Wednesday, December 21, 2011


“Beach rocks are slippery and dangerous. Enter at own risk”, said the sign at the pier.

He smiled wryly at the word. ‘Risk’. A word he has heard all too often in the past decade or so. 
Risk; expressed in percentages of likelihood of success for a particular treatment or surgery, for the number of months he would live. 
Risk; a word he has heard too many times from doctors and loved ones alike. 
He knew a thing or two about risk, he thought as his stick-like legs swung over the low wall of the pier and onto those dangerous beach rocks, the movement unexpectedly graceful.

A deep breath of the salty sea air. Looking around he found a flat rock, and slowly, painfully, he lowered his skinny rump onto it. A sigh of satisfaction which stung his battered ribs. His gaze returned to the sunset on the horizon, the smile returning to his face, albeit tinged with a quiet pain.


Colours of the sky so beautiful almost to seem unnatural. Bands of blue, white and grey…kissed by the fiery orange of the setting sun. Ahead of him an emerald ocean of waves, jagged in its uniformity. On the rocks he felt like being in a fortress. Those brave waves doing nothing but sending white spray which tickle his feet. The irony was not lost to him as once again he smiled wryly: he felt safer on these dangerous rocks than he ever did in the hands of the finest specialists.

His mind gradually emptied, and he looked around at the scenery spread before him. Across the emerald waves three green islands. Virgin beaches twinkled at him from afar. How he would love to feel the fine sand under his skinny toes just one last time, before he leaves…

To his left, the dock. A quaint symbol of Man’s attempts to control his environment.  Masts of anchored yachts stab into the pregnant sky like so many toothpicks. It pained him to look at them, so he averted his gaze upwards.

The salty sea breeze was blowing grey rainclouds to the shore. Lazily they moved along, showering the sea below. Soon the light drizzle kissed the man on the flat beach rock as he closed his tired eyes.

Opening them he viewed directly at the centerpiece of this entire scene – the setting sun itself at the horizon. Partly hidden by clouds, it has made its leisurely way behind the gentle curvature of the ocean afar. The once orange orb now threw an angry red light. Now the clouds were highlighted red on a rapidly dimming blue background. The waves caught this light, and they too glowed a sinister red as they moved closer to the man on the rock.

Suddenly dread gripped his frail heart. He suddenly knew; his final hour has come and gone. Years of expectation, of waiting, have finally come to a close. Doctors have warned of this moment, his loved ones speaking of it in tearful hushed tones. It did strike him as strange that they would not be with him in this much-awaited second. He would be alone.

He reassured his frantic heart. The light drizzle washed away years of misery. Dying rays still peeked over the horizon, seeming to shed some final hope on the dreary scene. He found it a fitting place to breathe his last. 

Later they would find him on that flat rock, the spray still tickling his sickly legs. Despite his tortured physique his face was a picture of calm. Loved ones would say that his smile was different; for the first time in a long time it was finally free from pain.  

His sun has set. But it was beautiful.

Work of semi-fiction.

Inspired by a breathtaking sunset off the coast of Kota Kinabalu.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

existence at the edge of a roof

He is on the roof once again. Stars twinkling ever so subtly above, a breeze of air fresh enough to awaken the dead…it was the first time that day that he has felt so alive.

He takes a breath, drawing that crisp air deep into his lungs. It unlocked the cage which has imprisoned his mind all day. Like a newly-freed dove, it takes flight and starts to wander.


The relief from being on the roof was all too brief. He could never escape those questions. He never would. He never really tried, frankly.

It was past midnight by now. Soon he will have to climb back through the window he used to get on the roof, sneak downstairs and back to the dorm…before the guard begins his rounds in about an hours’ time. He would have to slink back into the dark, into his miserable life again.

He sighed, and pondered the other way he could get off the roof. The drop in front of him was so tempting…he could almost picture himself falling into the damp embrace of the dewed grass below…

The abyss ahead was as tantalizing as it was terrifying. It invited him forward to his death. It would feel so good to let everything go and just take a leap of faith. Wouldn’t it? 

Unsteadily he stood up. He moved forward. Ironically attempting to keep his balance as he edged toward his demise. His mind was set in cold certainty. He was going to do it.

He was at the very edge now. The same breeze which had felt so fresh a little while ago now blew cynically on the back of his neck, egging him on. It was so enticing… One foot lifted off the frigid tin roof. Eyes shut, he leaned forward…

Then, abruptly, instinctively, he fell backwards onto the roof with an almighty clang. Still his position was precarious, and like a caged rat scorched with boiling water he scrambled frantically for a footing. Eventually he calmed down. He was safe, only his feet over the edge.

Slowly, trembling, he backed away towards the top. Hot tears sprang from his eyes. Was he so weak to even take his own life?

On the rooftop he was left alone with his tears. The twinkling stars and cold breeze going on as if nothing had happened. Eventually he raised his head.

And through his tears he stopped merely looking. And he started to observe. The outlines of gnarly trees looked graceful from this distance, the light from a distant town like the glow of a dream.

Through the silence of the night he stopped merely hearing. And he started listening.  The lonely drone of a motorcycle on a bleak country road. The sound or crickets, comforting in its predictable repetition.

He realized that this is why he loved the roof so much – not because of the indifferent stars or breeze. It was the sense that everything around him fit just perfectly. That everything was within sight, within reach.

He knew then that while the roof had been teaching him all this time to observe and not just look, and to listen and not just hear, he had ignored the biggest lesson it offered:

That he had to live, and not merely exist.

How? The answer to that question depended on him. But live he must.

Later he clambered through the window into the obscurity of the building with tears still trailing down his cheeks. But this time they weren’t a sign of weakness, but a sign that he had been strong for too long. And he is stronger than he would ever know.

Work of semi-fiction.

Dedicated to a guy I have the honor of calling a friend. A guy who has faced much troubles – alone – lately. I hope this, in whatever small way, can atone for my lack of support for him through all his problems.

I don’t expect this post to give you answers, bro. Only He can provide that. This is just my attempt at understanding your life these past six months. Ultimately, I will never know. It’s between you and Him.

Perhaps all of us, in some way, is that guy on the roof. Searching for meaning, for answers, for ourselves. What we learn, ultimately, depends on us. But in that very search we forget the people around us who are in the same position, and need help as much as we do. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to look around and tell them (to quote my friend):

“Thank you for existing…”

And then help them live.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

letter to my beautiful adik

Firstly, I apologise. I'm sorry that this letter is a few days late. Been busy. I am also sorry for dropping spaghetti sauce onto your dress during your birthday meal. Really didn't mean to do it. Since I'm at it, I might as well apologise for the rest of the annoying things I've done to you in life. (Beating your head with a badminton racket as a child comes to mind). Sorry.

I have a lot to apologise for. If there was a report card for one's performance as an Eldest Sibling, I probably have a 'Distinction' for the section on "Being Annoying". If anything, that 'Distinction' is probably underlined, in italic and bolded gold; that's just how annoying I've been.

This letter is an attempt to make up for all that. It is a sincere piece of advice – more sincere than any typical RM50 note I normally give you for your birthday.

So, here it is:

You know very well that I am annoyed whenever I see you smiling at the mirror. Whenever you ask me "am I pretty?" I never fail to answer with a sincerely disgusted/dismissive grunt. So it will most probably surprise you that I'm saying this:

You are beautiful.

I just hate it that you have to rely on a camera to convince yourself that you are.

A mirror doesn't tell you how much you mean to your family and friends. Mama, Papa and I know your true beauty – and it's more than skin deep. You are a bright, intelligent and fun young woman. Your personality is more precious than any piece of jewelry or make-up you have. Unfortunately, you lose that beauty sometimes.

You lose your beauty when you smile more genuinely for the mirror, the camera or your friends than to your family. And you are plain ugly when you raise your voice to your parents.

Danny is one person who looks up to your beauty. All he does today seems (to me, at least) to be a reflection of you. He is like you, smart, funny and annoyingly hyperactive. However, like a mirror, he also reflects the worst of you. Don't you hate it when he raises his voice with you? Don't you know you are exactly like that against Mama and Papa sometimes?

One look in the mirror will confirm that you are a fashionable lady. But ask yourself: are you classy? Do you see one who relies on the strength of her own principles or the power of the 'current trend'? I just hate it that you can be so superficial. The comments I hear all too often from you are along the lines of: "She's so pretty", or "I wonder what make-up she uses", or "Ma, can we go to the saloon so I can have her hairstyle?"

The best look for you is YOURS, not Selena Gomez's. You are most beautiful when you are yourself. And to be yourself you must have your own principles.

Keep this in mind: fashion is temporary, but class is forever.

I'm going to sound like Nenek on this next one:

You are beautiful. But there is something else more beautiful: your religion. Unlike Nenek, though, I'm not gonna tell you (melodramatically) to wear a tudung or anything. It's something you have to decide for yourself. I think the answer will be clear after you know you religion. You just have to try.

I feel guilty for saying all this. I know I've not been the best eldest child. Two years ago, I left for PLKN, and a year later, to KMB. I have been cold, distant and rude to Mama and Papa. I've made Mama cry. Lately, I haven't even been around. You have done very well filling in for me as the eldest child of this house, Dik. I am both grateful and proud of you for that.

I guess I'm telling you all this because I need you to keep up the good work. If all goes according to plan, and if God is willing, I will go overseas and barely be around for the next 5 years. I need your score as an Eldest Sibling to be a 'Distinction', and not just beside the "Most Annoying" section like me.

I will never admit face to face that you are beautiful. Perhaps that is why I have to write this letter to tell you all this. But you are beautiful. I just hope that you don't need a mirror or camera to tell you that.

Happy Birthday, Dik.

Hehe...I know I promised you i won't post this pictures. Sorry, I have to. The 'Distinction' I have for "Being Annoying" requires me to do this :p
-work of non-fiction-

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

hate the message, not the messenger

Assalamualaikum dan selamat sejahtera,

Perhatian kepada semua pelajar KMB,


The other day, I met Baki (not his actual name), who told me something which brought me down:

"Mike", he said, "why did you have to make that announcement just now?"

To understand the gravity of his statement, let me tell you a little bit about my job in my college. I am the head of the Public Relations Bureau, which is actually a fancied-up name for a very tedious job – making announcements over the college's PA system. I have been on the job for about 6 months now, and my voice has pretty much become synonymous with announcements.

"Do you know?" Baki continued, "people have become sad at the sound of your voice?"

"Why?" I asked unpretentiously.

"Well, it's just that your voice is always telling us what to do and where to go…imagine how it makes us feel"

Imagine how that made me feel.

Let me get this clear: I am not in love with my job. Yes, I do feel a sense of contentment that my voice is heard, that I have the honour of disseminating info across the college. But the contentment weighs little when compared to the drawbacks of this job.

This job forces me to be "on-call" for approximately 16 hours per day. It is not uncommon for me to be asked to make an announcement just as I am settling in to relax for the day (usually around 6p.m.). Baki himself has asked me to make an announcement calling semi-finalists to his Petanque Club's tournament. That was at 5.45p.m., and I was just settling in for a nap. Instead of resting my eyes, I had to get out of bed, walk all the way to the Warden's Office and make the announcement. At the same time the very next day, Baki asked me to make another announcement - this time for the finals of the tournament.

I would often get messages from people asking me to make an announcement in minutes. No drafts. No rehearsals. Just the announcement. I get such messages all the time. In fact, I would say that 25% of all my messages in the past 6 months starts with the word "Mike, can u pls make an announcement bout…".

But the people who ask me to make those announcements are good people (yes, even Baki). They would thank me, and with a smile, I would tell them: "Don't worry, its my job". As indeed it is. It just saddens me that I am becoming defined by my job. That people look for my face merely because they have something to tell everyone. That, like my namesake, my function is merely to amplify someone's voice, and nothing more.

Today I made a grand total of 6 announcements – which is a record in this college. Maybe that is why I feel the need to unload all my stress here. I am sorry. I realize this job is my responsibility, and I plan to do it well.

But I just want you to remember one thing: that when you hear me making an announcement in the (near) future, you will not gripe at the sound of my voice. Realize that I may not be enjoying making the announcement either.

Try to hear past my voice, and try hearing my heart too.


Sekian, harap maklum.

-work of non-fiction-

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

tears of a clown

The examination hall was pin-drop silent, as an examination hall was supposed to be. There was, however, a hushed discomfort thick in the air; an unspoken anguish. But the teacher in charge of the hall was content. All was well.


The quiet was interrupted by the sound of a pencil being put down. Then a chair being pushed back. The noise was repulsing in its abruptness, but the uneasy silence engulfed the sound as quickly as it had emerged.

Silence once again.

The teacher's bespectacled eyes followed the boy ambling ever so slowly toward her. She sighed as the boy mumbled an inaudible excuse to leave the hall. The teacher never really like that boy. Too noisy. Too animated. A typical class clown.

Silence once again.

Then a strange thud from the outside – though not exactly a thud. It was more like a sickening cracking sound, with the undertone of a sodden impact. The teacher's eyes widened behind her thick glasses. The silence once again broken as her shoes click-clacked swiftly towards the door. A piercing shriek escaped her lips as her eyes met the revolting sight three storeys below.

Silence once again.

As people gathered, stunned. The boy's body lay disfigured by the great fall onto solid concrete. A halo of blood spread from his crushed head.

Later they would find that the boy's exam paper, under a pencil, an eraser, and his ruler; arranged neatly as if he would come back anytime to continue his Biology essay. But the paper did not contain any diagrams of liver cells, or explanations on energy flows in an ecosystem.

Instead, after his name and his class, the 3-page note, in his scrawly writing, began with the words:

"The mask I wear is that of a clown, and I wear it well. But it only serves to hide my tears, for no one cares about the tears of a clown…"