash down and engage the enemy. He could hold them off, at least for a while with two magazines worth of gunfire in his vest. But he knows it wouldn’t be enough to stop them. And what was the point of being a hero when no one knows you are one? He knows he would be a dead man.

 He doesn’t know what to do. So he stands there, at the summit. He stands and he watches. He watches the two sides go head to head.

 He stands and he watches as he doesn’t know what to do.