Wednesday, August 15, 2012

not that heavy

When I was a six-year-old boy, I met a 5-year-old girl on the swings by my house. I called her over for a game of Catch, for she was lonely.

When I did her face lit up with a smile which melted my heart. I was in love there and then as she rushed towards me, arms flailing wildly. The next hour was the best of my 6-year-old life as we chased each other round the playground, amused parents looking on.

Eventually a small rock interrupted our glee; she tripped and scraped her knee. I was confused, what was I to do?

She looked up at me, eyes a-twinkle with baby tears. With grimy fingers I wiped them away, and with all the chivalry a pre-schooler could muster I took her in my arms.

I whispered, so as not to let the trembling of my arms make my voice shake:

“You’re not that heavy.”

*                             *                             *

Two decades later and it is the night of our wedding. I had lost my baby fat long ago, to be replaced by muscles at the military. She never lost her chubbiness, but to me she never lost her beauty either.

We were finally alone after a day of noise and celebration, and finally I could tell her the many things I had yearned to over the years.

But there was apprehension in her eyes. She had grown up the butt of jokes, from a society which saw thin as beautiful.

I wanted so much to say what he 6-year-old kid of yesteryear wanted to: that she had stolen my heart, and I did not want it back.

Instead I did what that 6-year-old kid did all those years ago. I picked her up in my arms, though effortlessly now.

She beamed, eyes a-twinkle with joyful tears as I whispered slowly into her ear:

“You’re not that heavy.”

*                             *                             *

Now even that is past, and time has not been kind on me. Today I am paralyzed, emaciated, a skeleton of my old robust self. My eyes were fixed on the old TV set – not because the show was good, but because I just couldn’t turn my head anymore.

A ghostly figure stepped into view. Her smile now tired, desperate even. Eyes no longer a-twinkle. Her figure is tragically gaunt; she has lost all of her chubbiness. Tears well up in my eyes – my wife did not deserve this. If I could still talk I would tell her to just forget me, leave me in a nursery, live what’s left of her life.

Still smiling she stooped over to pick me up. I cursed at myself for burdening her.

But as if reading my mind she whispered slowly as she walked up the stairs:

“You’re not that heavy.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

rusted gates

With old, weary eyes she watches the rusted gates.

She is old. She will not live forever. She wonders if anyone of them will visit today.

They have left the nest, all of them. They have gone to start their own families, chase their own dreams. They have left her.

The rusted gates swing ever so softly; and her heart skips a beat, ever so slightly.

But it was a passing breeze, nothing else. The only one to visit today, the breeze gusts through her white hair, caresses her wrinkled skin, stings those weary old eyes.

Diorang takkan datang harini…semua sibuk kerja”

Said the gruff voice of her husband from the nearby rocking chair, from behind a newspaper held by pained, arthritic fingers.

He puts up a brave face, but she knows he hurts as much as she does.

Slowly, but hopefully, she turns back to those old rusted gates.

Maybe, just maybe, one of them will visit; a kiss from a child now grown up, a carefree cry of a young grandchild to break the monotony of days spent alone. Maybe, just maybe, today will be different from days past and the diminishing days to come. Maybe, just maybe, today she will be happy.

So with old, weary eyes she watches the rusted gates.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

pink school bag

Adik grabs the pink school bag of the table.
“Let’s go, Bang…I’m late!”

I couldn’t help but wonder how little that voice has changed over the years. To me it was still the annoying voice of the 13-year-old girl crying excitedly (and repeatedly):
“First day of school! First day of school…!!”

And yet how different it is now:
“Hellooo? Bang, why you termenung like that?? I’m late-lah…!”
Behind the anxiety there was a maturity in that familiar voice.
It was that of a woman; no longer a girl.

For 3 years Adik was my schoolmate.
Those 3 years I would watch Adik enter the school gates, her pink school bag bobbing up and down behind her.

It hasn’t been too long ago, actually…two years since I left those gates for the last time as a student. But how things have changed in that time.

How different Adik is now:
She has left her ponytail for a fringe.
Her tracksuits for short skirts.
And Barbie dolls for make-up sets.

How I would like to remind her as she steps out into this crazy world...
That guys are never as innocent as they seem.
That family comes first.
That beauty is more than skin-deep.
That her brother will always be there for her.

But those things are left unsaid. As I watch out of the window of my car Adik stepping into the building for her first day of work.

The pink school bag which she still wears bobs up and down behind her.

Friday, January 13, 2012

suap, sayang?

Suap, sayang?

Said the melodious voice. I turned to gaze lovingly at her. As I fed her a spoonful of my rice she looked at me with playful, twinkling eyes. I watched her chewing, her cheeks plump, her lips red and rosy; I wanted to kiss them a thousand times.

“The food here is good”, she said after the rice was finished, “not bad for a new restaurant”

I smiled. The food was good. But the best thing was eating with a lady I had pledged to love for life. We were content; a newly-married couple in a new restaurant.

As the years flew by, we would visit that restaurant regularly. We ate there to celebrate my new job. We ate there to celebrate my wife’s first pregnancy; and not too long after that, my son’s first birthday. We ate there to celebrate a new house, and even when we moved we always made it a point to eat there once every few months.

We ate there even as chefs came and gone, even as the restaurant changed hands and names. Our three children grew up loving the restaurant. We ate there to celebrate exam results and college applications. As they grew up and left home, we never forgot to meet at the restaurant, and share a meal.

And every one of those meals, my wife would ask me:

Suap, sayang?

And everytime I would smile, and feed her some of my rice.

But today will be our last meal here; the restaurant soon to be torn down to make way for newer shops.

The restaurant is now in disrepair; walls yellowing, floor sticky with years of dirt. Some of my grandchildren were visibly disgusted, and my heart fell.

Regret gripped me as I realized that this place will not mean to them what it did to me. But how can I to expect it to be? They did not enjoy the decades of memories which I enjoyed here…

Suddenly, a voice broke my reverie:

Suap, sayang?

The voice of a lady whom has seen better years. The voice now a croak, barely a melody left in it. I turned to gaze lovingly at her. Her eyes have lost its playful twinkle, but still they smiled lovingly at me. With my trembling, Parkinsons-ridden arm I fed her a spoonful of porridge – for after her second stroke she could no longer eat solid foods. And she could barely move her arms.

Her cheeks were wrinkly, her lips withered; but just as I have kissed them a thousand times before, I would still kiss them a thousand more.

“The food here is not bad”, she said after the porridge is finished. And with a wry smile she added, “not bad for an old restaurant”

The meal was good. But the best thing was sharing it with a lady I have loved for 55 years. We were content, an old couple in an old restaurant.

Work of semi-fiction.

Inspired by a couple who gives me hope that love burns eternal: my grandparents.

Happy belated anniversary, Nenek and Atuk! J