You are Oceanic by Tapiwa Mugabe

Beautiful poem as a reminder.

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All she wanted was to find a place to stretch her bones.

A place to lengthen her smiles

and spread her hair

a place where her legs could walk without cutting and bruising

a place unchained.

She was born out of ocean breath.

I reminded her;  ‘Stop pouring so much of yourself into hearts that have no room for themselves

do not thin yourself, be vast.

You do not bring the ocean to a river.’

– Tapiwa Mugabe, You are Oceanic

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Review : Kapal Angkasa Terhempas di Subang Jaya by Birsilah Bakar

Blushing sambil guling-guling lol

Minci 先生

I have stopped reading Malay novels for a few years because the ones I stumbled into shared pretty much the same, non-interesting theme.

  • women get raped, forgives their rapist and marries them
  • women get physically abused by a man and needs another Romeo to save her out of the mess
  • women can’t solve their own problems and had to wait for someone to die before conflicts resolve

That was until I came across this book.

I have to admit, I knew this writer from secondary school and I was honestly very surprised to know that she published her book in Bahasa Malaysia. Birsilah or BC as we know her then, was always someone I looked up to secretly for her strong grasp in the English language. She writes and speak (although very little) like poetry – people in the 16th century would have mistaken her as Shakespeare himself. A woman…

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Asshats

I put the advertisement on Craigslist 6 weeks after I moved to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. I didn’t know anyone so I told them the truth.

1) I don’t want dick pictures

2) No sex or anything that leads to it. I didn’t come here to get pregnant

3) I know karate

I figure that would narrow it down a bit. The first dozen of replies were useless. They either disappear in the middle of the week or dropped the matter altogether after they received my photo (honestly I can’t be that ugly) or asked for sex again just in case I changed my mind after 2 weeks.

No, asshat. I’m here to write.

And in the middle of chaos, he replied. His mails were frequent and mostly received in the middle of the day. He’s working, but he only replies during break (he must have had 40 breaks at 2 p.m.) I like him more than the rest because of his spelling though he later admitted that his phone did all the corrections. He broke my little fantasy. I was rather turned on by sexy grammarians. He suggested that we meet at the Hancock Museum on Friday evening. I told myself that it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t show up. I was there to see the T-Rex.

2 o’ clock and he was there with grey dust on his navy blue uniform.

“I came straight from work. Sorry I’m a bit dirty. We were welding a water tank,” he said.

He towers over 6 feet. I barely reached his shoulder and it was a really awkward first hug. I kinda patted his arms. We spent almost 4 hours taking photos, laughing and pointing at inappropriate exhibitions. He laughed at me because I was so fascinated with badgers (he said those cutiepies were pests!) and I laughed at him when he saw a flattened penis on a doll made of human skin.

We have these little excursions on Fridays, sometimes weekends or whenever he’s on holiday. He hated art galleries and book stores so I have a lot of private time especially when I go to the library. I should have seen this coming. A mini foreshadowing of some sort. But I want it to work. He wants it to work.

So when one day he told me that he will never leave me, I convinced myself that it was true. Maybe that’s the reason my heart tugged me here. Maybe it’s destiny. Maybe he’s different than the boy before. After all, he’s an honest man. He could have lied about the spelling but he didn’t. He works hard at the metal factory (he has patience) and hardly had time to fool around because he was always watching t.v. (he’s loyal) He’s a good listener (not the kind who yells) and I saw his garden. I can tell that he is one of the most hardworking part time gardeners I’ve ever seen. He’s perfect!

What more can a girl want?

I immediately forget about compatibility.

After 2 years, I think we would make it. His lack of interest in pursuing progress irks me somewhat but his abuse of alcohol makes for good arguments. ‘My friends made me drink’ he would banter. Like a common victim, he promised that he would change. In fact, during the years before he met me he tried numerous times but the temptations were too much.

Too damn much.

And then, just like that he disappeared – just like when he appeared. Poof! No parting words, no goodbyes, no explanation. Nothing. Like I didn’t matter at all. Apparently, my feelings were disposable. I didn’t cry. My heart closed shut.

He’s just another asshat.

Lost and Found

I didn’t like it when he touched me. The little hairs on my arms felt unusually funny. We sit next to each other at a friend’s birthday party. Our knees keep touching. So does my left elbow with his right. I remember pushing my chair backwards several times but his elbow and right knee seemed to obstinately grow in the matter of seconds. I gave up fighting after an hour.

I don’t approve this but he failed to see my objections in every way. For example, I avoided eye contact and fold both arms across the chest. These are hardly elementary body language. I meant serious business. And then when I offered my hand on the morning when we first met, I only hoped to get a firm shake in reply. I left a huge personal space in between but still, he surprised me with a hug, if I were to delicately say so myself. Strictly speaking I wouldn’t categorize it as a ‘hug’. Maybe a ‘crush’ or a ‘strangle’ would qualify as a more accurate term because I was trapped in this gigantic pair of ribcage, suffocating on his cotton shirt. Either my lungs malfunctioned or he is just a bear hugger. Turned out it was the latter. I mumbled into his chest that I couldn’t breathe (a mouthful of cloth got in) and only then he broke that trance. He seemed to forget that we were in the High Commission headquarter office with hundreds of local employees. His eyes bore a mix of deep suffering and sunbursts of glee. Somewhere in between I saw the unmistakable spark of pure madness.

“I’m sorry,” he said, but I didn’t think he meant that.

It’s weird. I only knew him about 2 days ago while he came prepare. He knew my name and my position without having bothered with any kind of introduction. This didn’t come as a surprise. The notice was sent several months ago and they probably had a little briefing concerning the logistics and renovation of my soon to be new office. We both were supposed to report to the Deputy Chief of Mission by 8.30 but I only saw him after 9 a.m. No one said anything. His secretary was overjoyed when she unwrapped the souvenir. She let out a loud gasp and then a shrill eek. It was a blue porcelain clog. Reckon something he picked up at Schipol. It looks nothing like the handcrafted ones in Ratterman’s. His eyes looked at me apologetically. Shoulders hunch, shrugging and chuckled at my disgust. As if I wanted the bloody shoe. I had enough of those to last a life time. After that, I fixed my vision on Mei Zhe’s yellow wallpaper, listening incoherently to their idle chitchats. I’m supposed to be on my training and Mei Zhe hasn’t finished telling me the country’s procedure of endorsing a new product to America when he barged in with the pretty box.

“Isn’t he just sweet?” she said. Her eyes twinkled dreamily. As if she just saw a shooting star and wished that he was her Prince Charming. I just want to finish the whole bureaucracy thing and get out of the room but the day wasn’t over.

The restaurant was not full yet. It’s a little after 5 p.m. I only found out that today’s Mei Zhe’s birthday. She looks gorgeous in a new, flowing, red dress pleated at the back. It completely transformed her. Only this morning I saw her wearing a pair of grey slacks and a simple, button down checkered short sleeve shirt in various shades of tangerine. Her long, straight hair shines under the light of the chandelier. Susan and Jeremy were waving at us. I wonder how did they got there so fast. Both were drinking. Their glass half empty.

“Theo!” they call him and hugged. I’ve never seen them so lively before. Department of Human Resources needs plenty of good vibes from him. Too bad they’re on the 19th floor.

I didn’t know how I fit in this little party. I barely knew anyone. If it weren’t for the required mail correspondence I would not have known Susan or Jeremy. They could have asked some other colleagues (though I noticed that they did not receive any gifts) or even the boss (they seemed to genuinely like him) and yet here I am sitting on a plush purple chair trying to come up with something worth mentioning.

Nothing. I’m not built for small chats.

“How was Amsterdam?” asked Susan.

“Ask her,” he jerks his head at me, “She grew up in Amsterdam. Eating hot pankoeks every morning,” he said lazily.

I don’t know what his problem was but he certainly put me in a very disruptive mood. The conversation was about him. That was unnecessary and uncalled for. I don’t need to divulge everything to strangers. Whatever private things are called ‘private’ for a reason. I clutched my skirt so that they are not able to read my face. Sometimes I bit my tongue to catch it from saying impolite things because I will mostly regret it right after. It didn’t work. Another wave of fire came when I decided to take a deep breath and drink my mint tea.

“You were going to scream, weren’t you?” he baits. The thought amuses him. The rest laughed.

Another deep breath goes in. This is hard. I don’t think I can do this. Father told me numerous times that as a representative of the President of the United States, I should learn the art of being diplomatic. Manipulate and delegate, that’s the key. Easy for him to say; he had been doing this for 30 years. I am just lucky to be accepted in the service because of good grades and mostly the reputation of the retired old man helped.

“You really don’t remember me, do you?” he finally asked when I ignored the knockings of his knees. His tone went from jovial to despair. My face contorted into a grimace. I didn’t know why I felt so angry. My chest burning with hot coals. It’s my first week at my first job and everything was not the way that I wanted. I didn’t understand Mandarin, my apartment is infested with termites, I didn’t like the food, I fucking miss home and now I have this stupid guy testing my least favourite virtue – patience.

His hand touched me again. This time on the shoulder and I push it away like a buzzing bee. The movement startled him. The table was quite; even the smiling birthday girl stopped talking. I think I should pretend that I have a headache or something. I’m not ready for sharing. Words are not my forte. They never did as they’re told and they always come out wrong. But one word was tugging at my memory.

“How did you know I grew up in Amsterdam?” I ask.

“You told me yourself,” he said, giving me a half smile.

“No. I’ve never met you before. Not before Beijing,” I am positively shaking my head. I would definitely remember him. Curly mass of blond hair, clear green eyes, twice broken nose full of freckles, deep, dimpled chin. He had a band boy quality about him. Maybe the warm smile makes for it.

“You don’t remember Kuala Lumpur?” he added with the same sad tone.

What was about K.L? My father was transferred there for 5 years before The Netherlands. I was about 4. We enjoyed the sun very much. It was nothing like Israel when scorching is the acceptable summer. What happened in Kuala Lumpur that might have to do with this guy? I didn’t know many friends. Well, there was a sick, bald boy. We used to go to the same nursery and went swimming together (he floated by me.) Half of his face was full of dark spots from too much time in the sun. Both our mothers were French so we spent most of our time together. That’s about it. I couldn’t remember anyone else. I tried to conjure him up again but the 10 year old Mateo stood in my memory.  A pale, red faced boy in the Equator sun. I can’t imagine him as an adult.

Is it possible?

“He went to Amsterdam every year looking for you, girl,” said Mei Zhe, wiping a rolling tear.

I’m confused. They both looked nothing alike. The only explanation came in a song. Theo sang my favourite lullaby – the one that my mother used to sing to us. Le Loup, Le Biche et Le Chevalier.

All of a sudden, I am beginning to like China.

Ann

The next morning she walked 2 miles looking for a cyber café. She must talk to Ann.

“Hey, you there?” she typed as fast as she could. Her irregular breathing made her more anxious. Her chubby fingers trembled as they hung in the air. Waiting for an answer. She saw Ann’s little green dot on Gmail. That’s a good sign. Her friend is online. She did not calculate the time difference – it should be early morning hours. She only wanted an explanation.

“Yep. You alright?” Ann replied.

Her heart soared. Now, straight to the point.

“Did you enjoy last night?” her friend beat her to it.

“How did you know about that?” she asked. Ann has no business asking about last night. It was private.

“Well, I figure sooner or later it would probably happen,” replied Ann. A smiley face replaced a full stop at the end of the sentence.

“What are you referring to by IT?” she asked. She had a small throbbing in her nape. Today was not a good day because she woke up on a bed of a stranger. A grown up that she thought was the kindest of man.

“I knew he liked you. That’s why I put you to the task,” Ann admitted.

A surge of lava spilled in her stomach. Her own best friend! Her lips pursed and puckered. She didn’t know if she should be angry or cry. She knew that she’s very upset.

She was introduced to Jordi 2 months ago. It’s not the meet-and-greet kind but write-a-mail-and-reply kind. Ann insisted that they should continue writing to each other after she left the loop. Ann said that her plan to travel to Europe made perfect sense. Jordi lives in Barcelona and Ann wants to give him his birthday present.

“You can give him this little bundle,” Ann pushed a tiny box into her hands at the airport. She could have said no or made Ann send the damn package by post but she owed Ann. She never really had a male friend and Jordi was the only one. Sometimes when Ann mentioned his name even casually, she goes red in the face. It was an uninvited feeling, a rush of hot wave into her chest. Burning. Maybe that’s why she said ‘yes’. That’s why she did not mind going to Barcelona from Frankfurt just to give him his gift.

She landed yesterday evening and Jordi fetched her from the airport. Germanwings was not so bad. It’s of a better quality than Air Asia if she was to be honest. He had a small studio about 200 meters from the nearest Metro and a spotless bathroom. Later, they went out to an Italian pizzeria. She ordered a four season pizza and he, a four cheese pizza. She let him ate her artichoke and he drank her diet Coke. It was the most memorable thing about last night. Her ribs were aching for laughing too much. The tiramisu cake was flawless and the Costa Rican coffee was the best that she ever tasted.

All was well until he switched off the light.

“You mean to tell me that you knew that he would do something like that? You knew?” she wrote, this time the words screaming in her head. It’s not conversational anymore but Ann won’t know that.

“Come on….you’re not that innocent. I knew you liked him from the beginning and he told me that he likes you so it’s not a big deal. I know why you wanted to learn Spanish. Everyone wants a taste of a different experience,” she replied.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT???” she wrote. Her eyes growing wider and wider at every reply.

“Is that not what you wanted? You fucked a handsome foreigner on your vacation with my help. You’re welcome,” Ann replied smugly, like she was the greatest pimp lady of all Asia Pacific.

“No. That was nothing that I wanted,” she wrote and trying hard to breathe.

Ann knew all about it. That was Ann’s plan all along after she told her about her summer plan. The little box was never meant to be the gift. She was the gift. She was the fool!

“How could you! I trusted you!” she added another line. What would she give to choke her pretty neck right now. She was the only customer in the cyber café. The owner was staring at her because she was getting quite abusive at the innocent plastic keyboard.

“Pfft. Don’t act so dumb. That’s what all Europeans do. Does he like the penguin boxer?” Ann asked, like her dignity did not affect Ann anyway whatsoever. It’s as if it was a normal thing to do – sending your own best friend to be sexually violated by a stranger.

She did not answer. She logged out and paid the owner while apologizing for her antics in front of the computer. He said its fine. Things like that happen to everyone. Bad news sometimes made us do crazy things.

Not bad news for me, she thought. Just a bad, bad friend.

She walked back to Jordi’s house. Gathered her belongings and flew to Marrakesh where adventure awaits. The bitch is not going to ruin her vacation. If she could beat cancer, she could beat anything else.

Dream Job

Can I seriously say something scary? I never had any good ambition. My mother said that I once told my grandfather that I wanted to be a millionaire. I was too little to even comprehend what that means. I told my teacher that I wanted to be a police officer or a teacher. The best joke was a stewardess.

I’m not even remotely polite and I have a genuinely hot temper.

“You want what? Fuck off!”

I don’t know about students nowadays. They gave an air of superiority yet clueless at the same time. Their long fingers typing rapidly on a flat touch screen pad and seemed to forget how to live if their smartphones ran out of battery. I’ve never bonded with anyone targeted within that age group as for now so I can’t possibly give an opinion. Honestly, all I knew by seventeen was that I should choose either medical, engineering, account or art. The school decided that science is the best bet for the future. I didn’t think I had a choice. It was always Math, Bio, Physics and Chemistry. So does college and university.

After graduation then you found out that all jobs suck. The doctors, the engineers, the customer service agents, the programmers, the government servants, the clerks, the accountants, the people that came to your school to give a brief introduction about their careers, all of them secretly hate their jobs it’s pathetic. They just want a regular tranquilizer to induce the comatose behavior 5 days in a week and rewarded by a collective payment so that they can buy happiness. A bag, a vacation, a bracelet – your pick.

I would hate to hate my job, really. This is my ultimate goal. I hated my life and to a certain degree my own self for a long time so hating my job is not something I would voluntarily do. Hatred is not good company for anyone’s mental health. Although I struggle now, I feel better and that’s okay.

I have to admit that I have enormous respect for people who stayed on a job they hate. I really do. Those people who cherished 5 o’clock exits and celebrate it in a crawl of traffic jam. The same people that hate Mondays and welcome Friday evenings like a close relative. I tried many times to do this but I couldn’t. I wanted to secretly gossip about boss and play games in office politics. I would like to go to meetings and justify a new procedure and moan about my late O.T. Mediocre life. Normal.

But routines are lethal – a slow poison that leached life out of your existence. Surely everyone has a dream job. Something they’d do for free. Something that makes them jumps out of bed every morning. Something that made them strives for progress instead of perfection. Simply put, the simple things, (like a hobby perhaps) that would only make them feel alive and fulfilled.

Writing is just something that makes me stay awake at 4 a.m plotting murders for the sake of fictional characters. Dragons, princess and poisonous toads. That’s my kind of story.

Reunions

I haven’t attended the first reunion but I saw the colorful photos. My old friends were beaming and joking. They were in a hotel and it was quite a formal event, I guess from the speeches and stuff. Wearing their best outfit and accessories (children and husbands) they catch up 10 years in the span of hours. Cold gossips rekindled, numbers exchanged and meet ups arranged. They may carry the most expensive handbags or working at the most fabulous office or marrying the richest guy in the world but I still see them as the girls I knew in 1996. Gullible and innocent – yet strong and smart. Can there be such combinations? I thought they all looked beautiful. No one changed much. They still have that light in their eyes and the same warm smile. Now the same smile blossoms in the lips of their children. They looked well cared, happy and glowing.

Must have been fun.

I did not plan to attend the second reunion, much like the first one. Not that I don’t miss them. They’ve been part of my life for five years. We suffered together, sang together, even dance together. Nothing could beat that. Even our family members were left out of the equation when trouble brewed in school. Friends are forever.

But change is the only constant.

I joined in the fun to belong to a certain group in Facebook. They were my friends so I thought it was a great idea. Any updates are going to be instantaneous. I wouldn’t miss a single thing. It was pleasant at first. And then it got weird. The purpose of the reunion was that ‘if one of us rises to the top (being rich and famous) then we can totally get her to plug us into the network.’ Several people agreed.

Wow.

I thought you wanted to reconnect with someone as a person, not as a stepping stone. I don’t think most of them seconded the idea but my heart turned cold. So I decided that I will only meet people who accept me for who I am, not my accomplishments.

That will be my only reunion.

Wishlist

My father used to be a good reader. He stocked up hundreds of books (mostly in Malay) and he subscribed to Reader’s Digest back in the 70s and 80s. I read the part with the jokes and tried to understand English as best as I could. I’d say I like it better in the old days. The latest version is full of contests and advertisements and just too many unfunny jokes.

He is very good at getting banned books. I guess he’s curious. I don’t know where or from whom did he buy it but I’ve read The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie when I was in kindergarten. It was even translated in Malay (My English was not very good until I went to secondary.) I didn’t know the book was sinful. It was never awful.

I stopped reading at about 12 because most of the books within my reach were boring. There weren’t many genres or varieties. I didn’t pick reading back until after I was 14. At school most of my friends spoke very good English and they read English books. I read Archie and Dennis the Menace but I never touched the serious ones, especially the ones labeled Sydney Sheldon. The covers were always dark and gloomy and suggested murder.

But the books were always around me and it was high time that I picked one. Only then that I realized I found my salvation. That was it – my only escape from boredom and pain. You tripped into literature and stood up a new person. All wounds are healed.

I thought I was the only one until I found some book bloggers. Those people are hardcore. They’re even crazier than I was and they live in countries that encourage reading culture, compatible rates for good books, brilliant second hand bookstores, wide coverage of promotional/book release and meet and greet the writers. I cannot be jealous enough. I follow a couple of dozens of them on my tumblr account and found them to be deliciously good catalyst. They not only provided reviews, photos, recommendations and theme. They even write and establish good relationships with one another.

On my dashboard every day I would marvel at the shelves in their homes, the colorful hardcover limited edition of Penguin Classics, signed paperbacks, photos of their ferret reading along, cats bookmarking their chapters, books listed according to their colors, best theme related series (vampires, magic, fairy tales retold.), gender reversing roles of their favourite protagonists, essays on feminism in literature, synopsis on young adult literature/series, free gifts (books, what else?), their favorite bookstores, fan fictions (what would happen if Hermione Granger marries Draco Malfoy), fan art (drawings of Luna Lovegood as a boy or woman of color), quotes from various books (The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you – The Book Thief. I read Anna Karenina just because I read some random words), puns from Harry Potter, snapchats from Pride and Prejudice, sassy literature memes, name researches, fun facts about authors, etc. All these made my wish list grew longer and longer. I am totally berserk now that I know more fun things about books.

I browsed MPH Online store every day for 2 weeks to gather price information and I strike. My wish list is completed.

I watched Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (the movie) but I wasn’t pleased with how it turned out though they did have brilliant casts. The girls were going on and on about Percy and Annabelle so I had to join the fangirling team. It was a pentalogy of Greek gods and halfbloods. I’m IN! Another series that had won prizes and good reviews is a trilogy called Walking Chaos. It’s centered in a dystopian society (like most young adult adventures) where the society is consisted by men – only men. They can hear each other’s thoughts, which is quite annoying to be honest. No privacy there. So the main protagonist was told that there is one quite spot and there he found a girl. Of course the story got more interesting from there.

Total books: Eight for now (5 + 3)

I was researching on how to write English novels and came across Joseph Conrad. I am not comfortable with my English and thought badly of how I constructed my sentences. It lacked some depth. So I am looking for tips, mentor or any author to wrap my head around that topic and found out that Conrad was Polish. English was his third language (he acquired it in his 20s) and he excelled at it. So I bought Lord Jim and Secret Sharer. Maybe I could learn something from him. The two stories are bound in one tome for the price of one book.

Nine books. You can’t really quit counting before ten, can you?

So I look for a poem book. I only bought one collected poems by Rumi. That was not enough so I decided to add Lang Leav to my list. I follow her page on Facebook and I like her poems. There’s something special in her words. Her poems are not long or tedious or even complicated. Its tendrils pull your soul out of abyss to breathe. Love and Misadventures sounded perfect as my last book.

And I clicked BUY.

Fifteenth

She didn’t like her latest addiction. The previous one was quite alright. No one in her family liked spinach so it was not a question of competition or moral obligation to give it up for a younger sibling. Popeye approved. The one before that was boiled potatoes. She didn’t retain any memory before four years old but Mother mentioned it more than she would care to ignore.

She promised that it won’t happen again. It was a serious oath. She’s not going to break it. But it happened yesterday, the day before yesterday and even the day before that. In fact, it has been happening non-stop for almost two weeks straight. She remembers counting it. Not one, not two but fourteen, to be exact. Fourteen times she begged God not to tempt her with that scrumptious banquet. She dreamed about them. All purple and glitter under the candle light, smiling seductively at her. Waving their little silver skirt. Their perfume melting in her hair. She woke up, swearing up a storm and hope to repent soon. Today it seemed that the fifteenth promise is about to be broken.

She slipped into the small shop carrying her purse, bouncing it in her hands. Inside were layers of red and yellow notes and some coins. She could buy the whole damn thing! Her eyes darted towards the second last aisle on the left. Their scent is coaxing her to come closer. She forgot about her promises. Her mind clouded by overworking senses. Her mouth waters at the line of tantalizing nougat, caramel smothered peanut bars, marshmallow coated rice bubbles, blueberry swirled filling in chocolate casing, butterscotch layered wafers, the lot. Her hand grabbed the plastic lid and her tiny fist seized as many Cadbury bar as she could hold. Oh, she could almost taste it on her fingers! Her tongue drowns in a sea of chocolate, vegetable fat and sugar. She closed her eyes and brought that image clear.

The hand on her shoulder snapped her out of it.

She didn’t dare turn around. Humiliation is another form of punishment. Her temple pulsed with the song of the fallen. She thought that her blood stopped flowing. Her legs filled with liquid lead. She knew that this would happen somehow. It’s the end. She might as well admit it before anything else happen. She doesn’t want the cashier to scream at the top of her lungs telling the world that she found the thief.

The thief!

Even the actual word is plain disgusting. She raked her brain in less than a few seconds for some believable excuses. I was meant to pay that but I forgot. Maybe they would believe her. But does it explain how the bars got into her purse? She can feel her cheeks hot as coals.

“Hey, you okay?” asked a familiar voice.

She turned around and saw relief. Her lab partner was browsing some egg tarts on the display tray.

“I’m..fff…fine,” she replied.

“Haha! You looked like you’ve been caught stealing,” said the Chinese girl cheerfully.

Her face turned into a huge puckered fabric. She looked as if she just swallowed the most bitter of lemons.

“Let’s go. Recess is about to finish after all,” she said, pulling her friend’s dry hands.

“But I haven’t bought anything…You sure you’re fine? Your hands are cold,” the partner frowned slightly as she grasp the tiny, pale fists.

“Don’t worry. I’m okay. Just…just take what you want, okay? My treat,” she said. Her cracked lips curled into a half smile. Another half is visibly shaken. Her temples still throbbing.

As they climb up the stars, the cashier frowned at all the notes placed on the counter. She couldn’t see who left it and why. Both girls sucked the blueberry filling and one girl bounces her empty purse. Her chest puffed out her last shred of dread.

Private Poet

I never had a penchant for poems. I like reading them, especially ones written by Usman Awang (he’s my absolute idol) and I follow A. Samad Said like a bloodhound because I know where he lives. I am admitting to stalking an innocent, talented old man but I am not creepy, I swear. I just surprise him once in a while, just pretending to be interested in small chats. You should listen to how each word rolled out of his tongue – just unaltered old keroncong melody that most did not recollect. He pronounces it as the people in the 1950s, naturally and ever so carefully like gift wrapping the most precious of gifts.

Words. Now, thrown so carelessly like they didn’t matter shit.

I actually won second place in a poem writing competition when I was in university. It was a Malay poem, written in August which is the month celebrating the independence day. I had the cheesiest title and the most sarcastic of rhymes. It was called ‘Mereka Kata Hari Ini Kita Cuti’ or ‘They Say Today Is a (Public) Holiday’. I was playing around youth’s perception of celebrating the National Day as a public holiday instead of grasping the meaning behind it. It was meant as a joke, really but I won 2 paperback novels for it. I secretly hated the winner. I figured he probably had more books but I never saw him. The ceremony took place during the weekend and I was at home watching Spongebob Squarepants. The prize was delivered on my study desk and I feel a surge of proud, gold medal winning moment in like 2 seconds. And then I laughed at my pathetic poem.

My father is quite an accomplish poet. I saw some of his poems printed in old newspapers which he kept in a clear album. I saw about 3-4 of them, including an 80% completed manuscript about conflicts in teenagers. I remember one poem about ‘Biskut Kering Dari Eropah’ or “Dry Snack from Europe” which talked about drugs and another poem called ‘Kubasuh Mereka’ (I Washed Them) about purity and innocence in children. Those were not bad at all. He didn’t pursue this career, probably because any career that involves embellishments of pretty words is not paid quite enough to earn a decent living.

And here I am, embellishing like crazy.

I am poor, but not defeated. I hope one day to be able to command my words like a general commanded his army.

And you will surrender and stalk me probably.