Friday, June 26, 2009

Bachianas Brasileiras

1. Bachianas Brasileiras No.1 ‘for orchestra of cellos’

If you order a frappuccino from Starbucks, the next thing you most probably will do is to find a secluded spot, sit down, perhaps grab a newest novel, put your Ipod on and of course, slowly sip the coffee you just order. That is the magical thing about Starbucks. Although their main selling point is their coffee, most of the customers actually pay very little homage to the coffee. On the contrary, books, free internet, music or even chitchatting are those trivial additions that help to define Starbucks.

To prove my point, now I will like to invite everyone to look around the Starbucks I’m in now. I’m standing in front of the counter, admiring the varieties and at the same time, reluctant to make my decision. In the sweltering afternoon like this, it seems perfectly sensible to order an ice-cold frapuccino. However, macchiato sounds like a better choice for me. Nonetheless, I place my order for a frapuccino because I decide that frapuccino suits the ambience better. I look around me for seat. This is perhaps a less busy afternoon for Starbucks despite the scorching heat outside the glass walls. Then, I see two teenagers occupying the different tables. My deduction skill tells me, they are strangers. Two different men with two very different lives to live in. From first glance, it appears that the only similarity they share is their age.

I choose a table farther from both of them. To be frank, I’m afraid that my presence might displace the fine balance exist between them. They are indeed not much different from me and I’m not much older than them. Funny thing is, initially I wanted to join them, perhaps said hi and shook hands. Now, I’m slumping into the couch and very much relieved that I didn’t join them out of impulsion. They seem inexplicably special. Perhaps they can fly or they have X-ray vision? Ok, enough of crazy thoughts, my coffee is ready and I go over to the counter and collect it.

From now on, I will address two of them as ‘A’ and ‘B’. Pardon me for this seemingly rude code name I have given to both of them. Code names thrill me and if I’m right, special people do need special name like super heroes, don’t they? To my right, A’s mug is half full and he is surfing internet using his Dell laptop. To my left, B, on the other hand, has his cup full of ice-blended coffee. He is reading Times. Nothing I witness can suggest that they are somehow extraordinary in their own way.

I take my macchiato back to my seat. As I walk past them, none of them even lift their head or even move a bit in recognition of the presence of me. That infuriates me. Am I the only one here who is very much agitated? They seem phlegmatic. Bachinas Brasileiras that comes through from the speakers soothes them, but not me. Villa-Loboos’s famous suites that stylistically fuse baroque Bach’s and Brazilian folk songs are very strange choice of pieces they choose to play in this unusually oppressing afternoon.

When I’m back to my table, I continue observing them. A is still immersing himself in the make-believe world of internet and B is still reading his Times. I’m bored by their indifference and so, I take out my laptop too. Once I begin typing something in Microsoft Word, I can’t stop thinking about them. Perhaps I should write about them, shouldn’t I?


2. Bachianas Brasileiras No.2 for chamber orchestra

A is the boy who can have whatever he wants. He discovered that since his parents first played Bachianas Brasileiras from the compact discs. A doesn’t particularly like the suites. He finds himself hard to digest the clash of modern and baroque music. If he were to choose, he would prefer someone like Mozart, quintessential classical; Schumann, real romantic master; or J.S. Bach, the central figure of baroque music. A dislikes innovation although he knows innovation is inevitable. Come and think about it, A realizes that what he dislikes is the transition before the innovation. Innovation can’t just jump right through the window of intellectual restriction. Too much of innovation will be dismissed as utter fantasy. That is why A always pities Nikola Tesla.

No matter how much he distastes fusion music, he can’t bring himself to denounce Bachianas Brasileiras. Because this piece helped him to bring the first ever snowflake to this tropical country. When he was 9 years old, he had seen enough of snows to know what real snows look like. One day, when Bachianas Brasileiras was played, he suddenly wished he could bring snows to this country. The moment the idea formed, the temperature dropped, then the snows fell through the sky. The next day, the country’s prime minister declared the state of emergency to fight imminent nuclear terrorism. Too much new stuffs, people couldn’t take it, they reject them altogether.

Young A was very mesmerized by the beauty of the snows that stopped once the music stopped. Later when he was older, more classical music was played to him. There was one that really held his heart, ‘Winter’ by Vivaldi. In his mind, snowflakes with Winter playing in the background would be just magical. He couldn’t find any other substitution for ‘magical’. But, no matter how hard he tried, how concentrated was he to try to picture the snow, he failed to summon the snows he saw when he was five years old. He never told anyone about this and neither could he muster enough courage to put the compact disc of Bachianas Brasileiras in the player once again.

After the snowing incident, he came across with Bachianas Brasileiras in several occasions. Once in his college graduation ball, he was with his date when the hall sprung to life with Bachianas Brasileiras reverberating in the hall. His date immediately sensed that he was petrified. He couldn’t move. It had been a while since he last heard that in shop that sells guitars. Coincidentally, Bachianas Braileiras No.2 was the choice of the ball DJ. The idea of snow promptly came out of no where. Before his conscious thinking even started to kick in, snows had fallen everywhere in the ballroom. Everyone was in ecstasy, thinking the snowfall must be another meticulously designed surprise. The organizer never denied their involvement although they were no less bewildered by the snowfall.

A glared at his date, having hard time to concentrate. This would be the time to show off some miracles. He concentrated laboriously to change the snowfall into a vast field of lavender, knowing his date would like it. And he did it. Everyone suddenly disappeared. Only he and his date was now in the field of lavender. His date was more confused than surprised. It saddened him. Before he could make any amendments to the scene he created, the music stopped- and they were back to the ball room. ‘I must stop drinking,’ she groggily whispered to him.

So much for miracle. His ability only added more misery to him. He was born with silver spoon and he was well-endowed with brainy mind. Every relative adored his brilliant mind. He excelled in everything and his parents gave him everything. ‘He can be a lawyer’, ‘He can be a doctor’, ‘No, he can even be our prime minister,’ all sorts of prediction fell into place since he was very young. And they were quite right about it- he was indeed good in everything; except that very one thing they miss, his ability. His childhood was filled with endless bouts between his ability and his normal life.

How could he tell everyone about that? His life would be ruined the moment he told everyone about that. Assumptions would soon dictate their reprimands. ‘So you are not that smart after all? You use that piece of classical crap to cheat in the exam? How often you use that? What else did you do with it? He could foretell every merciless lambast. Sometimes he was very amused by the fact that burden of expectations can change so much of people’s perspective. If he is just a Tom, Dick and Henry with average grade in schools, he will just be dismissed as a fraud if he ever tells everyone about his ability. People expect something spectacular from him, but if he has something more to showcase, he will be once again denounced as a fraud, along with his past achievements. People more easily fall into the trap of taking refuge in the worst side of humankind. They can’t see past anything.

They certainly are good guessers no matter how flawed they are. He did ace his exam and now he has to face an impossible decision, to fulfill the expectation or to go against it. He was just informed that he was awarded a prestigious scholarship to study medicine in the UK. Once again, he feels the burden is crushing him. He could raise few eyebrows if he ever tells everyone that he doesn’t want to be that special. That means, he has to accept the fact that a predestined path will be his destiny. He will be ultimately ordinary. On the other hand, he has to be special, at least in the eyes of his parents and his relatives. To them, he is so special, so precious. Indeed, he is unique, not because of his brilliant mind. He is stuck in an irony he creates for himself.

Now, he is in a Starbucks. A painfully recalls what happened the day he went to that guitar shop. He was just 16 years old that day, a very frustrated one. Hadn’t he stopped himself from heading to the road of perdition, or hadn’t the music stopped suddenly, what would happen to him? There is no way to find out. Or does he have a way, with the same familiar music playing in the Starbucks?


3. Bachianas Brasileiras No.3 for piano and orchestra

B, on the other hand, is too extraordinary because of his uncanny ordinariness. He once suspected that his life helps to define what ‘mean’ is. He is most probably right. Throughout his life, he sails at the perfect straight line of mean. His result is the average or mean of the whole class. Among 5 siblings, he is the third, two before him, two after him. You would also like to call that a perfect symmetry. The clothes he wears are of moderately old because he gets it from his eldest brother. His eldest brother reads a lot, his youngest brother never reads, he reads moderately, not too zealot, not too repellant of books- just nice. If you ask him about his life, he can endlessly and tirelessly tell you everything until you get really bored. In the end, you can just easily conclude it as ‘symmetrical life that is more average than any other average people’ and you can’t help wondering isn’t he too extraordinary to be so ordinary?

However, even a perfectly average life has some kinks in it. B will passionately tell you with clarity that will perplex you. Some of the ‘out-of-ordinary kinks’ in his life are some distant memories that you won’t be able to remember. Only he would be able to remember this kind of trivial matters. You can’t really blame him, can you? He has been leading a perfect average life, something special is always worth commemorating, isn’t it? If you see B one day, you can open up the conversation by asking when did the first kink of your average(tragic) life happen?

 It happened when he was nine years old. He wore his usual moderately wrinkled and old T-shirt and he was not alone. He was with all his siblings and his parents. On that fateful day, his father had been in his particularly good mood. ‘Let’s go to the beach,’ he announced to 5 utterly flummoxed children. None of them had ever seen their father in such a jolly mood. But they didn’t say much, fearful of the sudden cancel of the trip by his father whose mood swing was famously unpredictable.

Hence, they all cramped into his father’s car. The car was a bit to small to house 5 siblings and their mother. None of them ever complained. The trip proved to be rewarding and they all had fun. Even their mother who was normally emotionless enjoyed herself as much as her kids. At the same time, B couldn’t help wondering something was very wrong with his father.  B could tell you in spite of his ordinariness, he has some privileges those less ordinary people will never have- attention. Nobody pays attention to him since he was young. B could just do anything without scrutiny under everyone’s watchful eyes.

That day, he was a bit, just a bit less ordinary. He chose to be alone while his siblings immensely enjoyed themselves on the beach. As usual, nobody noticed that. He picked a spot, sat down, wondering how his life would be if he were at the another extreme? He pictured himself to be under the limelight. He fantasized that he could perform special superhuman ability. And all of a sudden, snows fell through the thick curtain of sky. He felt a chilling sensation on his shoulder at first; then his head; then his right thigh.

He fixed his gaze on the clear blue sky above him. The sky was cloudless and he hated a cloudless sky. The temperature around him dropped but he didn’t feel the chill as if a layer of insulator wrapped around him like a guardian angel. Guardian angel? His mum once told him snow was the guardian angel of sinners’ soul. Although he didn’t quite know what sinners meant, he liked the idea of guardian angel.

Meanwhile, his siblings and his parents were all bewildered by the snows. His father quickly hustled everyone back to the car, ‘play time is over!’ B remembered very clearly that he was literally dragged to the car while he was awestruck by the snows. He kept looking out of the window, hoping the snows would never stop. ‘Why the sea water never freeze?’ B found his question fall into deaf ears. Everyone was preoccupied by the phenomenon.

Now, he is reading a Time in a Starbucks. His first encounter of something extraordinary in his ordinary life still humbles him. People have no idea what kind of life I have been leading, they have no idea, he ponders it whenever he tries to recall what happened next that day- how their car skidded out of control, how their car fell over the cliff and how all his siblings and his parents were killed.   


4. Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 for orchestra

A’s life was a perfect life that everyone slaves for it. His result was splendid and he was even offered a scholarship, big time. A fought hard for the result and he was proud of the fact that never once in his life that he ever attempted to cheat using his ability. Why? He has everything he wants. Why bother to fight so hard for something he already has? A has different desires. He doesn’t want to become some world-renowned surgeon neither does he want to become a lawyer-turned-politician.

He wants his life, not something everyone wants.

That is the reason why he is sitting in the Starbucks now. He needs the internet there to search for something, a scholarship. He still remembers the day he forwarded his idea to his parents. ‘I want to study music,’ his parents’ reaction was almost reflexive. ‘No.’ ‘I think you don’t understand, I don’t want to study medicine, music is my passion,’ he thought he made a very poor case. As clichéd as his argument went, his parents rebutted almost spontaneously, ‘you think the life out there,’ they pointed at the front windows, ‘is a bed of roses?’ ‘Do you know how materialistic the world out there? You can’t possibly hope to make a living out of some crappy reggae bars you are going to play in.’

The rest of the arguments were as banal as soap operas. But, it did happen. A’s parents were as astute as ever. ‘You all will regret,’ he ended their heated argument with a really hard bang of his room door. Is always an uphill task to argue levelheadedly with his parents when they do have their point. A let himself fall on his bed in frustration. How he wished he could change their mind… the music, the brazillian, Bachinas Brasileiras… the ideas came in fragments. No, B promised to himself that he wouldn’t succumb to the temptation of his ability.

‘You think you can change your parents’ mind?’ That is the burning question that has been languishing him. He feels weak. The sense of hopelessness descends unexpectedly when he is browsing the net. The search result isn’t promising. The frustration of powerless against his own life rolls like a snowball, it’s getting bigger and the urge of using his ability grows incessantly pressing. Throughout his life, he has no control of his life, he thinks to himself. He doesn’t get to choose. Who gets to choose? No, he has to have choices.

Without any prior warning, low rumbling of cellos and solitude violin is omnipresent in the Starbucks. It is simple and he asks inaudibly, ‘what’s this song?’ Circumstantially, a very muffled answer occurs to him- Bachianas Brasileiras No.4. He isn’t terribly thrilled by the answer. But something terrific is brewing, he just knows. The answer he just obtained was an abstract answer. Did he finally manage to summon an idea?   

A reminisces his bitter incident in the musical instrument shop. He never told anyone about what he hoped to become one day to come. How could he tell his parents he always wants to become a guitarist instead of some bigshot doctor or lawyer? The moment he stepped into the shop, he heard Bachianas Brasileiras No.2. He couldn’t help wondering what would happen if he started thinking about something. How about bringing Jimi Hendrix to the guitar shop? And pop, the legendary guitarist was there. That was his first ever conscious attempt. How about Villa-Loboos, the composer of Bachianas Brasileiras? No, it would be too creepy to summon someone that was dead. Then he thought of something else. A concept, to be more precise. He has been summoning concrete and real objects in his whole life. He toiled with the idea of summoning something more abstract, let’s say his future. It turned out not an effortless task.

It was harder than he could imagine. Partly because he was reluctant to see his future, partly because he had doubts. Why sudden urge to look into the future which would be possibly perilous? He fled from the shop, never looked back.  

Now, he is still in that Starbucks, with Bachianas Brasileiras playing in the background. Again, future is within his grasp but does he have the courage to move forward?


5. Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for voice and 8 cellos

B was orphaned 7 years ago. Just when he was expecting a sharp abrupt turn to his ordinary life, he was coerced back to his average-ness. He again found himself to be the perfect balance in his new home. His foster parent was now his unmarried aunty. His aunty put him in the another school in which he once again became an average student. His ranking was still 25th in the class of 49 students, 24 before him, 24 after him, no more no less.  

He continued to live in the way he was. It never occurred to him that he was perhaps able to change. He just wanted to live ordinarily. It didn’t matter to him whether he could ever achieve anything magnificent. Nothing half as dramatic as the snows that orphaned him ever dawned on him after that incident. It was true that he didn’t want to be a standout. He detested it, as a matter of fact. The only time something out of ordinary happened to him, he lost everything he had.

So, he continued to live like any normal individual for another 7 years until the day he officially graduated from his high school, with average grade that would bring him no where. University would be a tall order for him. But he was not ready for the baptism of the society. What his aunty said now made a lot of sense, ‘you are too good to hit the street.’ After so many years, for once, he hoped his life could be little less ordinary. A higher grade would do. Sadly, reality worked in its mysterious way.

It was on the graduation ball that he realized he ought to be someone special, not someone that forgettable or someone that negligible. He went to the ball, alone. He didn’t have a date and he never wanted to have one. His high school years had been years of solitude. He hardly had friends and he was always seen alone during recess. When the class finished, he would be among the first to go back. Club activities were not cup of his tea. He did join some, as a normal member. Careful he was, not to show any enthusiasm when he joined any activities. Sometimes, he found himself running of excuses to defend himself. He brought all the ordinariness to himself.

Nonetheless, he did show up for the ball, to his classmates utter amazement. ‘Look at you, you are here,’ one of his few friends, Dan nearly dropped his jaw when he first saw him showing up with a suave tux. ‘Nice tux,’ he heard that compliments far too often that night. He began to suspect something was again, quite wrong. Uneasiness crept on his skin and the Goosebumps shunted him straight to the washroom. He could no longer stand the ball. He shut himself inside the washroom and let the turbulent emotion to overwhelm himself.

Then something magical thing happened.  Somebody outside the washroom shouted, ‘Look at the snows! My god…’ Reluctantly, he dragged himself out from the washroom and he was instantly awestricken. The same snow he saw 7 years ago, the same texture, the same coldness… Everyone had gone insane with the snowfall except him. He found himself slowly walking to the middle of the dance floor. From there, he scanned the whole hall from that vantage point. His classmates and other students all stopped moving. They were dumbfounded.  

Soon after he regained his full consciousness, a fear that was so surreal engulfed him. ‘What am I going to lose this time?’ He didn’t have much thing to lose after all but he was not sure whether he could take another big blow. Panic, like a fleeting white flash, seared through his whole body, shivering him. People might not notice but he knew he was shivering like someone with extremely high fever.

He wanted to flee from the ball and he saw a couple who danced rigidly. The girl looked confused and the guy was totally lost in his own world. Most awkward dance B had ever seen in his whole life. It was unbelievable to see those two still could dance in spite of all the ridicules. B reasoned, ‘they have no of the significance of this snow. Of course they feel nothing.’ He pushed back the crowd ahead of him to reach the exit. Once he was outside the hotel, he inhaled deeply.

What will happen to me this time?

Now, he is still in that Starbucks. Suddenly, the guy in front of him looked so familiar. The guy in the ball, the epiphany shivered him, not because of the fear. He was thrilled. Finally…


6. Bachianas Brasileiras No.6 for flute and bassoon

Surprisingly, both of them are very pale now. A covers his face with his palms. B is shivering with fear or excitement that makes his face paler than ever. I have been here, observing them for a very long time. My macchiato has turned cold and it is just too awful to drink now. I have been half-heartedly typing something on Microsoft Word but the truth is, I have been watching them closely.

B has stopped flipping his magazine since 10 minutes before. A has been hiding behind his palms for exactly 7 minutes 23 seconds and still counting. Something big will be happening here, right here. I wish I’m half as special as them so that I know what they think right now.

How is it to feel? No, it will be imprudent and impolite. Asking them risks exposing myself and inquiring too much will be a rude intrusion to other people’s privacy. I refuse to be known, like flute and bassoon. Flute and bassoon are always hidden, especially in a symphony. You can hardly hear any flute or bassoon when all the other instruments are played at full volume. The only time flute and bassoon can be heard is when they are doing solo. This is their show. I don’t want to be then who steals the show from them. As a matter of fact, I’m not capable of stealing show from them.

So, I continue to observe surreptitiously.


7. Bachianas Brasileiras No.7 for orchestra

A recovers from his struggles. He has been musing and weighing his odds. What if his future is not real? What if he won’t see anything? What if he sees something destructive? What if he can never change what he sees in the future? And he knows he has to reach the final conclusion. God knows when will they change the song again. Missed chance is no better than no chance.

Painstakingly, he tries to picture a concept in his mind. It proves a more daunting task. What is the concept of future? Instinctively, his brain will tell himself what it imagines. In his imagination, there’ll be kids, his wife and friends who are all faceless. He shakes his head in annoyance. Imagination is not what he wants because all the reality will be translated from his imagination. He wants the future projected to him, in its purest form, without the influence of his wishful imagination. He needs to know.

His vision suddenly becomes very cloudy. The interior of the Starbucks has turned dim and it is swirling in an irregular motion. It nauseates him. It is too dangerous to mess with the future. Before he manages to hurl himself out from the vortex of the swirling world, ever thing turns dark.

‘Dr James, Dr James!’ Who is Dr. James? He woke up and very surprised to find out there is no hangover. His vision is back to its normal clarity. He looks around, the same Starbucks. No, not exactly the same. Something is different. The design is quite different and who is that Dr.James? Somebody has been calling him over and over again.

He stands up to see where the sound comes from and he bangs against his table. The knife and the plate vibrate with the impact. Bewildered, he picks up the knife curiously. He sees something on the knife, perhaps the reflection. It is not easy to see one’s reflection on a knife with such an irregular surface. He stares straight into the reflection and he is alarmed. Something bizarre has been seen.

He turns around. There are two beds in a room. A curtain separates these two beds. Those two beds are not ordinary beds. One can only see them in a hospital and it only takes him a while to realize that he is now in a hospital. A stern-looking nurse is shouting straight to his face, ‘Dr. James’. ‘Dr. James, is this your stethoscope?’ He stares at the nurse intensely. The nurse was taken aback by the confused gaze and she apologizes, ‘Sorry Dr. James, I thought this is yours.’ And she walks past him, disappearing into the labyrinth of corridors.

‘What are you looking at?’ A voice startled him from behind.

Mystified, he turns to his back, finding himself in front of a lady he has never met before in his whole life. He touches her face and it feels soft. Without warning, he finds himself now in a comfy-looking living hall. In front of him, behind the lady, there is one television. On the immaculate wall, the clock shows 3.03pm. ‘I’m just looking at the clock,’ that is the first time he speaks since he finds himself in this peculiar realm of eccentricities.

She smiles. What a ravishing lady! He wishes to hold on to her for a longer time but something has changed. His vision becomes dark and cloudy again. Speckles of impurities mark over her face and the wall behind her. They are shattered and he wakes up, panting. That’s when the music stops abruptly.

He howls, ‘No!’ after realizing that he could never touch her face again. He pounds on the table like a madman with his eyes bulging. It takes 3 guys to hold him down. They, of course, don’t know what has happened to him. They only hear him muttering ‘I need to go back, I have lost her’ all the way back. Nobody knows what he means.


8. Bachianas Brasileiras No.8 for orchestra

B never stopped looking for miracles after that day onwards. Someone in the hall must have created the miracle. He or she was the one who was responsible for bringing B the most beautiful thing to his life and taking away the most precious thing from him. He obtained a list of people who attended the ball. 121 people were there. The figure didn’t discourage him somehow.

B started stalking everyone in the list. His ordinariness granted him some protection. None of the target he stalked was suspicious of being followed. Firstly, he would identify a target from the list. He would follow them and break into their house. Installing a spy cam in an unexpected corner of the house wasn’t an impossible task. Everyone had an untouched corner in their house. From the tv screen that was linked to the camera, he fastforwarded and rewinded the frames to check out every minor detail, every single frame might convey something and he must not miss that.

Day after day, he was hoping as he was going down the list, he would unearth that someone, who was responsible for everything. But as the list was getting shorter, the chance of finding that person was growing slimmer. He started questioning his rationale behind this. Was he wrong about the ball? No, someone, that someone must be there. How sure was he about that? When he was at the beach, no one was there except his whole family. His whole argument failed to connect with each other if someone were to probe deeper into it.

He had reached his bottleneck. None of the source yielded anything. He even hired a private investigator to follow some highly suspicious individuals. Negative, the result came back. ‘You have changed,’ his aunty commented. ‘Yes I am,’ offering no further explanation. It was true that he no longer cared to be constantly aware of being exposed.

He even called very few friends to talk to them, much to their surprise. They didn’t have to know the ulterior motive behind each call to sense that he had changed. He now went out more often. He started to buy trendy clothes. None of these changes was something he himself could explain. The only one idea was he was not supposed to be ordinary. He would find that person with ability and he would be the famous one. Although the idea of being famous still unnerved him, he was trying to get used to it.

Deliberately, he avoided being average. He sped, he swore loudly, he even modified his accent- just to be the extraordinary one. These changes were all gradual and subtle. Maybe he himself didn’t want those changes. It was the basis of his task that had thrown his perfectly symmetrical life out of the fine balance.

Despite of his numerous attempts, that person was still at large.

Now, B is sitting in a Starbucks, a café he previously wouldn’t even consider going. All the drama was unfolding in front of him as he gingerly put down his magazine. Watching that person who now appeared to him as the one who danced like a mindless robot in the ball, he laughs at his own stupidity. Everything has been so apparent, so lucid. He is the one. He causes all the problems. No wonder he still could dance!

As B walks over to help that person who was now seizing on the ground, he is all ready for this moment.


9. Bachianas Brasileiras No.9 for string orchestra   

‘I’m his friend, I can handle this,’ B told the astonished shopkeeper. B moves A to the outside. I’m there to help A who is delirious. ‘You’ve got to move him somewhere else,’ and B nods in agreement. We move A to the backyard to avoid the watchful eyes of the passersby. I volunteer to go back to the Starbucks and get some cold water. ‘I need her,’ A is still in his semi-conscious state.

When I’m back with a glass of cold water, A uses his hands to support his body. A regains some of his consciousness back. B is watching intently on him, crossing his arms in front of his chest. A shakes his head and clears his throat, ‘can I have some water?’ I promptly give him the water. A takes it gratefully, ‘thank you very much.’ He gulps down the whole glass of water and he stares at both of us apologetically, ‘I’m so sorry for what has just happened.’

 ‘Why do you do this,’ B confronts A coldly.


‘You know what am I asking, how do you do whatever you do,’ he knows what he is talking about.

A’s face turns even paler. Any sign of redness has receded in favour of a sickly chalky white. ‘I don’t know. It’s just in my mind,’ A says without remorse. ‘I can’t believe you are the one, after so many years of searching, do you know how much have I changed?’ B is getting more and more agitated. Apparently, A understands what he is blabbering about.

‘Why are you doing this? You show me something miraculous and at the same time take whatever I have. Why?’ B kneels in front of A, tears are rolling down from the wells of both eyes. A looks straight into B’s eyes. ‘Do you know what it takes to have this ability? You will never know the misery. You have to constantly choose between being ordinary and extraordinary. Everyone expects you to be someone but you yourself are not even sure what you have to expect,’ B shakes his head defiantly and A continues, tears are visible, ‘I don’t get to become who I am. You know what did I see just now? My future, a future that is not supposed to be mine. I’m ordinary. If I’m extraordinary enough, maybe I can change it. But can I? I’m helpless in front of the impossible choices lie in front of me.’ A hollered.

‘You know what? At least you have choices. Do I have one? Everytime you perform your goddamn miracle, I lose something. I’m sick of everything you do. I’m sick of you,’ B whispers this softly, avoiding the eye contact with A.

‘What did you lose,’ A softens.

‘The ordinariness, the symmetry, the order, you take away everything. Because of you, I lost my family. I direly wanted to go back to my symmetrical life but I failed. Because of you, I had to search for you, abandoning everything that defines me and my life!’ B is shaking involuntarily. 

‘I’m sorry,’ A concedes. Never once in his whole life he feels remorseful for whatever he has. With this exasperating guy sobbing like a completely battered soul, for once, he thinks he should stop blaming everyone for his downfall. ‘At least you have choices,’ B’s voice dampens his arrogance.


I witness their brawl from a corner. In my mind, there is a mind map of how two parallel lines start crisscrossing each other. No one can tell for sure how many times those two lines will cross each other again. Maybe they will never cross each other again. Maybe they will fuse to become a line. Many readers will be asking this question. Why not a proper conclusion? The answer is that simple. I never know what happens to them afterwards. I’m just a random point placed at the point of first intersection of those two lines. They move forward, but I don’t. to them, I’m just another customer they see in a Starbucks; I’m just another pedestrian that happens to be there to help them and witness everything. Thus, I’m not going to fool my reader by creating an alternative ending. A happily ever after ending will appeal to many wishful readers. A morbid ending is more of my liking. After reviewing everything I saw, I convince myself, ‘No, let the story end here.’

If there’s a Bachianas Brasileiras No.10, I might as well write about them thoroughly. However, that is life. Sometimes, just like A, we don’t have control on what we do, because it is life, c’est la vie. Perhaps everyone of us resembles B in a queerer way. We are just victims of being left option-less. And funny thing about their distinctly different lives, the one who has choices failed to change anything. In contrast, the one who is left with no choice, alters his course of life more than he can ever envisage.

But one thing they do share in common, they are both left hopeless in the course of their respective life. Maybe that’s how life is supposed to work, isn’t it?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Yesterday Once More - A Fairy Tale


I had a dream and it was a strange dream. I could ‘see’ ships hovering on the cloudless sky. They were of different sizes; some of them were mammoth, some of the were just microscopically petite (how I saw the ship that small?). Then, they suddenly developed a glowing orange tide on them. Slowly, almost randomly, the orange tide receded, giving way to dark clouds. Now the sky seemed somber. Thunder was brewing and precipitating the eerie déjà vu- I could no longer wake up or I would wake up an entirely different creature, just like Kafka’s bug and Roth’s breast.

And I was wide awake, feeling my heart throbbing in my head. What a bizarre dream! Luckily I was never a staunch believer in dream that could mildly resemble a fairy tale or a senseless images that deprived me of hours of sleep. I turned and looked at the white Mickey Mouse clock on the table; Mickey’s arms were pointing to 5.30am. What a ghostly hour to have such a dream! Somehow, I was not so sure of my trusty Mickey Mouse this time. The playground I could see from my window was buzzing with activities. Frisbees, dogs, pregnant mums, I stared at them disbelievingly. It must be a mistake. I had never slept until 5.30pm.

My stomach was sick with the prospects of I actually slept for more than 17 hours. Pushing open the door, I was sweating profusely. I tiptoed gingerly to the living room, suspecting foulplay. Somebody must have drugged me to sleep. Recall, recall, I told myself. Was my drink laced? No, it would only happen if I were to go to a pub yesterday night. My mind was like wires crisscrossing and shooting current sporadically without any coordination. There was once my friend recounted a real story of being shell-shocked.  A person who was facing an unexpected event would have their self-defend mechanism turned off for a moment.

What benefits could we possibly get from shell-shock? My friend shrugged.

As if waking up only to discover I just slept through half a day was not shocking enough, the moment I stepped into the living room, I saw me sitting on the couch. I was shell-shocked. He or I was tossing his (shoes I just bought during the sales!) shoes and slumped on the couch. No emotion was shown but I was him, I knew exactly what it meant. Tossing shoes, slumping, poker face, he was in bad mood. My depression had no cinematic impulse nor expressive grief. He was in every aspect, a me, my doppelganger; Or was I his doppelganger?

Suddenly, he stared straight at me. I had no idea whether he could see me. Once again, I found myself in an impossible position. Facing myself, as if it was not peculiar enough, I had to reason whether I was the unwanted one in his world or vice versa. One way or another, by all means, I couldn’t help but shivering in a morbid sense of excitement.

‘I had a bad day’ The slight pause in between ‘I’ and ‘had’ was deliberately created to invoke my curiosity. Suspense was his game. He loved the way he pronounced ‘real’ and he enjoyed every moment of teasing my ignorance.   ‘why?’ He sighed.

How could he be so indifferent as if I meant nothing to him? How could he keep his cool when his mirror image was not acting in his own way? I was puzzled by him. Was I that normal to him?

‘I told her, I told her everything, the fairy tale, everything!’ his sudden outburst was inexplicable. I should have refrained myself. Instead, I asked like a caring old friend, ‘What happened? Didn’t she like the story?’

‘You had no idea what that story is, didn’t you?’

‘In fact, I don’t,’ How did I manage to hold my nerve? Talking to myself…

‘It is a fairy tale, I don’t tell fairy tales. To me, they are too morbid. Humankind is mocked by their simplicity and only in fairy tales, morality was nothing. People get killed all the time in fairy tales but… this story just sprung to my mind on night. The urge was so strong. I need to tell her, I need to confess my love.’

She… that was not her name. However, ‘she’ sounded like a déjà vu. Again, déjà vu, the thunder, the lightning… they all happened again! Who was she? She was in my mind but where was she in my mind? Every obscure corner, every piece, I needed to remember who she was. Who?



All of a sudden, the strange orange ships and the stentorian thunder were back. I was rudely awaken by the dream and to my dismay, same thing happened all over again. I rushed to the window, all of them were still there, doing exactly the same thing. ‘Was what I went through another dream?’ No, it was too surreal. My doppelganger would be sitting on the same couch if I were to muster enough courage to go out from my room. My heart was not strong enough for another encounter with my doppelganger, not after the surreal dream I had. Was it a dream? The question was back. However, I was more inclined to think so because if I was wrong, then, somebody might have pressed a ‘backspace’ in my life and refreshed my last few minutes.

That was even more disturbing.

Then, I saw him, my impostor. He came out from the washroom. He still looked the same, except he was humming ‘Yesterday Once More’. I should know better than anyone else. My favourite, the only song I would hum when I was in a particularly jolly mood. I couldn’t really remember when was the last time I hummed this song. It must be ages ago because I could hardly remember the lyrics. ‘You should be happier, you should do something to cheer yourself up, your all make-believe stories have gotten into your head, do they not?’ my friend who was concerned once asked me.

What could I say? I was not nihilistic, I was not even an idealist or perfectionist. But, happiness? Not my thing, I inadvertently distanced myself from them. Perhaps my friend was right, the stories I wrote influenced me more than I managed influence them.

Back to my doppelganger, he grinned at me. ‘Tell you what? I’m going to see her tomorrow.’ I threw an anxious look on the Mickey Mouse clock which was still there, 5.30pm. The calendar, one cross was missing. I had a habit to mark everyday I lived through by putting a big cross on the date. Today was supposed to be 11th May but there was no cross on 10th May. First thing that came to my mind was, I time travelled. Nonsense, how did I explain why all the scenes were still the same? Why the same dream?

‘She agrees to go out with me, finally. I asked her for a few times already but I was being unlucky for quite a few times. First time I asked her, she had an exam. Second time I asked her, she had to attend a wedding dinner. Finally, she said yes. Aren’t you happy for me?’

He painstakingly narrated all the tedium. I could hear and see the exuberance. But, how could I bring myself to tell him he was going to be heartbroken on tomorrow? All these things had been strange to me, I could hardly convince myself. He wouldn’t believe In me, neither would I if I were to experience this all over again.



I refused to open my eyes. It was all happening, all over again. The dream, the thunder, I was on the brink of losing my mind. Another refreshing of my life would ultimately force me to go berserk. I howled aimlessly. The Micky Mouse clock was still on the clock and it annoyed me. I hurled the clock out of the window in frustration.

Desperation, was a more appropriate term.

Without any surprise, I saw him sitting by his desk. He was writing something ferociously. The fairy tale! I suddenly recalled.  Occasionally, he lifted his head and looked at the playground outside his room. The sky was dyed in the brilliant orange clouds. His exultance was reflective in the eccentric colour of clouds. What exultance? The fairy tale?

I wished I could surreptitiously steal a view on the story he was working on. Just before I was about to do that, he turned to me with a worried look on his face. The same face I grimaced at when it appeared behind the mirror. Behind the mirror, the face with its mouth opened, eyes wide, sweat crystallized on the forehead- they were all perfect testimonial of an infatuated heart.

He had tons of worries, the absurd ones, the groundless ones.

Without totally denouncing his paranoia, I advised him to take the middle way. Be nice to her, be the one she needed, be there for her… I was good in assuring him everything would be alright but ultimately, I was him. The worries were gnawing in me too. She, was a shapeless and formless apparition to me. But he didn’t know that, he assumed I knew her well; maybe I did, just that my memory failed me, at this crucial moment.

‘Why are you writing this?’

‘12th May is her birthday, I want to tell her this, I think it’ll be a perfect story for her. I think she will be touched,’ he beamed.

His optimism touched me. For a moment, I thought he was going to succeed and 12th of May would be altogether a different ending. The shoes wouldn’t be tossed and he wouldn’t be talking to a stranger who turned out to be himself. The story was on the desk. Somehow, without looking at it, I was convinced. She would be touched.

And I realized I had too much ‘would’, ‘could’ and ‘should’ in my own wishful thinking. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, three blind mice.

I no longer argued with the rational. The irrationality surrounding me no longer troubled me. Perhaps, I had grown used to it or perhaps, I was just very obsessed with his soon-to-be failure. As he continued scribbled down his final thought, I watched from far.

‘Why you want to tell her this story?’

He was startled. ‘I don’t know, she is different. I want to tell her that. She never gives me any hint but we can talk for whole day long. Tell me, can I be mistaken?’

No exactly an answer to my question. At least, one thing was confirmed. He was indeed a replica of me. Or he was just an ordinary infatuated teenager? No reason to fall in love, yet, believing in a reason that never existed with a conviction so strong that would tear him apart if he were to be rejected- he picked up the sign of falling in love.

Naïve, childish, impulsive, three blind bats.



‘I thought bats are blind naturally?’

‘Does that mean men are blind naturally?’

‘Love is blind naturally.’

‘Love is naïve, childish and impulsive?’

‘Don’t you know that?’

Then the orange ships marched in, I was awake, with hair plastered to my sweaty forehead. He was not In the room. He was not in the living room when I went out to see what was awaiting me out there. No surprise and should I consider this as a different type of surprise?

The dreams had left me pretty much dehydrated. And dehydration made me drowsy. I sat down on the couch, thinking of all the possibilities. The absence of him made me nervous. I was partly afraid of he would suddenly appear out of no where and was not entirely relieved either if this was not a part of my ‘refreshed’ dream. ‘Yesterday Once More’,  what was the significance of the song?

The calendar hung on the wall seemingly foretold everything, including the significance. It was 18th of March- my birthday. Was I going through another birthday? Which birthday was it? The 2008 one or the 2009 one or the even earlier ones?  

Somebody was knocking the door of the apartment.

I was cross because my thought was disrupted. Who was the one who knocked the door? I decided whoever that person was, he/she was definitely not him. Wouldn’t he have the key to his apartment (technically my apartment also)?

Realizing the whole new probability, I weighted two possibilities. 1. It was a prank. 2. She was the one.

I opened the door slowly, half-expecting she would be standing in front of me. How would I know she was the one? No way to prove it nor to disprove it. Juggling such a variety of mixed thoughts was quite a headache. And it number my response. How did I know?

Because she was standing there, right in front of me the moment I opened the door.

I was shell-shocked for the second time, though the magnitude must be lower. I still could instinctively welcome her to my place. I still could mutter some mumbo-jumbos- which clearly made sense to her. She said something and I replied something else. We both smiled, though all of them didn’t really register in my mind. It was all reflex.

Hence, I couldn’t really describe her. Was she petite? Did she have an alluring figure? Was her hair black or brown? If my friends were to be here to witness everything, they must be laughing at my apparent state of autonomicity. ‘How can you fail to notice her hair?’ they would say.

I poured her something. I told her something. And now I discovered I was facing the mirror in my bathroom. The person behind the mirror was in every aspect, a quintessential me. ‘Clear your mind, ask the important ones, skip the miscellaneous,’ who was talking to whom?

I must ask her.

She was flipping through The Economist scattered haphazardly on the round table when I came back to the living room. There’s clarity in her eyes, eager to learn about me, eager to strike a conversation, eager to gain control. ‘Do you like yachts?’, ‘The orange one,’ she was taken aback by my question. Clearly, she didn’t expect me to ask a question first.

‘How do you know I like yachts? Orange is a strange choice, but it’ll be quite a stand-out if an orange yacht is anchored with other yachts.’

‘ Have you been to one before?’


‘ Why you like them?’

‘ You are acting weird today.’

‘Answer me’

‘Hmm… they were once in my dream.’

‘What kind of dream?’

‘It was kind of silly but I dreamed of I was on a yacht with thousands maybe million of perfumes around me.’

‘Thousands? How did they smell like? It must be one hell of cocktail.’

‘No, they smell just like here.’

‘Here? I don’t understand, there’s no perfume here.’

‘ Don’t you realize we are surrounded by millions of scents all the time?’

‘You like perfumes?’

‘You are asking a lot.’

‘Do you?’

‘Yeah, talk about yourself. Why didn’t you say hi to me this morning in the campus?’

‘I didn’t? I thought I said hi to you and even told you about my birthday?’

‘No you didn’t, I’m sure about that.’

‘How did you find out about my birthday?’

‘Why are you at home during your birthday? Expecting someone?’

‘Are you here to celebrate for me?’



‘Why what?’

‘Why are you here if you are not here to celebrate?’

‘Just come by to meet my new friend.’

‘We are friends?’

‘More than that?’

‘What do you mean by more than that?’

‘More than you wishful thinking.’

‘What wishful thinking?’

‘About me.’

‘About you what?’

‘About how I like yachts and perfumes.’

‘I’m confused.’

‘Me too.’

‘Would you like to, you know, swing by and be my guest?’

‘That’s very generous of you. I guess I will see you more often?’

‘I think we are throwing each other too many questions.’

‘Are we?’

‘I think so, another question from you.

‘No question next time.’


‘See, another question.’



Now I realized those ships in my dream were yachts. Old habits died hard. I had been calling them yachts since I was young and no matter how my mother tried to correct me, it’s hard to change. Orange yachts, lots of them were in my dream. They were on the sky and the sky was instantly dyed orange. I tried to close my eyes; the ray was too glaring. My eyes were closed in my dream. So, what could be so glaring until I felt like losing my eyesight?

The thunder roared and soon the yachts dispersed. The wind was too strong for them.

Ceiling fan was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. Mickey mouse clock was the second thing I saw. 5.30pm. The calendar was the third thing I would like to see. It showed 12th of May when I stepped into my living hall. A huge tide of relief  overwhelmed me. It’s now all over. No more doppelganger, no more endless fear of facing myself, no more ‘she’.


She was completely out of my mind until the haunting images of the dream dragged her back. 12th of May, 5.30pm, I ought to do something, something that sounded to eerily familiar to me. Reminder, yes, I kept a reminder. I ransacked my room and my study table for that piece of reminder. And I found it, right underneath ‘The Art Of Yachting’.

5.40pm- pick up her gift from the shop

6.30pm- meet her.

Her gift?

Yacht was way beyond me. I couldn’t have bought her a yacht. It must be something else. I found myself pacing in obvious irritability, trying very hard to remember. What gift? Another question from me. My head was overdriven by information and the couch suddenly looked so tempting to me. I slumped on the couch, musing about how I came to lose my memory. No, I didn’t. I once told a friend, ‘it’s all in your mind, it’s just a matter of whether you can remember.’

I was sure I didn’t forget.

Suddenly, my saturated mind was intruded by an untimely thought. Didn’t I look exactly like the ‘him’ I witnessed in the dream? Depressed, worried, jumpy… ‘Think like him,’ I tried to condition myself to think like him as if I was not him in the first place.

The story!

How could I forget the single most crucial link? I rushed into my room and flipped open ‘The Art Of Yachting’. A piece of paper dropped out. The story, my story, my story for her... my promise.


Once upon a time, there was a young man living alone in a humble hut. One day, a young girl passed by his hut and the moment he saw her, he was completely in love with her. He swore to everyone he met that the girl was the most beautiful lady he had ever met in his whole life. But, he never saw that girl again. All she left him, was a petal of flower. The scent of the flower, strangely enough, ever faded. It was the magic flower, he thought.

One night when he was asleep, suddenly an old man came to his dream. ‘I’m the father of that girl. In order to marry her, you have to complete three tasks. Firstly, you must buy the most expensive gem in the World for her. Secondly, you must build a house for her on the most dangerous cliff in the World. Thirdly, you must live in there and wait for her.

The first task, to him, was the easiest. He worked hard for 20 years in a nearby mill and when he amassed enough fortune, he bought the biggest ruby in the World. The second task was tricky. He thought all by himself, there  was no way for him to build a house on the steepest and the most dangerous cliff in the World. But, with enough courage and perseverance, he finished building that house in another 20 years.

The third task, which was supposed to be the easiest, turned out to be the hardest of all tasks. Everyday, he was eagerly waiting for her to come back to him. Another day went by, another disappointment added. Nonetheless, he waited for another 20 years. His love for her never changed and wavered. He swore to himself that he would wait for the one who brought that heavenly scent to his life.

One day, the old man in his dream 60 years ago suddenly appeared at his doorway. The old man didn’t seem to change a bit but the young guy was now a frail and old man already. The old man said to him, ‘congratulations on completing your tasks, you shall now have my daughter’s hands.’ Then the young girl appeared in front of him. She also didn’t change a bit.

He was very sad. He was no longer young but the girl was still young. ‘I can’t marry her,’ he said, ‘I’m too old for her.’ The old man laughed, ‘do you know why I set all the tasks for you?’ He shook his head.

‘A guy doesn’t have to be rich as long as he is willing to spend for the one he loves dearly. A guy doesn’t have to be strong as long as he is willing to carry the one he loves dearly and be the one for her all the way. A guy doesn’t have to be immortal as long as he is willing to wait for the one he loves dearly.’

‘You are the right one for my daughter,’ as the father of the girl said that, the old man was turned into a young guy once again. He was overjoyed. He lives happily with the girl happily ever after.


The perfume. Mystery solved, the gift is a perfume! A perfect testimonial of love.

Such a simple fairy tale! There was only one thing in my mind now, I must tell her that. No more questions, no more careful calculations, no more searching for signs and hints. I must and would tell her everything.

As I held the paper close to my chest, I could see the yachts once again. Orange ones. The thunder was not in my sight. For once in my whole life, I felt the optimism caressing my skin, warming my heart, soothing my injured soul, once again. For once, I believed.

Another me must be watching me from far and I was sure, he could feel the happiness too. There would be a smile on his face.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Fairy Tale: She

She is coming, too soon, too abrupt.
Her apparition is an anticipated surprise.
I bow before her, I lean on her,
And I tell her a fairy tale.

That's the end of our fairy tale.
Fairy tale that's devoid of all its vital innocence.
We are becoming aware.
We stop moving, in awe of the fairy tale.

She knows.
Though her knowledge is not my wisdom.
Her riddles defeat me.
And she knows.

We are drifting apart and the fairy tale,
Repeats itself all over again,
Perhaps it's time for me,
To outgrow fairy tales.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

And They Speak

Like a lotus without roots that floats with the flow. – A Chinese Idiom


1. The Magical House Speaks


I just bought a magical house and moved in one month ago. Magical? My friends were suspicious. The last time they heard of this word, ‘magical’, was in a cinema while they were watching a movie, a cartoon to be precise. They house spoke to me the moment I stepped on its lawn. His voice was husky, restrained. I figured the house hadn’t spoken for quite some time.


                Magical magical magical,

                Ding dong ding dong,

                I speak, I sing, I chant,

                Oh, torment me with your presence,

                Your presence is a venom,

                Quick it is, silence departed.

                Magical magical magical.


I concluded that the house did welcome my presence. He liked rhetoric, he liked the ironies. How did I know? Later on, someone would tell me this, or something? ‘When was the last time he spoke?’ I inquired cautiously, careful not to raise any suspicious eyebrows of the inhabitants in the house. The someone, the something.  Let’s denote the unknown something/someone with an X first. X sunk into deep muse. I slowly sipped the coffee I brewed for no one but myself.


‘The day he was cursed. Curse, how terrible, how terrifying! How did he even survive!’ x’s replied was pregnant with uncertainties. My dear reader, I shall depart from the main conversation I had with x for while. I felt the necessity to describe X to you. Without any description, any move to convince you with X’s story would be ultimately futile.


I learnt my lessons from my friends who discounted my story with ‘Neh, you are blabbering’. I couldn’t really blame them, could I? X was a soloist. X was alone. X fed on solitude. X slept on single bed. X only played The Pictures of the Exhibition by Mussorgsky. X only read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. X had no friends and X was not the one who cursed the magical house. ‘Curse is a strong word, way too strong,’ he regretted uttering those harsh words in front of me. The house was magical, X knew that. No wonder certain degree of respect was displayed, although I had no idea whether X was being sincere or polite.


‘What so magical about this house?’ I asked that despite of the fact that the house did just speak to me. X broke into a radiant grin, ‘You are sly, aren’t you?’ Another lesson learned, X was not someone I should fool around with. X was way too smart for me. The house I lived in was a magical house. Regardless of anything, I must explore it on my own. X implied it quite clearly on our first encounter. I turned the door knob and X was right behind me, gave me a big fright. X introduced me to the magical house and what did he say to me?


Lotus and Mussorgsky.


Exactly, it’s the hint to decipher every mystery about this magical house who refused to reveal anything except the poem I heard. Lotus and Mussorgsky, Gosh, I was so inspired to unearth the truths. But I had to cautious enough not to show my excitement on my face. X was observant and X would know my secret. From now on, I knew I should keep a secret.



2. And the cuckoo clock speaks


Slowly, swiftly, I murder everyone

With my patience, with my determination

When the darkness descends, when the air mystifies,

Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

I’m the one, the only one.


‘He is old, very old indeed,’ X whispered to me. X went on with the history of the cuckoo clock. How could I tell X that I was not interested with this maroon cuckoo clock which was not even accurate? My mind was saturated with lotus and Mussorgsky and what were the hints behind them. I hardly listened to anything said by X but out of courtesy, I nodded every time he seemed to seek an assurance from me.


‘The man who cursed this house bought this clock to replace his old clock which was always slower than the actual time,’ X roused my curiosity with the mention of the ‘curse’. The word now seemed peculiar to me because we were not living in a magical world. Realism dictated our world. But wait, I just heard the cuckoo clock chanting effortlessly in my presence. I was confused.


The cuckoo clock was hung on the wall, near the dining hall by the previous tenant who cursed the magical house. He liked the cuckoo clock so much and it’s definitely the love at first sight. He saw it in a shopping mall and it would cost him a bomb. Without realizing how exorbitant it was, partly because the madness of love had taken over him, he bought it using his credit card. ‘I was later told that that guy’s father own thousands hectares of palm oil plantation,’ X continued with a strange admiration and the tenderness of X’s gaze innervated me.


He cleaned the clock regularly. Unlike what I saw right now, the clock was sparkling immaculate last time. The wood body was constantly polished. The glass wall was meticulously wiped by the tenant. Partly because of his love to everything his father disapproved of, partly because of his lover, partly because of his love at the first sight, he was found too obsessed with the cuckoo clock. ‘He stayed up late to accompany it and he told me because the clock hates solitude,’ X’s indifference, again, was spine-chilling.  


His father, on the other hand, hated this clock. The house which was magical, in his father’s eye, didn’t really go well with the clock. The cuckoo clock had its larger-than-life aura that the house, his father surmised, couldn’t contain. ‘The clock is too expensive, besides, it’s too big for the house, my son,’ his advice fell into a deaf ear, as usual.


The tenant was rebellious. He learned to ride a bike in front of a mamak shop although his father clearly forbid him of doing that. He refused to speak to his father for one month because his father openly criticized his decision for not taking Mandarin in his SPM.  ‘Mandarin is a waste of time! In Malaysia, English is the kind, master it and you are notch ahead. It’s hard to get A1 for SPM, you do realize that, don’t you? This might seriously compromise my chance in getting scholarship,’ he once thought he was born to oppose whatever his father suggested.


His father was adamant in his disapproval of the tenant’s girlfriend who spoke no other language but English. She couldn’t speak Chinese or any mandarin dialect. His father was furious, much more furious than when he found out the cuckoo clock. That was unacceptable. How could he bring a girl who can’t speak mandarin home! He refused to meet her. The tenant stormed out of the house and that’s how he ended up in this magical house.


X was delirious with joy. I could tell from the story he told. He had no control what he wanted to convey. What did mandarin get to do with the cuckoo clock? On the other hand, I was not really into X’s narration. I was starting to relate his story to the ‘lotus and Mussorgsky’.  I once saw a pool that was totally covered by the lotuses in China. China had something to do with lotus, it seemed ludicrous but, mandarin, China and Malaysian Chinese.


I decided to listen to X more since I was on my bottleneck of puzzle-solving. His stories might shed some light on my riddles.



3. And the piano speaks


Raindrop, raindrop, on the keyboard,

Chopin, Rubenstein, Rachmaninoff,

Virtuosos, pupils,

The piano concertos, the piano solos,

Reverberates in resonance,

When the piano player is alone,

In a dark room, with his piano.


‘This is the piano, you are right, the tenant bought it,’ X continued, ‘ for countless of his sleepless nights, the piano was his remedy.’ The tenant was found asleep on the piano once. He played good piano. He listened to Chopin’s and Rachmaninoff’s played by Rubenstein. However, he preferred playing Schumann’s Traumerei and Papillons. Chopin, to him was too subtle. Rachmaninoff, to him, was god-like and should not be defiled by his inferior skills. Traumerei was his lullaby, Papillons was his passion.


He played Papillons in front of his girlfriend who was a ballet dancer. ‘Madame Butterfly,’ he uttered this to himself dreamily whenever he saw her dancing in front of him. With her robe brushed against the floor, he would be reminiscing how they met each other.


Danso, danso, danso,’ he murmured that to his girlfriend the first time they kissed.


‘He met his girlfriend in a medical college in Kuala Lumpur,’ X stroked the keyboard nonchalantly. The tenant was under scholarship offered by Malaysian government but his girlfriend was not. Whenever he was asked about his scholarship, his story would always be recounted in this sentence ‘luckily I didn’t take mandarin in my SPM.’ Looking his friends, one by one, failed to secure the scholarship because of a single A2 in their SPM certificates. He would sometime, lament for them. Most of the time, he would just sneer at them.


To him, there’s nothing greater than the scholarship, the prestige. Mother-tongue could be put aside and again, he was proven right by everyone he met. In Kuala Lumpur, most of the Chinese spoke splendid English, because they didn’t speak Mandarin. Mandarin was like a distant relative, existence was none of their concern.


‘They are still Chinese, still celebrate Chinese New Year!’ His father exclaimed in exasperation. No, to the tenant, culture must come second to whatever that mattered to him. He didn’t care about the tradition. He ate mooncakes without bothering to know when was the Mooncake Festival. He didn’t even know what Dong Zhi was even though he ate tang yuen every year.  


And his encounter with his girlfriend deepened his conviction. The first lie he told her, the first promise, the first step to his own perdition, all happened at one time. ‘I don’t speak Mandarin too,’ he told her the first time they met. Like a dying patient who was bound to the ventilator for life, he chose to relieve himself from the bondage. He thought he was free, he convinced himself he did the right thing, but, ‘he played Moonlight Sonata’s for the first time in his life the night he told the lie,’ X pressed on C-sharp heavily and filled the hall with ripples of rummy echo.


‘Why didn’t he tell the truth?’ I wasn’t expecting the story to be this intriguing and X’s answers baffled me.  ‘Young man, ego, ego, is a terrible thing, a terrifying thing. Do you want to be different? Do you want to be special?’ X was playing Traumerei gracefully and yet, the effect on me was stentorian. Overcome by the curiosity, temporarily, I totally forgot about my riddle. I asked ‘What happened next?’


‘Let’s meet our pal!’ he was exuberant.



4. And the pond speaks


                Splash, splash, the frog on a lotus leaf

                No flow, no ripple, all silence on its surface

                Lotuses grow, brilliant reflection

                Like a lotus without roots that floats with the flow

                There’s no flow, all silence, all dead.


I threw a pebble into the pond earlier that day. The ripple created by it was somehow no less ordinary than any pattern of ripple you would see in the world. No, in this house, ordinary was a curse. It’s unacceptable to be ordinary while everything was magical. Just when I was thinking about how ordinary this pool can be. It spoke.


The clarity of its voice is unmistakable. It’s so distinct that you could immediately tell that the pond was speaking although you had never witnessed a speaking pond. Just imagine there was a lift. You were inside with 10 sweaty office workers. The cocktail of perfume, lunch and boss’s saliva invaded and numbed your senses. However, you could still tell who wore the perfume this morning and had an orgasm yesterday’s night.


That was why I was unperturbed when X told me this pond was the central of the house while geographically, it was no where close to the ‘central’. ‘Everything happened here,’ X exclaimed gleefully. “Tell me, what do you think about a lotus?” X suddenly asked. I answered earnestly, ‘I think lotus is the saddest flower in the world, it floats and flows. No roots can hole her from flowing with the flow.’


‘Well, I don’t think the ex-tenant had a totally different stand,’ X slumped into another daydream.


A night, the night. Alcohol, jokes, junk food, the recipe for disasters. They gathered around the pond, some of them brought junk food, some of them brought themselves and he, as the host, provided all the alcohol needed. ‘Ah, alcohol, what a deadly attraction to every teenager,’ X exclaimed loudly and for a spur of moment, I found myself more confused than ever. Did X even go through that age of endless temptations and rebellions?


Cordon bleu, whisky, he didn’t even bother how risky it’s to mix alcohol, not to mention all his friends were drinking amateurs. Nobody really drank that much and yet, everyone boasted how much they could take and how many pubs they went before. To him, it’s all so fresh and scintillating. He never got that much of opportunities to drink. Coming from a traditional Chinese family, the only time he was even allowed to touch some alcohol was during Chinese New Year. The most he could take was beer. Liquor like cordon bleu, he didn’t even consider the repercussions, it just didn’t occur to him what alcohol could do.


‘Come and think about it, alcohol didn’t do anything at all. Later in his life, he tried to blame all his failure to that night, to the alcohol while he knew perfectly, the wind of change was already brewing, the seed of revolution was creeping somewhere under the skin,’ X threw another pebbles into the pond.


There was laughter, there was boisterous conversation, there were friends who behaved just like him, inexperienced yet eager to break out from his teenage cocoon. He was not quite ready for everything, neither did his girlfriend who was also there. Though cautious he was with alcohol, neither he nor his girlfriend could foresee the vortex of irreversibility. Life was all together foreign to them after that. However, while they were pokering with bunch of good friends, it hardly occurred to them that they were heading to their perdition. Perhaps, perdition might not be the most suitable vocabulary, but, he was sure a part of him died as the punishment of being sober.


People said, it was good to be sober. He must beg to differ. Sometime, he secretly wished he was the one who was drunk. At least, when people were drunk, they told the truth. Part of him wanted to know the inconvenient truth, part of him prevented him from knowing what he wanted. He was conditioned by all his lies he ever told, to other people and most importantly to himself. When he saw one of his best friend was not behaving herself under the influence of the alcohol, he conditioned himself, it’s good to be sober. When that friend of his leaned to another equally drunk friend and tried to kiss each other, he sensed something was wrong. His girlfriend who was always the more sensible and sensitive one advised him to separate them.


And he did what he was told to do. He asked them to wait for him in his car, he would drive them home.


But it’s no good, while his another friend who just couldn’t stop revealing his own secret, while he was trying desperately to separate them in vain, now, he could see them kissing in the car, hands on the hips, threatening to do something unspeakable.


He could no longer take it. A can of beer during Chinese New Year wouldn’t turn a girl and a guy unconscious, a kiss meant nothing to other people, but not for him who was brought up in a traditional Chinese family.


‘He realized that he was no longer a boy. The world outside the cocoon was not as good as what he might anticipate. A blame on his conservative father will do, problem solved. But, he knew he was running out of excuses. He couldn’t dislocate himself from the upbringing of the culture. He couldn’t detach from life he direly avoided. He couldn’t even bring his eyes to meet his girlfriend’s. As if the relationship was built on a false premise, he felt the chill. He swore that the moment he witnessed all the made-believe world he created for himself falling apart, he also saw the end of the relationship that was full of deceptions and betrayals,’ X narrated in a gusto that drew me closer and closer.


Unprepared, he promptly sent them home. His girlfriend was sitting beside him all the way and with those two drunken friends sitting behind them. Suddenly, the girl wept. The guy was partially brought back to the reality and he tried to calm her. Again, the girl was very drunk. She refused to sit still, she moaned, she again wrapped her arms around the guy’s neck.  ‘What could he do besides driving the car silently? Realizing there’s nothing he could do, he attempted to condition himself,’ X paused.


‘Again, it’s no good,’ X concluded.  


5. And the dining table speaks


Testimonial to everything,

I live for a very long time,

People sit across me,

Smiling taciturnly,

Conversing like victims of love,

Love of?

Culture? Life? Innocence?


He stared at her, across the table. 1 year ago, they used to do the same thing. Same cuisines, Close To You by The Carpenter, same awkwardness, the only thing that changed was now, there was no deception. Everything was clear to them now. The loss of innocence was the least of their concern, but he couldn’t just brush it away like it never happened because everything stemmed from that night.


The night by the pond.


However, the loss of teenage didn’t cause them to be less intimate. The alcohol hardly altered their relationship. Yet, like a chain that linked them together had been corroded, they were suddenly yanked free from the constraint. The life ahead of them suddenly looked mammoth and intimidating for them. They claimed that they were no longer childish, they were no longer disillusioned. ‘I will say they are still disillusioned, they just don’t want to admit. Both of them were guilty of what they did, they didn’t want to concede to the fact that there’s a life in front of them. They refused to acknowledge there’ll be more booze, there’ll be more kissing, there’ll be more sex waiting for them,’ X said.


I was convinced because I somehow could relate to their dilemma. I wished I could talk more about myself but I found their story to be more engrossing. Hence, I let X continue.


They broke up. He accepted it gracefully, almost unbelievably calm. ‘Let it come and go,’ she said to him, blankly, devoid of any expression. He wondered was it part of her so-called ‘I’ve grown up ranting’? He decided not to bring up the issue anymore. What he didn’t tell her (he no longer considered this as a lie) was, those two drunken friends were in a relationship now. The day after the fateful night, the guy swore adamantly that he was not interested in the girl. Weeks later, they were together. Perhaps the girl had forgotten how his hands were on her hips, perhaps the alcohol did all the talking for them, perhaps he was just wrong which he hoped he was, he still couldn’t accept that the World was larger than his teenage.


After he ran away from the tyranny of his father, he thought college life was his World. But little did he know was, his own World was modeled after his father’s. The all illusions he had was modeled after things he dreaded. His vision was his father’s, his grandfather’s, his friend’s father’s.  That’s why when his girlfriend proposed a break-up, part of him was urging him to accept it immediately.


He was no longer innocent. His love which was built upon a blatant denial of everything he dreaded was deemed unsuitable now. He hoped his girlfriend could understand that. ‘ I pity both of them, so young, so childish, so simplistic view of World that’s much more complicated,’ X showed his sympathy for the very first time.


My throat was burning due to over-straining. I was excited. I temporarily forgot about all my quest for truth, the story mattered more right now. I even willingly gave up finding the identity of X. Second-guessing was just not my trait.


‘It’s hard to end a story like that huh? You must be wondering who am I, how do I know so much. Tell me do they matter to you than the story itself?’ X asked. I shook my head, the story indeed had more to offer. X broke into convulsive laughter upon seeing my response. ‘I must be one hell of story-teller!’


6. And they speak


 I could hear nothing. I lay on the floor, looking at the ceiling. The quest ought to be ended. I mused about culture and what it had got to do with me. Then I realized, nobody could really run from the culture. Even lotus had to stop flowing with the flow one day, there’s no reason for me to be rootless. I must be anchored to something, a belief perhaps. Perhaps Lotus and Mussorgsky never existed in the first place. Picture of The Exhibition, what exhibition? Life itself was an exhibition, the exhibition of rude wake-up-calls and blatant honesty.


Thinking about all these things really hurt my head. To make things worse, X was no longer here. X vanished into a thin air, just like how he appeared our of no where. ‘Life is always beyond my grasp,’ I concluded. The moment I reached my conclusion, I heard a symphony, at first, it was all muffle. Then, it evolved and gained its momentum.


Now I could swear I heard X. However, it didn’t sound like X at all. It’s a cacophony of everything that ever spoke to me.


Where are you running to?

Whom are you lying to?

What are you going to do?

When are you going to wake up?

Which life are you choosing?


I was sleepy and thus I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was a new man. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Dedicated to Tham May Wan who due to some special reasons, refuse to tell me something important. So, i use this to piss her off, hehe... Call me irresponsible, call me childish XD

Descends from nowhere,
With the voice so thin,
With the motion barely noticeable.

She walks right through me,
Like ghost, like enigma, like reality

When our paths cross, 
Dreamlike intermediate are spontaneously generated,
Reality becomes unbelievable, magical time.

We sing the song of magics,
Of friendship, of life

Converging our path is,
the common path, i see no end to it,
Illusions? Hallucinations?

She whispers, May is yet to come,
Let's toast for the life,
Let's toast for the bets,

And finally, let's toast for her apparition.