2008

I wonder if you miss me. As you lie, lonely in your guest room bed.

Are you still sleeping there, I wonder. Or has she let you back in? And even then, do you just sleep? Or do you run your hands all over her body like you did to mine, like you did to hers before you ever laid eyes on me.

These things are not supposed to matter now. I am not supposed to care. You are hers and I am mine.

But the broken part of me looks for you. In chance encounters with strangers, in affairs (clandestine or otherwise) where I make sure that this time, no questions are asked and no promises are made. In older men, in figures of authority.

I was a child when you found me. And now, I am a ghost.

A ghost slowly coming back to life and with that life, remembering all the things I used to feel. Your breath on my neck, fingers drawing circles on my skin, tears running down my face.

I will forget you, I tell myself. But my self wants to remember.


About this piece:

At a certain age, love becomes less epic. When one is young, the end of an affair can feel like the end of the world as one knows it.

I wrote this piece eight years ago (give or take) about a person I still think of as “2008”. A part of me feels sad for that broken little girl. The other part just wants to laugh and say, “Grow up, you’ll get over it.”

Lost children

“Sometimes I don’t know what you want,” he said. He was still awake after all. I thought about continuing my pretense.

“I know you are awake,” he said. I stayed silent a while longer and then I sighed.

“I don’t know what I want,” I said.

“You have got to figure it out sometime, you know,” he said.

I sat up in bed. The covers slipped but I didn’t care. In the past, I would have pulled the covers up to my chin to cover my almost non-existent breasts. But in Andre’s eyes, nakedness was natural. He resented clothing. These days, I sometimes went without a bra. It was strangely liberating.

“I used to know,” I said. “I used to know what I wanted. I had a plan… get good grades in high school. Do sports. Do clubs and societies. Get a good testimonial. Get a scholarship. Become something… someone. I wanted to be a doctor.”

I shrugged. I rested my elbow on my knees, my forehead on my palm. It was surprising how much it hurt, even now, after all these years.

I hadn’t stuck to the plan. People had expected things of me, from me. Anything less than a PhD was a failure. I was meant for a life in academia. That’s what they told me anyway. I was too other-worldly to live in the real world. Let your brother take care of all those things, everyone said.

By “all those things”, they meant “money” and “power”. My brother was the golden boy. He would make it big in the world.

He, unlike me, had always known what he wanted. When we were six, he had said, “I am going to be a business man.” And then he had started breeding and selling fishes.

At six, I spent an abnormal amount of time staring out of windows and daydreaming.

“What happened?” Andre said. He rubbed his palm against my thigh. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. I got lost,” I said. And I realized that it was true.

“Mmm,” he grinned. “A little lost girl.” I wondered if I should get angry. I carried on the joke instead. Because laughing was easier.

“Mmhmm,” I said. “I’m waiting for Peter Pan to come and lick me into shape.”

“Lick?” he said and lifted an eyebrow. Then he dropped back onto his pillow and sighed. “Peter Pan is just as lost as the rest of the lost boys.”

I snuggled back into bed and leaned my head on his chest. His arm wrapped around my shoulders. It was an unconscious gesture. Muscle memory.

“Maybe that is what Wendy is for,” he said. He rolled his chin around on the top of my head. I moved my head away and tilted to look at his face. It was serious.

“Wendy,” I huffed. “She’s lost as well.”

“So just like that. Everyone is lost. Damn it all and be done with it.”

“Perhaps,” I said. I bit my lip. “Maybe it isn’t about finding our way. Maybe we’re just meant to find each other.”

“And huddle up for comfort?” he said.

“And huddle up for comfort,” I said.

END


About this piece:

I wrote this in 2009 as part of a personal project The Man Beside Me. It was an exercise in improving my dialogue in fiction.

It’s been almost 10 years and the editor in me cringes at so many parts. But I’m leaving it (mostly) unedited as a way to remember where I was as a writer.

Is this enough?

“I’m from Klang. Of course I have gangster friends,” I say. And even though my head keeps repeating ‘don’t say it, don’t say it’, I blurt it out. “My best friend died while I was in college.”

“Oh,” she says. She shifts and curls up closer to me. “How old was he?”

“18,” I say, waiting for her to ask what happened.

“What happened?” she says, looking into my eyes now. I run my fingers up and down her naked back.

How do I tell her this story? There are days when she thinks I don’t notice but she gives me this look and I know she doesn’t understand what I have said. How could she? With her fair skin and her ‘oh, I like Indian food. We had a maid who cooked for us’.

Like the other day when I got a press invitation to a movie, on Deepavali!

We would like to extend this invitation to the editorial team to join us for a night out at the movies on 22 October 2014 (Deepavali Day) at GSC One Utama.

“I don’t understand,” she’d said. “It’s not compulsory. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“Yes, but it’s Deepavali. And it’s a public holiday. So insensitive!”

“So? You can reject it right?”

“That’s not the point. Imagine if they had sent a non-halal buffet invite to the entire editorial team. Or if they organized something like that during raya.”

“Okayyyy… would it have been better if they had just sent the invite to the non-Indian people?”

“No, that’s still ignorant. That’s why la, my friend says that Chinese people cannot see things from other people’s point of view.”

She’d given me this look and a smile and I’d thought, “This is why my mother wants me to date an Indian girl.”

She nudges me with her hips and I am back in the present. “So… what happened?”

“We were on the road, you know, just in the car. I was driving because my friend was slightly tipsy. Another friend was sleeping at the back.

“It was public holiday time. Should have known la… There was a roadblock and as usual, we got stopped.

“Then they want to check our car la,” I say.

“Oh my goodness. I’ve never been stopped before. One time a policeman shouted at me through the window. I took down his ID number and complained about him,” she says.

I roll my eyes. “Ya, you can do that. Chinese ma.”

“Please la,” she says, laughs. “Then what?”

“Don’t know why my friend go and show his anger. So they took him away. The other friend and I went home. Next day his mom called, said he didn’t come home.

“Then they got a call from police station. They said he died of alcohol overdose or something. But then his body had too much of bruises. After that my other friend joined a gang. Got protection, he said.”

She doesn’t say anything. When I finally look at her again, I can see that she’s troubled. “I don’t understand,” she says. “How could you let something like that happen? How could you let them get away with that?”

“That’s the problem, babe. We don’t let it happen. It just does. There’s nothing we can do.”

She lifts herself up and leans back into the pillows. “No way,” she says. “I’m sure that there was something you could have done.”

Her eyebrows are bunched together in a frown and I can see the gears in her head turning, probably thinking about that ‘I am the master of my fate’ poem she spouted at me the other day when I complained about how unfair things were sometimes.

Before she can say anything else, I do the only thing that’s still keeping us together. I pull her close and kiss her. “Don’t worry about it, babe,” I say, moving my body over hers.

She doesn’t understand so many things, but her body understands mine. “Maybe this is enough,” I think. “Maybe…”

END


About this piece:

I wrote this in 2014 as part of an assignment for UnRepresented KL. We were meant to write something inspired by a documentary about race-related police brutality.

At the time, the ending of the story felt contrived; one of the characters did something that felt “out of character”. I moved on and wrote other things.

Lately though, I’ve been thinking about the issue of race (especially in Malaysia) and remembered this story. I’ve edited the ending but hopefully, preserved the theme.

Being a “proper” Chinese: Lesson #1

In this lesson, you will learn one of the rules you must follow to be a proper Chinese. What do you mean are there rules? Of course there are rules.

The first rule of being Chinese: When it comes to things like house work, paying for a meal or gift giving, if the other party says “No”, you “have to insist”.

Say you’re in a relative’s house and you’ve had a meal. Since your host cooked dinner, the polite thing to do is help to clean up. Clear the table and take everything to the sink, even though your host will definitely tell you, “Just leave everything there lah.”

Put everything in the sink and at this stage, your host will again say, “Just leave it there. I’ll wash everything together.”

This is a trap. The polite thing to do is to switch on the tap anyway and start washing up.

Wash up all the dishes, even the ones that were already in the sink. As you’re soaping the dishes, your host will say, “Eh, I’ll do it lah. Just leave it.”

Do not make the mistake of listening! Keep washing those dishes. If you must say something, it has to be along the lines of “no worries”, “please [let me do it]” or “you cook already, I must wash up lah”.

If your host is following the correct protocol, he/she will no longer ask you to “just leave it”. Three times is the ideal number of times to indicate refusal.

Two times is too few. It tells your guest that you didn’t really intend to clean up yourself (even though this is really the case).

More than three times is too many. Having to insist more than three times will make your guest feel awkward and heaven forbid that happens.

In cases of gift giving, the receiver will probably say something to the effect of “eh, no need lah”. As always, you have to insist.

Some receivers might even go as far as to push the gift back into your hands. If this happens, you have to engage in a push back and forth battle until the receiver accepts it.

Contingency measures:
If the receiver folds his/her arms so that you cannot push the gift back in, you should leave it behind when you leave the place (even if it’s a public restaurant). This way, the receiver of the gift knows that you are really sincere in your gift giving.

Similarly, if you have eaten out and you want to pay the bill – you should always pay the bill because this indicates social superiority (unless you’ve just eaten with your boss; it’s more polite to let him/her pay) – you have to get physical and force your money into the waiter’s hand.

If the other party wins, you should leave money on the table (equivalent to or more than the billed amount). If you want, you can even reinforce your actions with words like “if you don’t take it let the restaurant have it”. Trust me, no proper Chinese will just leave money lying there.

For more information, feel free send your questions to: [redacted]