in silence

Category: Prose

a streetlamp mutters

in the quiet of the convention centre, on registration chairs that were awaiting no one, we tried to trace the birth of our friendship. we searched for details that could be labelled as the point of conception, the date of birth, the place of birth, our first steps – but they couldn’t quite be found.

was that moment the first step or the first crawl?

first word or first laugh?

my aunt is the youngest of many siblings and by the time she was due her mother’s womb no longer recognized the anxiety of delivery. birth rang the doorbell in the middle of a mahjong game and demanded a place at the dinner table when they were in a train carriage speeding towards the nearest hospital.

the place of birth on her birth certificate is listed ‘between lampposts xx & xx’

perhaps our friendship too was born between lampposts, arbitrary markings between distance and intimacy. that night we laughed our way from the spotlight of one streetlamp to another, pausing in between to talk or take a photo, faces pointed into the light, smiles pointed towards each other.

under the shutters, between the lampposts, i knew that the birth was still happening and that this was a friendship into which we could be reborn over and over and over.

growing old

Her grasshopper skin fell about her in a brittle mourning wreath. Her eyes glazed with memories of the sixty years that had passed, burning with dreams of the twenty that beckoned temptingly by. Freedom was a wailing child she had neglected to cradle, its arms craving her pacifier hug, her arms craving its thunder voice and searching heart. Their hands in each others’ built a universe of myriad chaos reflected in the dome of a fish’s glassy eyes, streets that lilted upwards with her smile, folding in on loose skin that was, itself, learning to fold around a shrinking body.

star charts

When I was four, I believed I was immortal. Or rather, when I was four I believed six was the age of infinity. And that is why my email address is rachel_xxxx6@hotmail.com – four year old me had thought ahead. “When I am six, it’ll be exactly my age”. I clearly never thought I’d grow up.

But I did. I grew up to learn to stand with my tummy tucked in, toes pointed, every inch of my seven year old self straining for perfection that was never really in me. I grew up gazing at my ballet teacher through a faltering telescope. Every star that followed the other faded slowly into oblivion along her freckled earlobes, her piercings tracing a constellation in the milky way. Because when you are so small, everything looks so big.

As I strained my neck to reach for the single constellation I began plotting the pathway of my life about it. I wonder if you can plot a graph of every light that has been in your life from your birth till now. That first flood of light that takes you whole as you swim out of your mother’s womb, I cannot remember it, it doesn’t count.

The second is the yawn of day crawling through foreign blinds in a country where the sun wakes at 4 am instead of 7. The third the fireflies that evade me by dancing through trees that at 14, I had forgotten how to climb. The fourth lightning as it cast its blistering shadow over the thinning plastic as we watched the silhouette of yesterday’s laundry fly off our tent.

Can we plot a graph that traces the fireflies, the blistering nights and everything in between? I am only searching for a thread that will bind me to the constellations I’ve been tracing since my birth. Because with the stars running further and further away from us, their trails turning redder and redder in their wake, my eyes can only mirror the star trails as I chase after their shadows in the dark. Physicists tell us that when an object moves further away from you, it’s light grows increasingly red.

All I can tell you is that as birth moves further and further away from me, my light is burning out.

阿嬷,我爱你

The face is the illiterate’s notebook.

When my grandmother goes to the optometrist, she uses the chart which, instead of carrying letters our whitewashed tongues have been taught to read, displays only the letter E facing four different directions. She needs only to tell the doctor which way it is pointing – if need be she can skip the speech and point along with it, silent.

But in that room, it can never be silent because her pacemaker heart is ticking. My grandmother is no crocodile from a Disney movie but from her Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock I know when she is near me. My grandmother’s heart is a clock, counting up the seconds she spends on this island, counting down the nervous moments she has left in the optometrist’s room.

When my grandfather died she joked, “At least when I die, with my heart it will be fast. No more”. My mother did not think her joke was funny.

The fortune teller reads wealth, health and happiness from the lines on our palms. But in my grandmother’s fingers I read the recipe for my favourite sambal kangkong, black pepper prawns, my cousin’s soon hock. In her eyes I read concern as it is scribbled on the speckled skin that scrunches up when they see the rash on my joints, the bruises on my knees. In her stiff neck my mother reads the signs of a possible heart attack as she hastens to get her to see a doctor.

Since my grandfather’s death, my grandmother has refused to move in with any of us. In her time capsule of a flat with her familiar floral covers over the sofa older than I am, a dim light hangs gently on. “Aunty -” The metal front gate rattles. There is camaraderie in the way her neighbour writes the results of the daily lottery on paper for her knowing that, alone, she has no way of sourcing them out herself.

The light in her apartment is slowly dimming but in the failing light, I ask for permission to read her story. From her laugh-lines, wrinkles, disappearing teeth, I take it all in.

thank you Proust

Haven’t posted in ages so I thought I would today. However, this isn’t written by me – I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell lately, maybe I’ll try tonight. For now, here’s something from Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema that we read in film class. It’s actually written by Proust I believe.

“The steeples seemed so far away, and we appeared to be making so little progress towards them, that I was amazed when, a few minutes later, we stopped in front of Martinville church. I did not know the cause of the pleasure I had felt from seeing them on the horizon, and it struck me as very laborious to have to try and discover that cause; I wanted those lines, stirring in the sunlight, to be stored away in my head, not to have to think about them anymore…”
“Without actually telling myself that what was hidden behind the steeples of Martinville must bear some relation to a fine sentence, since it had come to me in the form of pleasurable words, I asked the doctor for pencil and paper, and, despite the jolting of the buggy, in order to ease my conscience and obey my own enthusiasm, I composed the following fragment…”
“I never thought about the page subsequently, but at the moment when I finished writing it, there in the corner of the box where the doctor’s coachman usually put the chickens he had bought in Martinville market, I felt so happy, so freed by it from those steeples and from what was hidden behind them, that, as if I myself were a hen who had just laid an egg, I started to sing at the top of my voice.”

I don’t believe I’ve read a piece that’s moved me so much before. It encapsulates everything I feel about writing and the need to distil the moments around me into sentences. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

your touch drives me crazy

An old friend visits me on some nights. We share the kind of friendship that needs not be kindled by frequent meetings, daily talks. Ay, it is true I would rather not have us meet so often. Yet on the nights he does visit, he knows exactly which buttons to press, exactly which strings to pull to tease a reaction out of me. His face is not one I recognize readily – he enjoys changing up his appearance every once in awhile just to keep things … interesting for the both of us. 

He visits on late nights when I am most vulnerable, catching me unaware. There’s almost always a sharp intake of breath before I let his presence seep around me, into me, into the spaces that I thought I had long filled up and protected against his spindly hands. With a single tug at the red thread that runs, familiar, around those slender fingers, he traps my breath in the gaps between my ribcage, the unfamiliar bones threatening to strangle one another. Ready with the other hand, his next pull leaves me unravelling, a knitted tapestry that forgot to hide its end. 

I find myself laid bare for him, ripe for the picking, ready to be picked on. I can feel the scrutiny searing into me as he roams every inch of my skin, his fingers searching not only for what is on the surface but what is within – nothing escapes his routine inspections. When they run across my stomach I can feel them sieving out yesterday’s dessert latched on to the knobs along my hips, reaching out to hold on to the ribs that form above. When his fingers cup my breast that foreign warmth goes even further below, to the organ that keeps sweet, sweet blood running through me. It is crying out for all the things it has found itself incapable of doing, of all the things it cannot bare to see laid out in front of it again, a condemnation for a job poorly done. 

As he leaves, his needle fingers run red thread in and through my body, playing surgeon on a corpse he knows so well. At the end of night he snips the thread that binds me to him, leaving its frayed ends hanging limp against my being but despite their brokenness providing the facade of an end, I know he will be back again to greet the seams that are his work of art.

My old friend never forgets to drop by for a visit when he’s in town, and every time he does it’s like he never left. 

the sun still rises

It’s strange to think that, suddenly, we’re grown up and ready to be thrown into the world. A world where Independence, Maturity and Responsibility manifest themselves in neon signs that flash relentlessly as we find ourselves walking down unfamiliar roads under the cover of night. 

“Mommy! Mommy! The sun is up and that means it’s time for me to be up!”

I was a child that grew up along the safe lines of the equator, protected from winds, storms and tremors by land masses that shrouded the tiny island I knew to be home. At 5 years old, it never quite occurred to me that somewhere else in the world, the sun didn’t always rise at 7.03 am nearly every day of the year. It never quite occurred to me that as our small space stayed anchored to the core of the earth’s axis, the rest of the world was spinning around us, drifting through seasons as we passed along from day to day, slowly slowly. 

The child ran with her hooded red windbreaker trailing out behind her, like the canopy of a parachute, catching air under it as she flew across the beach, breathing in the sunrise that fell around her. The mother strolled a little while behind her, smiling as she watched the child giggle her way with dizzying intensity across the beach. She never knew waking up at 4 am could make anyone this happy. And while she might have considered it for a moment there, she probably also never expected that the child would grow up to look just like her. 

Time passed, pausing to amble through some stages then kicking off in a blur at others. The child’s hair grew from a little mushroom bob that fell just beneath her eyebrows and just above her cherub’s chin into a mess of waves that settles on her chest till the time comes to cut them off.

I find myself struggling in the space between adulthood and childhood. I wonder if it is normal to feel this way, dichotomized between the two facets of myself. One half sits in front of a familiar silver screen churning out essays about “How one’s own acceptance of Self-Identity empowers the individual” or “How xxx’s identity as a female is crafted out through her poetry in xxx”. The other half is outstretched on the floor digging through a box of forgotten letters cumulated over the paltry 17 years of her existence or dancing wildly to music that plays on in her mind.

And maybe, this dichotomy is the essence of what it means to grow up. I can’t imagine myself ever truly letting go of what it means to be a child, letting go of those little moments of exhilaration and natural ecstasy. These are the moments I never want clouded by synthetic memories of hazy, drug-induced nights and choking adrenaline that can so easily be mistaken for the rites of Growing Up.

Down the path where neon signs continue flashing and flickering through the night, I see the little girl with the red hooded windbreaker running towards me. As the cover of night wraps its quiet arms around us, I take her hand in mine as we revel in the sights together. 

—-

I haven’t attempted to write anything like prose in a really long time and for some reason I really wanted to today despite the mountain of work that balances itself on my table next to me. I hope this isn’t too paltry and you enjoy it!

tides

The ocean falls over the earth’s crust, wrapping itself infinitely around its jagged edges, undersea mountains, taking away its rough edges. Every wave and every ripple is merely a faint line in the earth’s aquamarine shield, running through the palm lines and heart lines of the earth’s weathered skin.

These are hands that have held tsunamis and typhoons in their grasps and cradled many a broken body past its last breath. But this is also a womb that has birthed millions and continues to breathe life into many. I fear the day the fluid leather embracing us turns away, finally leaving a once beautiful relationship that has since turned abusive. One too many scars and perhaps the ocean may never heal from our grasp.

If you were an ocean, perhaps I am a single grain of sand that lies on your ocean bed, content to occasionally be swept up with your waves, allowed for those few seconds to see the world as you see it, only to be dropped carelessly. I wish I were your ocean, holding you through the tides and winds, embracing your flaws with my silent waves, burying your edges beneath kilometres of myself.

Alas, I am merely a grain of sand that flows in your waters, unassuming and forgotten.

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