“Boss, do you have a minute?”
Lina starts carrying extra bandages around with her.
A gash here, a scrape there, life after the meteors doesn’t come without its injuries. But Lina doesn’t just carry the bandages to help close wounds. She carries it to remind herself that sometimes there will be people she won’t be able to save, that sometime...Learn MoreLina starts carrying extra bandages around with her. A gash here, a scrape there, life after the meteors doesn’t come without its injuries. But Lina doesn’t just carry the bandages to help close wounds. She carries it to remind herself that sometimes there will be people she won’t be able to save, that sometimes there will be rips and tears so deep that she won’t be able to reach. She carries the bandages to remind herself that sometimes even the smallest patch will help. He’s sitting on the rubble, staring out at the river when she comes across him. Tranquil brown waves lap against all that remains of one of the domes of Masjid Jamek. It’s a peaceful scene – one wouldn’t guess from looking at him that fire had rained from the sky here just a few months ago, obliterating buildings and turning steel to dust. She finds it ironic that the very cornerstone where Kuala Lumpur was built was the very first place to fall. The river is no longer a convergence. It is just a single river with a bridge formed out of chaos. “You shouldn’t be out here alone,” she says as she climbs gingerly towards him. “There aren’t a lot of people left who can hurt me,” he replies without looking at her. She sits down beside him and notices him cradling his left hand in his right. “Are you hurt?” she asks. He turns to her. In the reddened light his untidy black hair looks like the colour of dried blood. His gaunt face is full of grime. Beyond that, his eyes are dead. He nods. “Slipped on the way up here and probably cracked a bone,” he says soullessly. Lina can’t tell if he’s trying to mask the pain or if he’s simply lost the ability to feel. He wouldn’t be the first. “The price I have to pay for a few hours of forgetting, I guess.” “Let me see,” she reaches for his hand but he jerks it away before she can touch him. He winces at the sudden movement, and it’s the first time she sees something alive in his face. It’s that little beacon of hope that she always looks for before she goes about patching people up. He blinks and it vanishes behind a veil of death and decay, but’s too late for him. She’s already seen it. “You should go back,” he shifts a little away from her. “The others need you.” “No,” she puts her hand on his knee. He tenses up, and all she really wants to do is put her arms around him and tell him everything will be alright. She doesn’t, though. “Right at this moment, the only person who needs me is you.” She thinks she sees a layer of steel lift from behind his eyes. He lets her wrap up his broken wrist between two scraps of wood that she scavenges from the rubble. He watches her hands as they wind the bandage tight around him. There’s something in his face that seems familiar to her, but she can’t quite tell what it is. Lina is just sticking a band aid over the scratch on his cheekbone, and that’s when it hits her. He has the same look as the musang she used to spy running up and down the fruit trees in her grandfather’s orchard – a little hesitant, a little uncertain, just a little bit wild. “I was on my way home when the Fall happened,” she says without thinking. The thought of her grandfather’s orchard has her mind lurching back to when she was a child. A carefree, innocent child in an orchard where the skies were still blue and the air didn’t smell of blood and ruin. She had always been talkative as a child. Just recently she hasn’t had many people to talk to. He looks at her, but says nothing. “I’d just finished class. I remember when the sky turned red, when the first meteor hit. One minute I was chatting with my friend and the next I was talking to no one.” Her fingers are still pressed to the bandage on his cheek. She can feel herself shaking. The world is falling down around her all over again, and there's an acrid smell of burning in the air. “From then on I’ve been by myself. I was never a tough kid, you know. But I knew I had to survive. So I did what I had to do, even if those things made me the most terrible person on earth. Do you understand me?” She looks back at him. His expression is completely clear, attentive even, but the hollow darkness behind his gaze lingers. She knows it isn’t something that can be filled so easily. “You know, the guilt haunts you even more than the physicality of actually doing it. I have more nightmares of people than of the world burning around me; of all the people I should have saved but did the complete opposite. It’s not easy trying to rinse the blood from your hands, but I’m trying. I patch people up when they need it the most. Sometimes it's better to not forget.” She smooths down the band aid and moves away slightly. “You remind me of a musang. I used to shine lights on them when I heard them in my grandfather’s fruit trees. Have you ever seen them?” He shakes his head. “They’re quite harmless.” He doesn't thank her when she’s done. She sits down beside him, watching the water lap calmly over the debris. She wonders how many disasters these waves have washed over, how much destruction they hold within their watery depths. She wonders how far down she will have to go to fix this broken boy beside her. Then: “I’m Chen.” She looks at him. His smile is nothing more than a shadow of what she’s sure it used to be, wavering on the brink of extinction, but it is there nonetheless. A little glimmer of life. She reaches out and puts her hand over his bandaged one. He flinches slightly but doesn’t move away. Lina smiles, squeezes his fingers once, and lets go. “I’ll remember you.” She draws her knees up to her chest and rests her head on them, looking up at the red-tinged sky. The light of the setting sun paints her hands ruby red. “I remember everyone I fix.” Lina starts carrying extra bandages around with her in case she comes across people who need them. She patches up wounds, closes up gashes. She talks, but never about herself. Sometimes she dreams she’s back in her grandfather’s orchard, running around the trees with a musang that never leaves her side. Sometimes she doesn’t dream at all. And sometimes when she runs out of hope, of reasons, of bandages, Chen hands her a new roll and reminds her that sometimes even the most broken people are worth saving.... Read more
I believe it is accurate to say that Iranians have more tea running through their veins than blood. Perhaps for many it has even replaced water. To take away an Iranian’s tea is like taking away a Malaysian’s belacan (shrimp paste). It is the very essence of their existence and identity. I happen to like both t...Learn MoreI believe it is accurate to say that Iranians have more tea running through their veins than blood. Perhaps for many it has even replaced water. To take away an Iranian’s tea is like taking away a Malaysian’s belacan (shrimp paste). It is the very essence of their existence and identity. I happen to like both tea and belacan. But this is a story about tea; perhaps another time belacan can be the hero. It is no secret that my house loves to fling its doors wide open to guests, admittedly more than I am comfortable with; so much so that my friends call it a hotel. Although, a ‘paying’ guest would be a great insult to the hospitable cultures from both my parents’ sides. More than often these guests happen to be from my father’s part of the world, Iran, which hints at which culture has managed to dominate our household. When the guests arrive, usually an hour after the agreed time, I am propelled into my single most hated social etiquette, the tea-serving ritual. A meal without the prerequisite of tea would be extremely rude, thus tea should be the first thing served to an Iranian guest. Never forget this. The girls of the host family are required to carry out this ritual with utmost care and grace, as one of the guests might be looking for a new addition to their family. This ritual can be thought of as an unspoken audition for potential brides. Tea-serving is serious business. The moment the guests rest their royal bottoms on a seat, the number of cups must be allotted to the number of guests. The tea must be served piping hot, never warm, must have absolutely no traces of bubbles, for that resembles, pardon my language, donkey urine, as my friend explained once, and must have the color of mahogany, and of course, must be poured into transparent glasses so the guests may evaluate the color for themselves. My mother used to serve tea to my father in opaque mugs and he would complain about the tea being tasteless. He found the same tea infinitely more delicious when she switched to clear glasses. Tonight, I will be serving nine people. If my younger sister was here I’d force her to do it for she made the terrible mistake of letting me know how much she detested serving tea and I exist purely for her misery. Alas, she is studying in another country, probably even missing tea-serving if it meant that she could stay home. The tea is poured, the tray is wiped, and my shawl is fixed and ready to go. It is important to remember that no matter how many hot steaming cups of tea one is carrying, one must never let on to how heavy the tray really is. Women are good at hiding things like that with a smile, I was told. It is the server’s job to assess whether the guest would prefer their cup to be placed in front of them or if they’d like to take it themselves. I bend down with the tray easily accessible to the guests, careful not to reveal anything that is not to be revealed. I lower myself in front of each individual, the ultimate humbling gesture. They each murmur a ‘thank you’ and I mutter ‘khahesh mikonam’ in reply, nine times. I place 3 small bowls of sugar cubes at arm’s length, one for every 3 people. Silently I retreat to the kitchen to prepare the next batch of tea for one cup is never enough. In a traditional household a samovar would be used but it’s too big and bulky to bring from Iran. I’ll have to make due with a small electrical kettle instead. Since my elder sister got married, she has come to group herself among the guests rather than the hosts and I guess I am ok with that since I wouldn’t know what to do if I was not serving tea. My younger sister and I are closer in age and find it more difficult to be included in the host-guest exchanges than our elder sister. You can say she is more Iranian than us. I often wonder how I would have turned out had my mother not enrolled us in Malaysian public schools and let us finish our schooling in the Iranian school like my elder sister did. Would it be easier to find us nice Iranian husbands? It is usually in between servings that I begin to regret my poor cultural background, robbed by television and the internet like most other children of my time. Before I know it, it’s time for the second serving. Almost always people go for a second round, the third is reserved for the die-hard tea addicts which I suspect are the males of the group. I was just about to take the thermos out to refill their cups when my sister stopped me short. “What do you think you’re doing?” Innocently I answer “I’m going to pour tea.” “You can’t just pour it in front of them!” “But I poured Mr. M’s tea like that the other day.” “Maybe for Mr. M it’s ok, but not for Mrs. Z!” Until then I had foolishly thought that I had mastered the art of serving tea; I was wrong. I collect the guests’ cups and ask who would like more tea. The men, as suspected wanted refills. I deftly collect the cups, arranging them in order or the guests seating arrangements and dash to the kitchen for another batch. Until recently I wasn’t a huge fan of tea and that made me resent the act of tea serving. Then a poured myself a big glass of fresh tea and figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I pick up the tray for the last time tonight and head to the living room. After serving tea I pull up a chair and join the guests, wishing my younger sister was there to share my silence in a sea of conversation. Next time, she will serve. ... Read more
I often think about that particular commute to the heart of the city, my city. Three years and many commutes in, I could still remember every single detail of that day. How the trees danced to the wind, the odour, the rocks, how the track winded, the emptiness of the compartment at that time of the day, the announ...Learn MoreI often think about that particular commute to the heart of the city, my city. Three years and many commutes in, I could still remember every single detail of that day. How the trees danced to the wind, the odour, the rocks, how the track winded, the emptiness of the compartment at that time of the day, the announcements repeated in multiple languages, the individual who sat next to me, empty mind with his costly earphones plugged in, the song on loop and the guilt that never left. I lived on the outskirts. I was one out of the 7.2 million people living here in the city, and it was easy to feel lost. I wanted to feel lost. The heart of the city was my hiding place. The buildings, they shelter me. I could be anything and anybody I wanted for that few hours. On this particular commute, all I wanted was to open a can of beer and watch the sun set over the fields. I wanted to open another and be among the city lights. To top it all off, I wanted to do this alone. Was this what freedom feels like? Because if it is, it’s awfully lonely. Then again, loneliness was an old friend whereas helplessness was someone I did not want to greet. I remembered being lost in the city. I retraced my steps as per usual but only this time, I kept reappearing at the exact spot every five minutes. Even the cat on the sidewalk was getting used to seeing me. The city I knew inside out was somehow alien, and nothing like I had mapped out in my mind. My trusted phone couldn’t seem to point me in the right direction. Nobody in this over polluted and populated city could point me in the right direction. My brain was going haywire. I wanted to feel lost in my mind, not physically lost. I desperately needed a cup of coffee. Without my familiar café in sight, I went to the nearest McDonalds and got an Americano, without sugar – the usual. It tasted like acid. It was disgusting. How on earth did something so familiar such as coffee became so foreign? One gulp in, and into the bin, it went. I went into the toilet to freshen up with hopes that it’ll do me better than that awful cup of coffee. Why do people even enjoy this? Why did I use to enjoy this drink? I looked up and stared into the bathroom mirror, not recognising myself at all. I had bags under my eyes, my skinny jeans were loose and all I could conclude was that the splash of water didn’t help me at all and all I knew was that I was on the run. Unbeknownst to me, the sight of you that I have ingrained in my memory that got me fleeing to my hiding place, I saw it for the next 72 hours. Everything was the same, wasn’t it? You, the coffee and the city, except nothing was really the same. Maybe I wasn’t. We had a knack for numbers, I recalled. It wasn’t anything new or colourful. Numbers were easy, it was logic as you always say. It was black and white and it tells no lies. The length it took for you to get my heart all warmed up and fuzzy, the pressure for every ruffle on the hair, the time taken for each hug, the weight we carry on our shoulders. We could always count it. Laughter added years into our lives, work and stress subtracted some of them. The day I came out of the womb multiplied your family and your love had to be divided equally. It was easy, quantifiable and all logic. The commute was when all logic flew out of the window and all flipped upside down. It was when math stopped making sense. Right there and then after that very phone call, my constant became a variable. How did the graphs we believed that will never intersect the bottom of the axis did so soon? When did it come to the point when probability got the better of us and dictated the victory or loss for you and me? When did the odds stop playing in our favour? Have we been playing a losing game, or have you knocked yourself out so that I can make something out of this game that is impossible to win? Did you lose, so that I could win? I took no victories on that day. I lost the ability to count, to quantify and allowed the computer to do all the work for me. My brain was fuzzy and there was no amount of logic that could help me make sense of this. The numbers were computed for me to see how far you were gone. Was I lucky to be able to do one last math problem or count with you? I’m not so sure anymore. The last thing we counted together was how much your muscle was trying to keep you alive, the pressure of your blood tensing up the entire room and the clock ticking by. The only thing I managed to count by myself were the years of service we did together for our cruel master called life. Sixteen years. Sixteen years of honour, privilege and the biggest lesson of all, to love and to be loved. Sixteen years was not enough and it'll never be enough. I could only hope for more. The first count came after the last two days after. Did we have to put you into a box or did we have to put you six feet under? There were decisions to be made and cost to be counted. I went into your old office and took the one thing that meant the most to you and me – the calculator. As much as you try to increase someone’s life exponentially, there was absolutely nothing you can multiply a zero to. Math was black and white and that, I understood. These feelings that couldn’t be expressed, I couldn’t comprehend. There were no tears. Death of one,Burial of many. Here I am, sitting on the ledge, contemplating to free fall and accelerate at the gravity constant into the lot next to yours. However, the slope of my graph is not at its peak. Perhaps, only when it decides to crash into the axis like yours, but today isn’t the day. ... Read more
Glossary Sofreh (Farsi) – A large piece of cloth that is laid on the floor to serve food on. Guests will sit around it on the floor during meal times. The sofreh can also be found in plastic or disposable paper forms.
Jabez lumbered wordlessly under the ebbing moon.
The morning was gloomy and shady .I realized that I was so lonely now. After she left me here, I did not want to live in this anymore.
‘Foster Orphanage’. A big signboard sparked through my eyes. I was confused why mom stopped the cab here. She gave me a...Learn MoreThe morning was gloomy and shady .I realized that I was so lonely now. After she left me here, I did not want to live in this anymore. ‘Foster Orphanage’. A big signboard sparked through my eyes. I was confused why mom stopped the cab here. She gave me a woven bag full of my clothes. I did not know when she packed this for me. Then, mom take my thin body to her chest then hugged me tightly. “I love you so much Honey, you will be safe here, and please do not worry about me”, Mom whispered at me softly. My brain cannot order my eyes to cry even a drop because so confused by this situation. Then, a tall white beard man came near to me and held my shoulder. “Hello Clover ,my name is Foster Graham. Can I help you with your luggage ?”,asked him politely. Another question mark for me. How does he knew my surname that only my family used to call me. I gave my bag to him and followed his footsteps to the nice wooden door. I turned my head and realized the cab was gone and no more sign of my mom’s blonde hair. I stepped my foot across the door .The hallway was fully decorated with floral wallpapers and hanging frames. I had recognized Mr. Foster portrait when he was young. Another picture made my heart soothed, a picture of a couple with their daughter. That reminded me about my family. I had never seen my father face even in our photo album. Mr. Foster took me to my place, a lovely double-decker bed. The room was not so big but enough for two of us. I had wondered how my roommate would be like. Mr. Foster said that they were in school right now and will be home at lunch hour. My clock showed the hour needle past eleven .I had some time to set up my place so nothing will be bothering my friend. ‘Do not worry, everyone will be nice to you at here”, said Mr. Foster while smiled at me. While I lied on my bed, my clock ticked shows that it was 12 noon. Soon ,I heard a bus stopped in front of this house and I can saw it from my window. A dozen of child and teenagers ran to be the first to knock the door. Suddenly, a woman wearing an apron opened the door first. They rushed into the house maybe because their tummies were begging for food. I heard a knock on the door. “Hi, my name is Suzie ”,she lend her hand to me while her face frowned a bit. “Hi, nice to meet you. My name is Susan, I am new in here”, replied me in a way to not being a rude girl. She then put her bag and took my hand to the dining hall for lunch. She said that Mrs. Foster had made her favorite meal, ‘Mac n Cheese’. When the both of us arrived at the table, the other girls were making weird faces at us. They were looking each other at each other until Mr. and Mrs. Foster came to the table. “I am glad you all are safely reached home. Like I had said to all of you, we have one new friend from the town 2 block from here. We are happy if she can introduce herself to us” ,said Mr. Foster with his wife at his side. Then, I let they knew my name, my family and where I lived before. After that, we all enjoyed the ‘Mac n Cheese’ made by Mrs. Foster. We had spare time until 3 o’ clock before the class to finish our homework start. Suzie told me a lot about this orphanage. Suzie was sent here by her aunt since she was 7 years old. 3 years at here made herself more happy to stay here. She told me about how Mr. and Mrs. Foster came up with the idea to make their house as an orphanage. She heard that their daughter was been kidnapped but until now ,there were no sign of their daughter yet. Mr. Foster hope that by taking care of the orphans can bring back their daughter as a blessing from God. “You both looks alike to me”, said the tallest girl in here. “We also thinking like that ,said the other girls in there. Then, they asked apologized to me because did not introduce themselves to me. I got to know the oldest one in here, Sarah, 13 years old and also Rebecca ,Margaret and Mandy all were in the different ages. They all want the both of us to ask Mrs. Foster about our family. I had thinked that it was too early for me being that curious. There would be some people had the same face. That night before sleep , Suzie told me that she really wanted to see her father and mother. She also made me wanted to know where my father was before this. We woke up and take our bath then tide our bed. We were sure that the breakfast was ready.Gladly , food were prepared on the table but only Mrs. Foster was there. “Are we twins Mrs. Foster ?” asked us both. “Maybe yes”, replied Mrs. Foster while giggling. Our face turned sad then suddenly the other girls came to the table. “Let us take our breakfast, after this help me at the kitchen, will you?” ,asked she nicely. We just nodded our head to her as sign of agreed. Suzie and I brought all the plates to the sink to wash it. While we were busy with that, Mrs. Foster told about my mom. She was not my real mom and Suzie’s aunt was just a friend of my mom. Suzie wa been taken by my mom friend in the age of 5 as the same like me. Because of economic factors, she let Suzie raised by Mr. and Mrs. Foster. The reason why we were been taken was our father. He was addicted to drug, alcohol and gambling. He would abused our mother if he lost or did not get his drug. My new mom and his friend took a fast action before anything happened to the both of us. ‘Your mom used to came here every Sunday to talk with your twin ,Susan” said Mrs. Foster. My mom just wanted us to meet when I was old enough so somebody can tell the truth behind it. “Can we meet our real mother ?”,asked Suzie. Mrs. Foster promised to bring us to our mother tomorrow, Sunday. Mrs. Foster called the both of us early in the morning. We entered their car. Mr. Foster was already in the car to heat up the engine. After we buckled up the seatbelt, the tires moved the forward. We passed a lot of tall building until we met a traffic light. Mr. Foster took the right junction. Suzie and I did not got any idea where we were heading. “Finally, your mother place”, sigh Mr. Foster. White Asylum. A huge white building that amused us and also made me questioned. Mr. and Mrs. Foster told us to follow them to see our real mother. We need to take the lift and entered Ward No. 3 and crossing many beds with people who were yelling, singing and laughing by themselves. We stopped at bed 23. A short-hair woman sat on the bed. “Good morning, Valerie. Today we are bringing together your kids. Susan and Suzie”, said Mr. Foster while pushing the both of us closer to the bed. Mother just acted awkward and touched our face. Then, she pushed me away from me. She screamed while pulling her hair. “I do not have anybody! I do not need anybody!” , the words came out for the first time I met my real mother. Mrs. Foster told me that our mother had an incredible mental pressure because of our father made violence upon her. She just need some time to recover her memory of her womb-child. I embraced myself to be closer to her and asked Suzie to be on the other side. I took her hand and hold it tightly. I let my lips close to her ears. “Mom, I miss you so much .I am staying at Foster’s house, an orphanage. Glad to see you here in front my own eyes.”, I let all of my words from my little heart. I introduce my twin to her. I convinced her by staring to our identical faces and hair. Mom then smiled to the both of us. I got a chance to feed mom because it is lunch our at the time. “Where is dad now,mom?”, asked Suzie slowly. Mom then threw up the bowl of soup until it fell to the floor. Mom been so rage. She pulled our hair until our head were close enough. Mr. Foster called the nurse to help us. The nurse injected mom with a syringe then she fell asleep. Mr. and Mrs. Foster said that we need to come out from this place after the nurse told them to. I wished that mom would be more happier the next time we visit her here. The next day, after finishing my day in a new school, my blonde mom paid me a visit. I brought together my twins to meet her. “Mother, can we go to where you took the both of us? “, I asked politely. Mom eyes suddenly shined with tears. She hugged the both of us while whispered, “Sure, I will take you there on this Saturday. I promise.” We smiled to each other and also to our mom. Days we were waited soon came. Mom drove her car and picked us in front of Foster’s house. Mom said that she did not been there so long after our mom being warded in the asylum. There were a lot of standing grasses all over the place. Then, we arrived at a wooden house that had holes all over it. “Let see if anybody home. This is where my friend and I took the both of you.”, smiled mom to us. We entered the house while sniffing a unpleasant smell. The house was so untidy, unarranged and messy. Maybe because father did not have time to clean it alone. “Help!” We heard a slow voice behind a unclosed door. We found two bodies lied on a mat. My father and a teenager. Father’s right leg was infected maybe after he got AIDS. It was usual disease for drug addicts. The girl’s hand and leg were amputated crossly. I suddenly remembered the face of Foster’s daughter. She got the same eyes and nose in the frame hanged on their wall. “Help me. My belly was been stabbed by this monster beside me.” , said the girl begged. “He is my father!” , Suzie shouted to her. The girl told her name and she was really the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Foster. She had been kidnapped by my father friend and sent here. Her hand and leg been amputated from herself because tried to punch and kick one of my father friend. She had been here for a long time. From the summer of 2000‘s until now she was 15 years old. We can saw her body full of scars. Her thin body showed that how much they feed her daily. “Your father had raped me for a lot of time. Punches that can you all see from my face. I do not why I need to suffer this. I was like the same normal kid when I was your age but why me! “,she cried, screaming. Suddenly we heard growl from my dad. He looked like had something to say to the both of us. “Are you both my daughter ?”, pain came with his voice, deeply. We nodded to him. Tears rolled over his face while holding our hand with his rough hand. “I was sad because being a bad father to you two. I wish I can hug you two for the last time” ,asked him like persuading me. While I wanted to lean my body to him , my mom saw he had a knife in his hand. She quickly grabbed a plank and smacked on my father head. We were so glad mom did that for saving our life. Dad exhaled faster. His chest was waved like a storm in the sea. Then, it stopper. Dad died in front of us, his own daughter that she wanted to kill before. “Happy to see you in hell, freak! “, Foster’s daughter laughing. Mom then wanted to help the girl by tried to see her wound in her belly. It was full of flee worm, bleeding with gore. I can saw her hopeless face also looked on herself ,her leg and hand. She grabbed my father’s knife and stabbed on her chest in a way to commit suicide. Suzie and I screamed loudly. We were planning to bring her back to her own house where my twin and I used to stay but it all end with blood and tears. We called for the ambulance to take the dead bodies and police to investigate this house. I cannot say any word after passed the horrible death of my own father and the girl I saw when entered Mr. Foster house. When we arrived to the orphanage, Mrs. Foster asked how my father condition. I just can say he was fine. I was glad this house had no television so they would not saw the news about daughter. The story that played that day would only be bedtime stories for the both of us. -The End-... Read more
Her breathing was quick and shallow, even as she desperately tried to steady it with deep breaths. Her vision went blurry for a moment, her sight obscured by the tears threatening to spill down her cheeks. She rapidly blinked them away, thinking to herself over and over again that Read more
I met him during the orientation for first year students. Back then, I didn’t know a single thing about him besides for one simple fac...Learn More I met him during the orientation for first year students. Back then, I didn’t know a single thing about him besides for one simple fact; I was instantly attracted towards him the moment my eyes first found him. He had an average height like the other boys, yet he had striking features; light complexion, short and diligently styled hair, and a pair of lips that never seemed to stop talking. Haha. He was quite the chatterbox. To recapitulate, his name was simply a crucial piece of information that I must obtained. Thus, acquired it I did, but not until I had discovered that he was in the same course as I am; Diploma in Computer Science, Multimedia. I had trouble memorizing people’s names during the first week, but his was one of the rare exceptions. When a name was finally given to a face, moreover, his face, boy was I on cloud nine. His name was Iqbal. In our course’s Whatsapp group, he was, as expected, included in the rowdy ones. I was shy with the opposite sex and wasn’t fully adjusted to college life yet. The combination of these two resulted in me never uttering a single word to him, even in group chats. Yes. It sucked to be me. Only in the third week, I repeat, the third week, that I started being friendly to the boys in my course. Previously, I was too nervous to even smile at them, so I may come off as cold but I gradually managed to. One time, he was sitting on the bench in front of the library, alone. It was fascinating to see how quiet he became when his group of friends weren’t around. He lifted his face up at the sound of my friends talking (I stopped joining them the moment I spotted him, which, must I mention here, was from quite a distance away). It was brief, but his eyes met mine and I gathered the courage to smile at him. He returned it and my heart jumped happily. That night, I was laying on my bed, relaxing after a long day. I opened my Instagram account and went to his profile. I had found out about it weeks before; I was just too much of a coward to even request to be his follower. I took a deep breath and steeled my nerve. The request button was quickly tapped before I could change my mind. Done. Now, it was a torturous waiting game. I distracted myself by playing a game on my phone. I did that for almost an hour before two notifications popped up on the top of the screen. One, he approved of my request. Two, he requested to follow me back! I let out a gleeful squeal, to which my roommate, Zara, just looked at me with a weird look before shaking her head. I grinned at her before returning my focus to the phone held in my hand. He wanted to follow me! Of course, there was only one logical course of action. I immediately approved, not even waiting a minute more. After that, well, you guessed it. I began scrolling through his profile, watching every story that he made and liking his new posts. To my pleasant surprise, he was one of the people that constantly, without fail, watched my stories and hit the like button on my posts. I wasn’t expecting that, since we were not in the same ‘clique’. A few days after, he replied to one of my stories. I was shocked as it came out of nowhere. It was awkward for me at first but eventually I grew more comfortable as we continued chatting. We talked about ourselves; where we’re from, our interests, and so on. Time flew by and before I knew it, we had been chatting for two hours straight. I genuinely enjoyed the conversation though. We kept on chatting often after that. In real life, we started to talk to each other and make jokes. At one point, he invited me to eat out, which I hesitantly yet excitedly agreed to. Mind you, it wasn't just the two of us there. He brought some of the boys from our course while I brought the girls. I wasn’t the kind of person who constantly went out with my friends, let alone boys. So, you could imagine my anxiousness. Thankfully, it went well and I had fun. As the weeks passed by, what started as a little attraction transformed into a full-blown crush. I loved spending time with him, talking to him, talking about him… Everything concerning him was very interesting to me. We started hanging out more and I became closer to his group of friends that I could consider them my group of friends too. It was strange at first to be hanging out with them but we clicked faster than expected. They were really some amazing people. I talked to my girlfriends, especially Zara, the one closest to me here, about him so often that I should be grateful they were still willing to listen. I also talked about him to my best friends from secondary school. They listened to me despite their busy schedules and offered me advices like telling me to take care of myself and, more importantly, my heart, since they noticed how much I had fallen for Iqbal. I shrugged their advices, laughing them off. Then, our Computer Science club which combined Multimedia and IT students had our Comstarian Day (Comstar was the short form for our club; it was a really long yet cool name). It was held at Taman Tasik Permaisuri. The park was very huge and immensely beautiful. We had an explorace and I was grouped together with him and Saif, one of my coursemates. For some reason, ever since I had known Saif, I kept on getting this cold, hostile vibe from him. We had talked before, but he always seemed aloof when we did, as opposed when he was talking to the others. I frowned as his icy stare was directed to me before I averted my gaze. God, I certainly hoped this would all turned out well. Luckily, my concern about Saif quickly disappeared because of Iqbal. We had a really good time completing our missions at various checkpoints alongside our other group members, well, besides Saif, that was. He did laugh and seemed to be enjoying himself, but the smile in his eyes perished when he caught me staring at him. I was annoyed. What was wrong with him? Anyways, back to Iqbal. He was being the perfect gentleman. There was a railing that we had to go under and I was the last person to made it pass. Iqbal was in front of me and he gestured for me to go first. I gave a slight smile, heart fluttering. As I ducked under the railing, though, my right foot twisted and I could feel a sharp pain at my ankle. I winced a little before walking to join the others, pretending that nothing happened. It hurt as I tried to walk as normal but so far, no one noticed. I didn’t want to burden them and made them worry. As we were heading to next checkpoint, though, I noticed Saif giving me a weird look before glancing away. Huh. Our group was finally finished and we gathered at a clear spot with the other groups. Iqbal was with his friends a few distances away from me, snapping some pictures together. They suddenly called out to me and asked me to join them, to which I happily did. Iqbal unexpectedly requested for a picture of just us two in it. I blushed and his friends started to laugh, urging me to do it. I finally agreed, and I could feel my body temperature rising as he closed the gap between us, standing very close to me that we nearly touched each other. His friend took several pictures of us together and sent them to me. We… kind of looked good together. Afterwards when we were back to the hostel, I hung out at the foyer at night, watching television down there. I was engrossed in the movie that I didn’t notice someone standing next to my comfy chair. The person cleared his throat and I looked up. It was Saif. He held out something to me. It was a massage oil. I frowned in confusion, not knowing what was happening. He sighed before leaving it on the armrest of my chair, muttering that it was for my ankle before walking away. I was still in a blur and when I realized what was happening, I yelled out his name, since he was almost gone from the foyer. He, and some other students at the foyer, turned to look at me. I didn’t mind the others and thanked him, loudly. He gave a small nod and left. Who would’ve guessed, huh. A month passed. I rarely saw Zara after classes these days. When I asked her about it, she was evasive and changed the subject. My other girlfriends had no idea what she had been up to as well. The same went for Iqbal. We barely ate out together anymore. When I asked his friends, they kept mentioning that they too did not know his whereabouts. Their behaviours made me worried. Why did it feel like the two of them just weren’t around anymore? It was the weekend and I went out with my girlfriends to Setapak Central. We watched a recently released movie and went to one of the restaurants there. When we were waiting for our orders to arrive, one of my friends nudged at my side and pointed to someone. It was Zara! Her table was across the restaurant from us, and she did not notice us. There was a boy with her and I squinted my eyes to clearly see his face. It was Iqbal. My blood froze as I saw their fingers intertwining on the table, smiles on both of their faces. My girlfriends saw the same thing, and looked at me with pity and concern. I abruptly stood up, muttering something about needing some air before grabbing my handbag and getting out of the restaurant. I went outside the mall and leaned against the wall. Tears were slowly starting to form in my eyes, and my heart felt as if it was broken into a thousand pieces. How could they? Zara knew about my feelings for Iqbal and Iqbal, he… I just didn’t know what to think anymore. I couldn’t go back inside, not after what I just witnessed. I considered booking an Uber and going back alone to the hostel when someone gently tapped my shoulder. I was startled and swiftly wiped my tears away as I saw that it was someone I didn’t expect to meet today. Saif. He didn’t ask the reason behind my watery eyes, or the fact that I was alone outside the mall. Instead, he just mentioned that he was heading back to the hostel and asked if I wanted to come along, saying something about him already booking an Uber. I immediately agreed. During our ride, he sat at the front with the driver while I sat at the back. He paid for the full amount and refused my money. We walked silently into the hostel’s compound and before we parted to our respective directions, he suddenly did the unexpected again. He told me that everything would be okay, that I would get through this. That he would be there for me if I ever needed someone to talk to. Just as I was processing his words, he began walking away. The following days, I gave the silent treatment to both Zara and Iqbal. I found out from his friends that Zara had always been the one Iqbal was targeting for. He was merely using me to get closer to her, and some of them knew about it. Zara felt the same way about him and didn’t even think to let me know about it. I was filled with anger and sadness when l learned the truth. My best friends from secondary school were right to give me those advices. How could I be such an idiot? That was all in the past now. I was now in my second year and my roommate had changed. Eventually, Iqbal and Zara apologized to me for what they did, along with some of Iqbal’s friends. I forgave them, but things would never be the same again between us. After all, the saying ‘forgive and forget’ wasn’t logical. No one could forget it when their trust had been broken. We still talked to each other, yes, but unlike before. I was thankful that my girlfriends and Saif were there for me when I needed them the most, especially Saif. We became closer as time passed, and I was glad to had someone like him in my life.... Read more
It was dark. A silhouette of a girl can be seen in the dimness of the light. She was sitting there, alone, at the edge of the room looking into the dark resembling the image s...Learn MoreIt was dark. A silhouette of a girl can be seen in the dimness of the light. She was sitting there, alone, at the edge of the room looking into the dark resembling the image she often saw in so many bad dreams. The same room. The same silence and odour. The same strangeness and unexplained eeriness. On the floor, there were colour pencils scattered among the paint brushes. The drawing board blocked the only window as the moonlight creeped through the windowsill. The darkness is the undecipherable labyrinth, representing the death of hope. Amelia, the girl sitting in the dark, allowed her mind to wander deeper, to understand why the image re-emerged. “Amelia, are you okay?” asked her older brother, James. He has been watching her for minutes before decided to push open the door and break the silence. Amelia slowly turned and faced him. Her eyes were empty, as empty as the house when their mother died years ago, leaving him and Amelia with their father who was barely there for them. James remembered those days when Amelia cried for their mother for days, until she has no more tears and no more voice. Literally, she just refused to talk. Outside, the owls were hooting loudly. “Amelia, are you okay?”, James asked for the second time as he looked at her. “Please God, don’t let us through this again”, he muttered silently. He understands well the symptom of depression, the ones he learned in the health classes he took at school. Amelia, his once jovial sister, was diagnosed with a severe depression after so many years trying to understand her refusal to communicate orally. Amelia stood slowly and walked from the room with a sketchbook in her hand. A sketchbook that she guarded like a box of pirate’s treasure. No one dared to take that away from her because it stirred the monster in her. She went crazy once, breaking and throwing things when father tried to take the sketchbook away while she was sleeping. She walked out to the hallway, leaving James in awe of their situation. “Amelia, stop!”, said James, strode slowly as if trying to catch his sister’s trail. Again, he was ignored. “Em! Please!”, he begged, using the nickname he used to call her when they were still small. She stopped abruptly on her track. James almost ran into her but stopped just in time. “Happy Birthday, Em!”, he said slowly. “Fifteen today, huh?” James asked as both of them walked to the kitchen. Amelia nodded awkwardly. This is the eighth year for them to celebrate this birthday without their mother. “You know what Em, let’s go out to our favourite diner. I just got my first pay”, he explained, trying to look excited. “Let me buy you a special treat”, said James again. Amelia turned to face him, her eyes wide. This time, she didn’t just see through him! She is actually looking at his face, as if trying to say something painful. James saw her face turned pale, her right hand was clutching her sketch book tight and her eyes screamed in silence. Suddenly, Amelia trembling, no, her body started to shake. James panicked. “Amelia, please!”, he pulled her into her arms. “Stop this! We need you, I need you. Let us start afresh! You, me and daddy!”, he teared up. “We love you. I hate seeing you like this”, James sobbed into her hair. He can feel her body tensed. She started to free herself violently from his grip. Pulling herself away as if James was the monster that has been chasing her every night in her nightmare. “Amelia!” James shouted and let go. He no longer cried. He wiped his tears as his sadness was suddenly replaced by anger. “Fine! Just go where the demon asked you!”, James shouted as years of frustration has finally creeped in. “You are so good at this! At hurting yourself! And at hurting us!”, he continued. “Just go then! If it makes you happy! But please know one thing, Em. I am sure mom won’t be happy seeing you like this!”, James started to turn his back and leave. He had enough. He tried to understand, to be compassionate, to learn to listen, but nothing seemed to work with Amelia. He walked towards he door, leaving Amelia alone when suddenly, something hard whacked his back. As he turned to glance, he heard a loud scream. Amelia! Amelia screamed! James immediately looked at the floor. Amelia just hit him with the sketchbook. He bended and took the sketchbook, flipping the pages one by one. Amelia started sobbing, and fell on her knees screaming and curling her body in agony. “I killed her!”. James raised her face from the book upon hearing the voice. A voice he almost forgot. “Amelia!?”, he ran to her. In Amelia’s hand was a paper, crumpled tightly in her fist. James grabbed and opened it slowly. “It’s my fault. I killed her!”, she whispered in between her tears. James read the old and crumpled paper, yellowed over time. He couldn’t make out some of the words. One thing for sure, it was written a long time ago, by an innocent child. “Dear mommy. I hate that I have disappointed you. I know I don’t score well in exam. I lied to you so many times. I was in detention always as I was caught sketching in my class! Forgive me for being your daughter” James recalled what had happened that day. Everyone was frantic when Amelia could not be found. Not even in her usual hiding place. Mother has started crying. She grabbed her car keys despite father’s warning not to drive. James ran along behind her, trying to catch her. He managed to climb into the back seat. Mother seemed to know where she was going. We stopped at Sarah’s home, Amelia best friend. “Stay in the car James”, he remembered his mother’s instruction. After a few minutes, he heard Amelia screaming as mother dragged her to the car. She tried to free herself but mother was adamant that she should come with us. She kicked and pulled herself away and tried to run across to Sarah’s home. Suddenly, out of nowhere a car came out. Mother screamed and ran, pulled Amelia in her arms as if to shield her. James remembered that day well, the day where he saw his mother’s body knocked by that small red car, with Amelia in her arms. Both of them was send to the hospital and James just could cry hoping for the best. Amelia suffered minor injury. Mother, has sadly died after a month in a hospital. She has never awakened from her coma. Since that incident, Amelia has stopped talking. She only talked to her sketchbook. A story she never told anyone but the sketchbook. James understand now. She abused her own feelings. Abused her own soul because of those incidents. Suddenly, James grabbed Amelia hand and both of them walked to Amelia’s room. “Em, it was never your fault. It was not anyone’s fault!” said James. “But”, Amelia interrupted him, “…I never said I am sorry. I can’t tell her I love her”, she cried again. James hold her closed in his arms. “She knew you love her! And she loved you too! Why do you think she came over that day?”, James continued. “Come, Em. Sketch something for mommy. She knew you love to sketch so she brought you this that day”. James came down and gave another book to Amelia. Their mother’s sketchbook, he found it at the attic one day when he was looking for a place to be alone. “She loves you until the day she died. And she also loved to sketch like you too”, James knew that Amelia could understand now what happened that day. I guess now she does... Read more
‘Bang!Learn More‘Bang!’ The first gunshot erupted from the village, indicating that it was time to return. The sun was sinking on the west horizon; I could barely see anyone now. We were on 6pm to 6am curfew. Most people didn’t wait till the gun shot to get home - stay out of trouble and you’ll survive, (for the most parts). Fear was what helped the Japanese to keep us in line and fear was what carved the path of doom for us. I was supposed to meet Tan Ming at the usual spot but he was not there. I wondered whether he was late or he already went home because I was a bit late, but it wasn’t likely of him. I waited several more minutes desperately hoping that he made it home before I finally made my way to the village. There were still a couple of kilometers to the main entrance of the village, and I was pretty sure that if I kept walking, I wouldn’t be able to reach it on time so I changed my pace to running. Even so, the wood load on my back was slowing me down. By the time I reached the gate, the men in the green suits were all looking at me with eyes full of hatred and hunger for killing. They checked me inch by inch, opened my wood load and checked it thoroughly before kicking it aside for me to collect. ‘I really do hate these Japanese killing machines!’ They closed the gates and shot another bullet to the air. The-so-called-final-warning. I made it in time after all. If anyone was seen outside after this, they’d be shot to death without a question. I threw the wood load on the front porch and went inside to take some rest. The Japanese made the British looked kinder, if anything. Day by day their ferocity was increasing. But what can someone like me do? Someone with no power whatsoever. We were just slaves to whomever that was ruling. My parents came here from India hoping for a better life, but fate took them too soon. Maybe it was for good. Better up there than down here. The knock on the door was so loud, it made my heart stopped for a second. I grabbed the stick under my bed and went to the door. It could be the Japanese or the Communist. I opened the door and began to swing the stick, but managed to stop myself when I saw the familiar face. “Suki!” I gasped, pulled her into the house and slammed the door shut. “What are you doing here? If the Japa-“ “Did you see my brother?” She cried out, her voice in a high pitch and her body visibly shivering. “Tan Ming isn’t back yet?” shocked, I could feel the bad feeling building in the pit of my stomach. This is not good. A thousand possibilities ran through my mind. "He'll be fine." I gripped Suki's fingers, cold and slightly trembling. I wasn't sure but I wanted to believe. Perhaps she knew. I let her sleep on my bed and I stayed on guard in case Tan Ming found a way to sneak past the village and come in here. Mostly I was just guilty and nervous. I shouldn’t have let him go alone today. The next morning, Suki and I were up early to look for Tan Ming. The shutters all around us were still closed, but there were dim lights coming out from most wooden huts. We passed a pair of the Japanese soldiers. I thought about Tan Ming, and felt Suki tugging at my arm. "Deva..." she whispered. One of the two men was looking at me and seemed surprised as I stared right back. Suki tugged again, firm. The soldier frowned and I ducked my head, meekly, keeping my gaze down. "One of these days..." Suki murmured. You'll get in trouble. I finished the thought in my head. So far, I did well to control myself. If only there was a way to fight those intruders back. Until now I could only wish for Abdul Rahman's success with all my heart, like the others. There was a shout then. Followed by Suki's own screaming. She sobbed and ran ahead of me. Up front, I saw Uncle Ramli and several of the elders supporting someone, just entering the gate. The Japanese sentries guarding the entrance sneered. My blood turned cold. They were carrying Tan Ming. Bloodied, motionless Tan Ming. I was stupefied. I just stood there for what seemed like an infinity, too stunned to move. Then the emotions washed over me like a thunderstorm. I ran after the Japanese soldiers but Uncle Ramli stopped me. Several other villagers held me back. “It’s not worth it.” Uncle Ramli muttered. “We have already lost too many people. Don’t throw away your life in vain.” “Should we just not do anything then? Should we just cry and blame everything on fate and destiny? Is this how we are going to live for the rest of our lives?” I cried back in anger. My heart thumping in my chest, for a moment I thought I might explode. “What’s not worth it is a life lived as a slave! Prisoners in our own homes. How many more people are going to get orphaned?!” Two armed Japanese soldiers strode towards us, intending to end the chaos. Uncle Shukri and Uncle Ming dragged me away before I acted anymore reckless. We held the funeral for Tan Ming that evening, and I decided then, over his corpse that I would fight for our freedom even if it costed me my life. I would fight for the nation I had been born in. I looked at the young lady, slender and fragile. Orphaned by cruelty and brutality. I vowed to myself that I would be there for her and she was not an orphan. No one is, as long as you have, even only one soul who cares for you. *** After the wedding, we toiled as usual. The days remained long, exhausting, and the tasks arduous, but I felt better for the smiles I caught exchanged between Suki and me. No cruelty had the might to stop love. Although my heart had had to fight my mind to keep remembering that. We continued to wait for news of what was happening, too. Rumours were anticipated as well, hoped to turn out as true whenever promising. And then, one day it came. So abrupt that it left even me rattled. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were bombed! The commotion made by the Japanese here was terrifying. There wasn't an ounce of sympathy for them in me, but all those lives lost in an instant under that so-called nuclear technology, it was undeniably cruel. Victims of war, we all were. On 15 August 1945, after much words we caught here and there, the Japanese took their leave. Retreated out of Tanah Melayu. After the Japanese, the British came back. And it seemed never ending but our lives were much better though it was nothing like freedom. In no time, all over Tanah Melayu, there were parties and congresses set up to fight for our independence. I joined the MIC and helped as much as I could. To show our unity to the British, the three main parties, UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress) united under one party called The Alliance Party (Parti Perikatan). I was a faithful follower of the Tunku, Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun Sambanthan. All of our heroes who fought bravely for our independence. They made “A pen’s spill is much more powerful than blood spill” come true. Along with my childhood friend, Saiful, we started to spread the importance of independence and unity in our village. I wished Tan Ming was there with us. It then would have been perfect. After so many visits to London by Tunku and campaigns held, the British finally agreed to give us the freedom that we deserved and happiness was in the air ever since. *** The crowd was massive and the air was electrifying. For once, there were only good energies around us. I looked to my side, into Suki’s eyes, smiled and held her hand. So, this is how freedom really feels like. Finally, we could start over, truly happy. Saiful hugged my shoulders while we waited for the most anticipated word. We had waited our whole life, what could be a few minutes. I smiled as Tunku Abdul Rahman read the official document of independence and the crowd roared with him. MERDEKA! MERDEKA! MERDEKA! MERDEKA! MERDEKA! MERDEKA! MERDEKA! And that was the sweetest thing I had ever heard. In that very moment, I know my life would not be the same anymore and I never felt anything better than that. ... Read more
The start of my day is dark and silent. There is a chill from the morning dew. My body is tired, but the demands of the day chase away my time to rest.
I ...Learn MoreThe start of my day is dark and silent. There is a chill from the morning dew. My body is tired, but the demands of the day chase away my time to rest. I live in a house on a hill dressed in wood and marble. In this house a father, a mother, a son, and a woman who is unseen. I am that unseen woman. I am a maid, a maid in Malaysia. The sun is still sleeping when I wake to prepare for the day. I carefully move through a room decorated with forgotten stationary and worn out pots and pans; miraculously managing to wobble my way to the bathroom narrowly avoiding towers of old books and toys. I take a breath and turn on the shower. This is a joy I never had in my village, a tiled floor under my feet and piping that brings water every day. The smell of onions and garlic usually mark the beginning. Then the sound of clothes spinning about in the washing machine. Then “Beep! Beep!” the clothes are ready. At this point, my madam usually wants me to iron the laundry before I hang them. “The corners of the outfits will be more sharp and crisp,” she instructs me. I always ignore that suggestion and hang the clothes first. I often get scolded for it but I don’t care. I like doing it this way. Besides, I am going to iron the shirts when they are dry. Just as I begin hanging the clothes, the shadows begin to fade as the sun starts to kiss the earth. I want to catch this moment. A chance for the heat to warm my bones a little. But the sound of playful whistling interrupts me. This happens almost every day. The neighborhood guard is dutifully doing his rounds with his breakfast sandwich in hand. What is he so happy about? He smiles at me and says, “Good morning ma’am.” Like every other day, I hide my annoyance and fake a smile, before getting back to work. But this time is different. A wild bark steals our attention and we turn to see a stray dog making its way towards us across the road. White with patches of brown from head to toe, it comes to us with heavy breaths. Its arrival annoys the dogs behind every gate on the street and so begins a sharp chorus of barks. They say the house dogs do this because they hate the stray invading their territory. But I think the housebroken are just jealous of the stray. The dogs in the houses have tiled floors and piping that brings water every day but the stray lives free. Well, freedom is often an empty belly. The stray approaches the guard with his eyes chained to the man and his sandwich. With a smile on his face, the man peels part of his breakfast and tosses it to the stray in an act of kindness. The dog, clearly starving, jumps on the scraps. Instantly the food on the ground disappears. For a moment, the dog and the guard glance at each other before proceeding to shift their eyes to the same thing, the remainder of the sandwich. The silly man takes pity on the animal and gives him the rest of his meal. I can’t help but smile at the silly man. Only a silly man can be so kind. But I smiled for far too long. “Do you like dogs, ma’am?” He asks me. I nod my head and try to get back to the laundry. “Ma’am, I see you here every day. Can I know your name?” My name? My employer and his family call me “kakak” a local word that means sister. Though I really do not believe they would treat a sister the way they treat me. “Kakak” is the word they use because they do not remember my name. The guests that visit the family look at me as nothing more than a way to move cutlery around. Sometimes I wonder if they notice that I am in the room. How could they even think to ask for my name? Leaving the house is not allowed. So, meeting people who would ask for a name is a strange idea. My name? What a distant memory. No one has asked me for my name in the past two years. “Ma’am? Your name?” he gently inquires again to pull me out of my thoughts. I carefully reply, “My name… My name is Nina.” Suddenly, a loud cry, “KAKAK!” I race back into the house. My madam and her son are seated at the dining table. Madam glares at me and asks, “Where is his breakfast? He is going to be late for school.” “I’m sorry madam,” I respond as I grab the child’s favorite cereal and pour it into a bowl. I cannot help but watch him swallow down his meal. When I first got to this country he was small and energetic, always running around. He would hug me and sit on my lap as he told me about his day. I could barely understand him but still, I listened. As he grew older, he stopped telling me about his day. The value of my thoughts on any matter began to fade. I began to fade. He would look at me, but somehow, he could not see me anymore. Sitting a few feet away from me but our worlds were oceans apart. He notices me staring at him. A stiffness overcomes us. The air stays still. We are familiar faces in foreign lives. Two strangers trapped in a family dining room. Thankfully, the tension does not last for long. My master marches down the stairs and commands, “Let’s go we are already late for school! I have to get to work. The jam is going to be ridiculous.” The family hurries into the car as I rush to open the gate for them. The car is making its way out of the house before it stops in the middle of its exit and a window on the left is opened. “Kakak! Can you please iron the shirts before hanging them next time? ! I told you so many times before. Frankly, I am getting quite sick of it,” my madam remarks with deep annoyance. “Yes ma’am,” I reply while trying to fake a smile. The family drives away. The car disappears into the edge of my vision and again I am by myself. I must get back to work. My duties need to be done by the early evening when the family returns. Cleaning the dishes, sweeping the house, washing the toilets, and hanging the rest of the laundry, the day passes in a rhythm. I only notice the sweat on my forehead when it begins to sizzle dry from the heat. The sun is now in the center of the sky. I hear yelling again. This time it is coming from the front of the street. A bright yellow car with darkened windows is stopped at the neighborhood gate. “You people are so stupid! Why are you wasting my time?” cried the voice inside the car. The guard from this morning steps out from the guardhouse. “I’m sorry sir, I am only following the procedure. Sir, please, if you just give me a moment of your time,” the guard mutters. “A moment of my time? You listen here, you idiot. I bought a house here for my son. You want me to fill in your stupid form to go into a house that I bought?” shouted the driver. The car door clanks open and a middle-aged man in a black shirt, like the ones my sir wears to work, steps out. The man grabs the guard by the collar and begins screaming at him a breath away from his face. The scolding changes from English to the man’s native tongue. I could not understand what he was saying but I do not believe it was anything nice. The guard looks away to avoid getting spit in his eye when he sees me watching. Realizing I was there made him melt into himself with shame. Gathering a few words together, he somehow sputters, “Ok sir. I am sorry. I’ll open the gate. Please, go in.” He slides the entrance open without taking a signature. The man in the black shirt murmurs a few more curses before getting back in his car and driving off. The guard takes a glance back at me to see if I am still watching. Our eyes connect and instantly drops of sadness flow from my eyes to my cheeks. I jump over the fence to meet him. Tears flood the corners of his eye as he tries to keep himself together. Finally arriving at the guard house. I stand with him. “Nina…” he whispers painfully. I state the obvious, “It’s not fair.” “I know,” he replies, “it never is.” “Are you okay?” I ask with pity. “Okay enough,” he responds calmly. Angered by the injustice, I could not help but say, “I am sorry but how you could you let him steal your honor?” I grab some tissue from the registration counter and begin to wipe the spit off his face. He steadies his breathing and says, “I never needed honor. My family is from a rice farm in Bangladesh. A flood came and wiped out our harvest one year. The filth left from the calamity made half my village fall into a sickness. My father started to vomit on himself and his skin turned cold and blue. He died, leaving a boy and his mother to rebuild the farm. My mother and I could not eat honor so we left the fields.” Silence filled the room. I placed my hand on his shoulder to say the words my mouth could not express. He continues, “Our hands found work sewing shirts in a distant cotton factory. The working hours were extremely long but we were so happy that we could afford to eat a meal a day. One day, there were whispers that there was a better life that we could have. A better life but only for the men. Just sit and stand around in a foreign land, guarding the houses of wealthy. My mother made me leave. Now, I am here.” Looking into my eyes, he takes my hand and says, “Nina, this is a better life.” I catch myself feeling for him, respecting him, admiring him. His strength, his kindness, and his life of struggle made me believe that our life can be endured. Without warning, I pull back my hand in fear. My master’s car was suddenly heading towards the guard’s post. “My sir is here!” I cry. I will be punished if I am caught outside the house. What more, if I am caught talking to a man. “Don’t worry, just go,” the guard says as he walks to his post. “I will slow him down.” He goes to the gate and informs my employer about an update to the monthly fees. There is no time to listen to this conversation. I make my way to the house, grab a broom, and pretend to sweep the floor. Straightaway, my master bursts through the door and shouts, “Thief!” I look at him in shock. “We take you into our home and this is how you repay us? My phone is missing again. This is the second time this month. I didn’t leave the house yesterday so there is no way I lost my phone outside during the weekend. It must be you!” he declares pointing his finger at my face. “But sir, the last time you lost your phone I found it for you. It was in your car, sir. I didn’t take anything,” I remind him as I try to defend myself. “Very clever, you know how to talk back to me. Do you think I am stupid?” he replies angrier than before. “Sir…” I attempt to respond. “Shut up. I don’t pay you to argue with me,” he proclaims in a prideful voice. I am left without words and stare in complete confusion. He shouts at me, “Show me your things now!” Trying to remain calm, I slowly walk to the room in sleep in. “Hurry up. I have to get back to work,” he rushes me again, “I need my phone.” Every box was opened. Clothing with pockets laid bare on the floor and checked. I even uncover the unused pots and pans in the room of my own initiative. It was no use, he still thought I was a thief. However, he could not deny there was no proof for his claims. Time had run out and he had to go back to work. He leaves as quickly as he came. The door closes and I collapse on to the ground. For the second time today, I weep. This does not always feel like a better life. When I finally get up, I look out the window to make sure my sir has left. I continue my duties. I take the trash to the bin by the mailbox, open the cover, and remove the bags of rubbish until it is almost empty. Underneath is an old shoe box buried at the bottom. I open it and take out my sir’s phone and make a call. A voice answers the phone, “Hello? Who is this?” “It’s me, mum” I respond. “Oh! Nina! You sound sad,” the voice replies. “Are you okay?” “Okay enough.” Having a phone is not allowed, a day off is not allowed, and leaving the house is not allowed. This life may seem better than my old one, except for one thing. For us, love is not allowed. ... Read more
Lemonades in the Desert
Sloth can’t decide which was more scorching; the sun beating down on him mercilessly or the rage explodi...Learn MoreLemonades in the Desert Sloth can’t decide which was more scorching; the sun beating down on him mercilessly or the rage exploding directly into his ear. “Soldier, how dare you disobey a direct order from ME to remain in base and go AWOL! I will not tolerate this.” Sloth had half a mind to dig out his earpiece and ground it on his heels. But his hands kept on the rifle and the earpiece in his ears as he made his way to the edge of the roof. He had been disobeying enough orders as it was. “Ma’am, permission to explain myself.” Sloth said, pulling a tripod out of his backpack. The earpiece was silent for a while before Pride’s voice roared again, “Fine, explain yourself. What could be the big reason that made one of my best soldier to display such behaviour? You of all people. Wrath… I get it if it was him. It would be just like another walk in the park like any other day. He is a ticking time-bomb after all. But you! I expected more out of you!” “Gluttony, ma’am.” Sloth replied. “Gluttony.” “Sloth,” Pride’s voice replied almost immediately, finally using his code-name. Sloth. Pride. Gluttony. They were the Seven Sins. Seven main members named after the seven deadly sins. “I understand how much he means to you. But you also need to understand that you’re a soldier. Gluttony is a soldier. And soldiers obey orders. It’s their job to do so. And your order now is to report back at base camp and I may not need to send a team after you.” “Ma’am, you know I work better alone.” Sloth stopped from his work a moment. “And it would be a shame to lose all of them just for this. I believe we had enough casualties. No reason to add more names to the list.” He knew who Pride will sent. Thomas wanted to be a sniper too. Max will do anything if given the order, as long no animals were involved. Chris was a jackass but expecting a kid back home. Annie was a nice girl and a good shot. But when push comes to shove, they will all just be faces in his scope. There it was again. The silence. Pride usually had her way in everything. No one would dare to speak out against her. Usually. But not this time. Too much was at stake. Gluttony was at stake. “Sloth, look…” Pride began again, but this time her voice took a softer tone. “When life gives you lemon, you make lemonade. Or so what your doctor tells me.” Sloth stopped again. He expected shouts, threats, some blood spill even. But a life quote from Lust out of the blue? “Why would I make lemonade, ma’am?” “That’s not the point.” “I hate lemonade.” “It’s just…” “They are too sour.” “It’s not from me.” “Unless they are chilled, ma’am. Then, maybe.” “It’s just something Lust told me to say, alright!” Pride admitted, clearly having nothing else to say. Even the life quote from Lust had nothing to do with their current situation, to be honest. “Like I said, it was from your doctor. He is telling it to me now.” “You make all the lemonade you want, ma’am. Me…” Sloth answered, looking out across the roof. “I am gonna cut those lemons and squeeze into the wounds of my enemies. Every. Last. One.” Another silence filled the air. Sloth had been radio silent ever since he disappeared from the base camp. Then all the sudden he was back on line. Pride had been questioning why. And now she had an inkling why. “Sloth, where are you now?” The question buzzed from Sloth’s earpiece. “Look, ma’am.” Sloth closed his eyes. Gluttony’s face appeared in his mind. That black tousled hair with his goofy smile. Not what you expected a trained killer to look like. “Gluttony… He… Gluttony isn’t just a soldier. He isn’t…. isn’t just a friend. He is a reminder. A reminder that despite all that I had done… All that I been… A reminder that I am more than a weapon. More than a tool. A reminder that I am a person.” “Sloth, I repeat. Where are you?” “That’s why, ma’am. I can’t just sit back and let all these things happen to him. No, I can’t. Especially after what he had done. What I had done… What I had failed to do. It was my fault. I need to set things right.” “Sloth. Where. Are. You?” Sloth rest his cheeks onto the rifle. During the argument with his chief, Sloth had laid out his sniper nest atop the roof. It was all so familiar. All the motions. Every step of the process. He barely registered it all. It was like blinking. “Ma’am, you really think it took me three days to determine the location of the terrorists’ hideout?” Sloth looked through the scope. “I did all that in one.” Just as expected, the bastard came out where he did like the past two days at this time. Sloth had been observing the terrorists’ hideout all this time. Watching. Memorising. All the time looking for that bastard. The bastard with the unshaved beard but shaved head. The bastard with a scar running down below his left eye down to his cheek. The bastard with an eagle tattoo on his wrist. The bastard who kept coming up to the balcony in the middle of the day for a smoke. The bastard who had come gun blazing at the base camp. The bastard whom Sloth had let slip past the perimeter. The bastard who had Gluttony captured when that blockhead tried to stop him. Sloth’s slip up had not only cost the safety of everyone in base and the jeopardy of their mission, but also the capture of his good friend. He can’t just let that rest and wait for further orders while who knows what they will do to Gluttony. The terrorists were not known for their hospitality. More so towards someone part of a group ordered to destroy them. That and the fact that everything happened because he failed to notice one bastard. All of it did not rest well with him. “Ma’am, honestly,” Sloth said, “a cup of cold lemonade would be good now.” When life gives you lemon… That wasn’t meant for Sloth. Not one word. Pride finally understood her circumstances and the decision she needed to make. And it left a sour taste in her mouth. “Fine, you get your ass… And Gluttony’s back here and I will make some for you. Shall squeeze the lemons myself. Just the way you like it.” Time to squeeze the lemon.... Read more
GIRL Read more