[ The V.I. HomePage | Back to the V.I. Literary Archives Menu | Part I | Part III ]
I carry my defensive shell,
In public places and in private,
Since I often hear a warning,
Enclosed within a laughter.
I want to rescue myself,
From the confusions around me,
Away from the countenance,
Of my anonymity.
However, there are always people,
Stranger than curiosity,
They crucify every detail,
Like a game of profanity.
Even so, at differing times and place,
This social masking becomes undone,
When the circus of animals will dance,
Endorsing your wild imagination.
Meanwhile in faraway resorts,
People engage in telling even the mountains,
About the inroads that people make,
Into each other's privacy.
The world will unwind,
To listen to the standard stories,
That the ordinary winds will carry,
From here to there and everywhere.
THE MAHJONG PLAYER
The rediffusion was blasting away. "Come, baby lover!" a shrill female voice kept repeating in song. But nobody at the Association Hall paid any heed nor cared to listen. It was like a background noise that one took for granted. The premises were also a mini casino at night, with mahjong sessions going into the early morning.
"Shut the bloody thing off!" Ah Meng shouted suddenly. "Don't know what the crazy woman's singing about! Aiyah, how much is your game?" he asked, as he pushed away the plastic mahjong tiles in front of him.
"Three hundred and twenty, six hundred and forty," came the monotonous matter-of-fact reply. Then the sound of mahjong chips being handled was heard. Ah Meng took three medium-sized green chips and two small yellow ones from amongst his pile of dwindling chips and shoved them towards the man who was sitting opposite him at the square table for four.
"Damn him!" he muttered to himself, "I ought to have gamed before him but I was greedy. I'll do him in the next time!"
The four men resumed shuftling the plastic tiles this way and that. They had been doing the same action for the past five hours already. It was a funny thing. Mahjong enthusiasts won't find playing mahjong timewasting. Rather the time would pass too quickly when you were down playing. There were times when a mahjong session would last for days, broken by intervals when the players stopped briefly for snacks and meals. Moreover there were always players who would replace those who gave up or some might become tired out and they wanted a rest. Otherwise marathon sessions were the norm rather than the exception.
The noise of the tiles clicking against one another, accompanied by the curses and grumbles of the players added to the noise and excitement.
"South wind!" Ah Meng cried out, as he threw the three dice into the space in the centre, formed by four neatly stacked rows of mahjong tiles. "Fourteen," he uttered and the player sitting below him in anticlockwise order, shifted the row of mahjong tiles in front of him accordingly. Each of the players lifted their respective mahjong tiles and stood them erect, with the cards facing them.
"Damn it, no flowers!" Ah Meng cursed to himself. He lit a cigarette from his crumpled packet of Lucky Strikes. He was not enjoying the cigarette really. It was a habit and when one played mahjong, a game which required intense concentration, the more one tended to smoke. Ah Meng now concentrated on his cards. Like he had sworn earlier, he wanted to make a great kill.
The other three men were equally absorbed with their game, each thinking and ruminating how best to manipulate the cards and take the game before anybody did. In gambling there was no such thing as friendship or gentlemanly behaviour. It was more like a battle of wits and skill. The player with the sharper sword would win, having slain the rest of the players. That was why it wasn't advisable for friends to gamble with one another. For money was at stake. Relationships could be damaged and friendships broken. One could always hear gamblers saying, "I can give you a treat anytime because we're friends but the moment we sit down to gamble, friendship and relationships are no more." One could give a treat anytime but fancy giving a treat to the fellow who had lost his money to you and you used his money you'd won from him to give him the treat!
There would be no such thing as charity. If a player had made a bad mistake, it was his funeral; the other players wouldn't feel sorry for him. In fact, they would be very glad that one had made costly mistakes. What was one's loss was another's gain. All was fair and square in gambling! It was like a battle and the gamblers get a kick out of winning against one another. It could be interpreted as a psychological need to demonstrate that you were superior and in a controlling position.
"Three doubles again! Ah Meng remarked with disgust as he peered at the cards laid down in front of the man opposite him. He was the same player who had gamed just a moment ago.
"How to play with you! Big also you game, small also you game. Might as well give you all the cards you want!" he purposely threw out what was considered a big and dangerous card - a Fatt Choy - onto the centre space on the table, where you placed the card you did not wish to retain.
"Hey, watch it, man! Think carefully before you cast your card. Just because you don't have much chips, that doesn't mean you should drag us with you when you commit suicide!" the player sitting next to Ah Meng reprimanded him for his reckless play.
"Well, if he has the cards, let him have mine too!" Ah Meng answered the man who had chided him. "I've the right to play the way I want, don't I?"
"That's not the way to play, surely! He's already three doubles on the floor and you still feed him with big cards!"
"So what? You play your game and I will play mine, okay?
The two men were obviously annoyed with each other and they grumbled to themselves inside. Two onlookers, who sat by the side watching the game, looked at each other and shook their heads. The game continued without another exchange of words for a while.
"Game!" the lucky player shouted out in glee, as he opened his cards and laid them down, face upwards. "Six hundred forty and one thousand two hundred eighty," he calculated the wins the other players had to pay him.
"Ahh .... you can have all my chips," Ah Meng pushed all of his meagre bit of chips towards the winner. He "broke" again and that meant another fifteen ringgit gone cold. "Can't play with this kind of rotten cards. I give up"
Ah Meng got up from his seat, with an unhappy scowl on his face, as he took out some notes to settle his loss. One of the onlookers, who had been waiting all this while for something like this to happen, quickly sat down to make up the foursome. Play continued without a break. Nobody said anything as Ah Meng took his leave.
11.45 p.m. Ah Meng looked at his watch. It would take him ten to fifteen minutes to walk back to his house. He pulled out his wallet. He counted the money that was left; three ten ringgit bills and some two ringgit notes remained. He had brought with him one hundred and sixty something ringgit. That meant he had lost well over a hundred and thirty ringgit. There was regret as well as anger in his heart. "It's all because of that stupid idiot!" he swore in silence.
On his way home, Ah Meng had to pass some roadside stalls. The food hawkers were still doing business. He felt hungry and also wanted a drink. He had half a mind to eat something before he turned in but he had already lost so much money. That deterred him from instantly sitting down for a meal and he went past the eating stalls. As he walked on, the aroma of the food travelled to his nostrils. He stopped, hesitated and then he turned around.
"A lot of money had been lost! What's a few more ringgit?" he told himself.
He retraced his steps and settled for the mee stall nearest to him. After all he loved to eat meat balls. He felt better. His empty stomach felt soothed as the strands of noodles went in. "It's wiser to eat than to gamble," he thought. "Ahh... this tea is good," he drank the Chinese tea and crunched the beef meat balls.
He soon got over feeling sore over his loss at the mahjong table. No doubt it was a lot of money for a tailor whose average income was around RM1280 a month. What after deducting rental etc.. there was nothing much left. It was fortunate he and his wife did not have any children, despite having been married for the past 15 years. Not his fault though but he was not bothered that they were a childless couple. To hell what people said! That was also the reason why his wife didn't object to Ah Meng's going for his mahjong sessions frequently.
Ah Meng felt good. He felt invigorated after downing the big bowl of meat balls, the soup and the tea. A wicked twinkle lit his eye.
"My wife, she might be asleep already. Maybe not yet. Could be that she's waiting up for me. I've no complaints about my woman except that she's barren," he ordered a packet of fried mee to be packed.
Swinging the packet of mee as he walked along the dim alley, Ah Meng felt cheerful and in a cherry mood. Money lost could be earned but a man had other needs too. He had heard of some men who resorted to selling their wives to settle their gambling debts. Ah Meng consoled himself that he wasn't that bad. He was now thinking of his wife at home. She might not be that young now, but she's still good in bed.
He let himself into the house with his own keys and discovered that his wife had already slept. He placed the packet of mee on the table in the kitchen and went quietly into their rented room.
"Wake up, Ah Lan," he whispered gently at first. "I've bought you some fried mee."
The wife slept on.
"Wake up, wake up," he called louder this time and pushing her shoulders gently. Ah Lan continued to sleep; in fact she gave a snort!
The husband became a bit exasperated. He had come home, very hopeful and in anticipation but was disappointed to find his wife asleep instead of waiting up for him. Then despite his soft approaches, Ah Lan went on sleeping!
"Sleeping like a pig!" he could hear himself almost cursing.
"Come on, wake up!" Ah Meng gave one last try, this time shaking his wife's body quite violently, until she opened her eyes.
"Oh, it's you, Ah Meng. You're back," she said, half awake.
"Yes, yes, it's me. Who the hell you thought it could be?" Ah Meng was now impatient. "I've bought you some mee. Now get up and eat. It's in the kitchen."
"Mee? I'm not hungry. I'm very sleepy."
"Damn! Damn! Damn!" Ah Meng swore quietly. Here he was, trying to wake her up to eat and then to make love. And she was feeling sleepy! "Wake up, I say!" Ah Meng pinched her backside.
"Ouch! Alright, alright! I'll eat. Where's it, you say? Mee again? No wonder people say I'm getting fat."
"Whoever said you're fat? I've never said it," Ah Meng assured his wife.
"Have you eaten?" Ah Lan asked, still not fully awake, as she put the strands of noodles into her mouth with the chopsticks. "So much; I can't finish."
"I'll help you to eat them," Ah Meng ate hurriedly.
"It's quite tasty, where did you buy them?" the wife asked.
"Goddamn it! Why must this woman ask so many questions!" Ah Meng was apparently getting very impatient.
"It's very oily, I must have some tea."
"Here," Ah Meng fetched his wife a cup of Chinese tea.
"I suppose you've won tonight."
"Yes, yes, I won tonight," Ah Meng lied. He didn't want to have any argument with her tonight.
"That's nice; no wonder you've brought home mee," Ah Lan continued to be garrulous and started a conversation. Ah Meng allowed himself to be spoken to and pretended to listen to his wife's jabber. Actually, he was full of anticipation of something else in his mind. He did not wish to make her upset if he were to ask her to shut her mouth. Moreover, the more Ah Lan talked, the more she would be awake and that would be better. Finally, Ah Meng gave his wife an important hint.
"I know! I know! All you men! I get the message, alright!" she wiped herself clean and proceeded to go back to their bedroom. Ah Meng followed behind her immediately, with a mischievous grin on his face.
The following night, Ah Meng went again to the Association Hall to gamble, hopeful that he would recoup his losses on the previous night. He had promise his wife that he would not be away for long, just two or three games only.
"Let's raise the stakes," Ah Meng suggested to the other players.
"Now, old boy, what's happened? You struck a lottery or something? You know we don't play for higher stakes. We're not rich like you!"
"Who said I'm rich? It's only that I don't have much time to play tonight."
"Oh, I see. The little woman, eh?" someone cheekily remarked, referring to Ah Meng's wife.
"Shut your big mouth, okay! The usual stakes then!"
They played on until it was already past 10.00 p.m. Ah Meng had once again lost heavily. He knew he had told his wife that he won't be playing late and would be back home early. He couldn't care less, now. He wanted to make back what he had lost that night, even though he realised his chances were very slim, his cards being what they were, that is, very weak.
The more games he played, the more Ah Meng lost until he decided to call it quits. By then it was one o'clock in the morning. He left the place, disgusted with everybody, most of all, with his good friend, Ah Chai, who had won most of his money. He cursed himself for not heeding his wife's advice to go home early because at one stage, he had made some money. But he was too greedy and it was still early, being 8.00 p.m. only. Moreover, he had wanted to make back what he had lost the previous night. He therefore felt very sore with himself for not doing what his wife had told him to do, to stop when he had won and not to be greedy!
He walked along the same alley like on the other night. He again felt hungry and thirsty but this time instead of stopping and eating, he went quickly by before he could change his mind.
"Ah Meng koh!" he heard the mee stall man calling out to him, "Aren't you eating my mee?"
Ah Meng ignored him, pretending that he hadn't heard his call. He puffed at his cigarette furiously and bad-temperedly. Even the prospect of making love to his wife did not occur to him. The very idea of it was nauseating to him. He walked on as fast as he could as though some devil urged him on.
Ah Lan was still awake, stitching some buttons onto a pair of trousers when Ah Meng reached home and unlocked the door unceremoniously. He slammed it shut noisily. Ah Meng was angry that his wife had still not gone to sleep, as though she was keeping night watch on him. He scolded her.
"You think I'm still a three year-old kid that you must stay up so late to wait for me!" he growled.
Ah Lan looked at her husband, surprised at his behaviour, for a while. Then she quietly put away the pair of trousers, the thimble and the needle. She looked at Ah Meng for the second time and saw only his back. She could sense his shoulders were quivering with rage. There was no mee on the table like last night. Well, she knew her husband had lost money; she also knew that there was to be no lovemaking that night. What to do?
THAT MORNING AT PULAU SEMBILAN
Beneath the open sky I lay asleep,
When the waves came,
Furiously upon the beach;
As though they've lost their reason,
My sleep woke up without the peace,
In a sudden consternation.
Out in the dark sea,
As the waves engaged in a war,
The lights of distant ships in an irony,
Teased my fears with every leap,
Pounding on each turn of tail.
The waves tried to land themselves,
Each time the ocean them drew back,
As they clawed upon the earth,
To reach out to me, unsuccessfully.
This volume of waves extended,
A message for me, my friends,
Who, unlike me, they preferred sleep,
To my worry.
When the tide moved like a giant,
Instead of retreat I went forward,
My lost courage made my instincts,
Manage any kind of eventuality.
I stood my ground,
Ignoring the waves,
That grabbed my feet,
Confused like a prison of sea let loose,
I unfurled my greater power.
The surge of the lawless waves,
Ceased as though in defeat,
They ran back to an ebbing sea,
Leaving a limp, bewildered me,
And those distant ships,
They were no more there,
I was witness to my story
THE SINGER NOT THE SONG
"Come, come, have a drink. Don't talk so much. Have a drink, please have a drink," Towkay Lim told his friends. "This brandy is excellent brandy; not cheap stuff you know. Don't let it go to waste. Come, everybody, cheers," and he held up his glass.
The whole group of them raised their glasses and drank the liqour. They were mostly middle-aged businessmen. Some were already in their sixties. They made up for their advanced years by dressing in smart designer clothes. One of them even sported a flashy red tie. They were obviously loaded with money.
"Come, sit closer to me," Towkay Lim beckoned to a beautifully dressed girl beside him. She was probably not more than twenty, judging from her smooth and fair skin and naive looks.
"There's no need to be shy. My friends and I have gathered here to celebrate. Here, this is for you, my dear," he said, handing the girl a hundred ringgit bill. "Now that's better," he remarked, as the girl nudged closer towards him as she tucked the ringgit note into her low-cut open-neck dress.
The night club was elegantly styled and the wooden panels were decorated with colourful pictures of birds some of which were in flight. The birds were symbols of beauty, grace and swiftness of movement A female singer in a shimmering sequined gown sang Mandarin songs. The music was a bit too loud and one had to almost shout in order to be heard. Swallow Nite-Club, that was the name of this entertainment spot. It was situated amongst plush surroundings in a glamorous vicinity known as The Golden Triangle in Kuala Lumpur city.
This was that part of the city that never slept and there were ever so many people during the day and night. If these people were not shopping, they would be seeking out entertainment in the numerous hotels, restaurants, night spots and a variety of fun activities that tempted locals and foreigners alike. People gathered in droves here to spend their time. Roadside hawker stalls offered all kinds of mouth-watering food under the sun and the fast food restaurants and hawker centres were always full of hungry folks who seemed to live to eat at any odd hour of the day. Business was invariably good. The rich and the poor from all strata of society just did their own thing, not minding who or what or how. Bukit Bintang had been touted as a legend of marvels that entranced everyone who came here. There was also a grand shopping complex named Star Hill, the English equivalent of the Malay words Bukit Bintang.
"Come, a little more brandy will do you a lot of good, Ah Mei. It'll add colour to your cheeks. Look at her, she seems so pale," Towkay Lim was telling his friends.
It was obvious that he was in high spirits and the boss for the evening. Towkay Lim had just returned from a successful business trip to Japan where he had concluded a multi-million ringgit business deal. No one could blame him for his exuberance. Like he had said, he and his friends had come to celebrate his success. Tonight was the night when he felt like a king. Tonight was indeed his night alright! His friends made sure that "The Boss" would feel he was on top of the world.
I was at the night club that night. I went there because the singer who sang the Mandarin songs was my friend. She invited me to listen to her singing. I sat alone at a table in an inconspicuous corner at the back. My order was a plain coke. That was all. No brandy, no girls. I always went to listen to Susan sing wherever and whenever she had her singing engagements, that is, provided I had the free time. I had come to know her several years ago when she was an ordinary schoolgirl. It happened that she had at that time been encountering some family problems. She had chosen to confide in me and very soon I had become more or less her male confidant. Our relationship grew as the years went by although the matter of whether we were going steady or not never did surface between the two of us. It was just that we liked each other's company and we became very close friends because we understood each other.
Before Susan embarked on her singing career in pubs and nite-clubs, she had consulted me and I had encouraged her to go ahead since she had a unique voice. She had good potential, I had told her. Besides, she had failed her final exams and did not wish to study anymore. Her parents were at the point of divorce at that time. Subsequently, they did get divorced. After a few years, Susan had become a popular singer on the local circuit of pubs, discos, nite-clubs and other entertaiment spots. She was earning good money and had been staying by herself in an apartment.
She had always wanted me to be among the audience wherever and whenever she had singing engagements. I was ever ready and willing to oblige. During that time I was working as a supervisor at a well-known restaurant at Imbi Road, quite near to Bukit Bintang, the hub of the entertainment world.
I watched Susan performing now at the Swallow Nite-club. She knew I would be somewhere around in the Joint and I had a suspicion that she was singing extra spiritedly tonight when she belted out several love songs. I sipped my coke. I noticed that Towkay Lim was already very high. Not satisfied with Ah Mei's company, he demanded from the manager that the singer should come to entertain him.
Susan was reluctant at first when the fat-faced manager, Richard, went up to her with Towkay Lim's request. Richard explained to her that Towkay Lim was a regular patron and a very rich one too. He was also influential in high social circles. He assured Susan that nothing unpleasant would happen. After some consideration, Susan allowed herself to be persuaded to step down from the stage during a recess and went towards Towkay Lim's table.
Before she could sit down, Towkay Lim, who was obviously very drunk now, grabbed her and started to embrace her, kissing her. Susan struggled. My blood rose. I got up and rushed over. I pushed the short, plump towkay aside. He was terribly angry and demanded who I was. Meanwhile, Richard, the manager, called out to some bouncers to throw me out. I refused to allow them to do so. I fought back and exchanged blows. Soon there was pandemonium as the other guests panicked when fighting broke out. Female voices screamed. I was bleeding from the mouth. Towkay Lim saw to it that I was bundled away and taken to the police station. If I remembered clearly, he was going to charge me for breaching public peace and for assault.
Susan came to the police station to see me on the next day. She was crying. She blamed herself for having caused me to be beaten up and landed in the lock-up. I told her that it was alright and that I had acted the way I did because I had felt jealous and had wanted to protect her. She just kept quiet when I said this but I noticed that she was confused. Our brief meeting and conversation was not a very pleasant one. I, myself, was not quite clear in the head and I could not remember what else that I had said that could have upset her.
Then a strange thing happened. Not very long after Susan had left I was told by a police officer that I could go. I asked him why and he replied that the charges against me had been dropped. I was quite sure that Towkay Lim would not have let me off so easily, just like that. Usually people with money and influence could be awfully nasty and mean to their fellow beings. I had my suspicions.
After a quick wash and change of clothes, I made my way to Susan's apartment. She lived at Puteri Court. I drove there to find out the truth from her. She was not back yet. So I hung around at the car park and waited for her to return.
Imagine my wrath when Susan finally came back in a chauffer-driven limousine. That must be Towkay Lim's car I thought. Whose could it be, otherwise? As the car stopped at the driveway, I ran towards it. The moment Susan got out of the car, I grabbed her by the hand.
"What do you think you're doing, you bitch?" I yelled at her in anger. The driver by this time had already driven off and did not notice my violent behaviour.
"What's the matter with you? Why are you doing this to me, James?" Susan asked, trying to wriggle free from my grasp. The expression on her face showed that she was in pain. "I didn't do anything wrong!"
"You only know it yourself!" I shouted back at her. "You're a disgraceful slut!"
"Let's go up to my apartment. There're plenty of people here."
"What? You're afraid people will know the truth about you?"
In any case, I allowed myself to follow Susan into the lift. I had already released my grip on her. She rubbed her hands and fingers as though they were badly hurt. We went up to her apartment on the seventh floor.
"What's the meaning of all this?" she asked me, annoyed. "Why must you manhandle me like that just now in front of everybody? It's ungentlemanly indecent."
"So what? Why should you go to that dirty old man, huh? Because he's damned filthy rich? Because he gave you money. Answer me! You've no shame!"
"No, no, no. It's nothing like that. Please listen to me, James. Let me explain. You've known me for so many years. How could you misjudge me and say those ugly things?"
"Tell me how's it you've come back in that old fella's car? You went to see him, didn't you?"
"Yes, I admit I did go to see Mr. Lim. But it was only for your own good. I couldn't let you suffer in the lock-up because of me. When I saw you at the police station, do you know how terrible I'd felt? I had to do something. So I asked my manager to take me to see Mr. Lim at his house. I pleaded with Mr. Lim to drop all charges against you and he agreed. Now do you think that was wrong of me?"
"Yes, but at what price?"
"James, what are you talking about? There's no price attached to anything! I didn't have to pay anything for it, believe me."
"You're lying! I don't believe a word you say! Such scoundrels don't have a heart. They think that being rich they can do anything! I'm not going to let him get away so easily!"
"James, please, please don't, please.....wait," Susan could not finish what she'd wanted tell me before I had left.
I slammed the door hard after me. I felt very sore and disappointed. I started my car engine, revved it and roared away like a wounded animal. I went past the guard-house without stopping. The security guard was too shocked to stop me and must have thought I was crazy. From the rear mirror, I could see him attempting to chase after me with his fist clenched.
I knew where Towkay Lim lived because I'd forced Susan to reveal to me his address. I drove straight to his luxurious residence in Ukay Heights. As to be expected, the entire place was well fenced up and the main gates were locked. Through the intercom the guard told the towkay that a young man by the name of James Kang had wanted to see him. I thought I would be turned away unceremoniously. To my surprise, after a few moments, the electronic gates were swung open and I drove my Proton Wira into the large compound of Lim Villa.
In the spacious garage were parked a Mercedez Benz 280, a BMW 728 and alongside them was a gleaming white limousine. I was certain that that was the limousine that had brought Susan home earlier. This man surely was goddamn rich! I told myself. No wonder he thought he could do whatever he liked as though he owned the world!
I had not come to appreciate his cars. Nor had I come to pander to his wealth. I had come to get even with him. I was going to teach him a lesson to respect other people! I had definitely a score to settle. I came to seek justice and honour. However I could not help being impressed by the sight of the ornate mansion and the opulence within.
Towkay Lim personally welcomed me into his study which was heavily panelled with fine teak wood. He smiled at me with a disarming charm and civility that contrasted with my angry mood. I was about to boil over with my rage. However, seeing this old man in his silk robes, with padded slippers and mild manners kept my anger at bay. I managed to control myself. Nevertheless, I wondered what the old guy was up to.
"I'm sorry about what happened the other night," he started. "I was in the wrong. I guess I'd one too many drinks. I didn't know what I was doing. I hope you'll forgive me," and he offered me his outstretched hand.
I was flabbergasted. I did not know how to react. What could I say or do? To put it mildly, I was too stunned for words. I had thought I had come to confront a beast. I had come fully prepared for war but this man who had caused so much anger and hatred in me was now offering to make peace. He was even apologetic. I was speechless. I took his hand into mine and we shook hands. His hand was warm not cold like a fish or reptile.
"Yes, my dear young man, I know what I'd done to you was terrible. Your girlfriend, Susan, told me all about it. She had come here just a while ago asking me to drop charges against you. In fact, even before she arrived, I'd intention to do so myself. I guess I'd been too happy that night and I was feeling lonely and I was drunk.
"You see, James, I hope I've got your name right, ever since my wife had died two years ago, I've been putting all my energy into my work and business. When I got the contract to build a chain of supermarkets for a Japanese company in Malaysia, I was overjoyed. I'd invited a few friends to go to the nightclub to celebrate my success. I suppose I overstepped the line in my joy. I'm sorry. I'm really very sorry for what had taken place. I'm willing to make any kind of restitution, if I may."
"What about Susan?" was all that I found myself to be saying.
"I don't know her before that night. I didn't know she was your girlfriend. I would've reacted the way you did had I been you. I wish I were twenty years younger. Well, like I'd said I'd behaved very badly but only under the influence of alcohol. I'm not such a horrible animal as you might've thought of me. Honestly."
Somehow I understood. My anger subsided and I became sane again. I no longer hated this old man. He could have been like my own father, who would've been of similar age had he not died many years ago. I even felt sorry for Towkay Lim, who, despite his immense wealth and influence, was a lonely old man. He was past his prime of manhood and it was excusable for him to try recapture his lost youth, even for a few moments.
"Your girlfriend's a nice girl. Take good care of her. What you did was laudable and you should be praised for defending her honour. She's lucky to have a boyfriend like you. And you're a lucky young man, my boy."
I felt foolish. This man was talking like a father to me, advising me. My thoughts went straight to my memory of my own father. He had died when I was only five. Yet I've never forgotten the lasting impression he had imprinted on me that he was a good man. He used to take me for Dim Sum breakfast. Suddenly I missed my father.
I took leave from Towkay Lim. I'd decided to leave bygones be bygones and determined to forget about the entire unpleasant episode. Towkay Lim was very happy to learn this. I knew that I had a lot of explaining to do. I regretted the way I had treated Susan. I felt remorse for having said all those unkind things to her. I felt very ashamed of myself. I drove my car slowly and dejectedly to Puteri Court. I would apologise to Susan and ask her to forgive me. But she was out. I went home feeling miserable. It was Sunday and I could not throw myself in my work to hide my shame and remorse.
Nothing I did that day seemed to lighten my burden of guilt and utmost shame. Several times I phoned Susan but each time there was no one to pick up the phone. I tried to think where she could be. Could it be that she purposely did not answer the phone because she knew that I would call her? I did not know what to think. Feeling very depressed and exhausted I fell asleep.
I was awakened by the ringing of my telephone. It had been ringing loudly for some time until I woke up. I rushed to answer it.
"Hello Susan!" I blurted out at once, excitedly, when I heard the female voice.
"What Susan?" It was my mother. I felt rather relieved though disappointed. My mother called to inform me that she would not be returning home early because my aunt had requested her to stay at her house for a few more days. My mum had gone over to my aunt's place for a birthday dinner on the night when the ugly incident occurred at Swallow Nightclub.
I could not afford to go back to sleep anymore. I had a shower. Again the phone rang while I was in the middle of shower. I ran out from the bathroom naked and dripping wet. There was no other person in the house. I was hoping the phone call was from Susan
"Did you call me, James? If you had, you wouldn't have got me because I was at the hair salon. How are things with you? Are you all right?" It was indeed Susan.
"Hold on for a minute Susan," I did not wish to let her know that I was not wearing anything. I quickly pulled a towel and wrapped it around myself
"Yes, I called umpteen times but there had been no answer. You're not angry with me? I'm sorry for everything I'd said and done to you. I saw Towkay Lim in his house and he'd explained everything to me. Please forgive me, Susan."
It was easier for me to talk over the phone. I would not have known how to broach the subject otherwise. I was also glad that it was Susan who had called me instead of the other way round.
"We need to talk," Susan told me. I agreed and I told her that we could meet to have dinner together that same night.
We spent more than five hours together, talking. Most of the time Susan did the talking and I listened. I was made to see the light. She said she had never been in love with me and had regarded me as a very good friend and elder brother. She had been nice to me because she liked me and my honest ways. I was clean; I was wholesome. She said that I was a good man whom she trusted very much. But her world and my world were different. In what way different, I asked her. I told her I had grown to regard her as more than a just a friend. No doubt I was five years older than she but that won't make any difference, would it? No, she said. I had got it all wrong. True she had always taken up my suggestions and advice but that was because I had always given her my honest opinion which she appreciated very much. She liked my sincerity and truthfulness. That was the whole problem. That had been something that had prevented her from loving me.
I could not understand. She insisted that she lived in a different world and both of us were unsuitable and incompatible. She reiterated that she had turned her back on poverty. She wouldn't want to be poor again like previously.
"Look, James," she talked to me as though she was the big sister now. "I've changed. You're much the same good straight guy I had known many years ago. I don't know what it is to love somebody. My parents' divorce had a permanent negative impact on my life. I never knew what was security until you came into my life. You remember how you'd comforted me during those times when I was completely devastated?"
I tried to interject but she wouldn't allow me. She continued, "Since that time I've become very bitter and disillusioned with life, marriage and love. To me they're only words that have no real meaning...."
"But you can learn and I can........"
"No, it's no use, James. I've secretly tried to imagine I was in love with you but the more we got together the more it dawned on me that I could never become the dainty, good intentioned wife that you seek. I'm sorry to say that I can't become a doting mother to your children, our children, if we ever got together as husband and wife. I won't be able to stay at home and raise kids like a good mother. My career as a singer has led me to see so many iniquities in this world that can never be changed for the better. And that includes me, James.
"I thank you for having encouraged me in my singing career all this while. You know, when you sit among the audience when I sing, I feel safe. I won't have the fear that something dreadful would happen to me. That's why I've always wanted you to be around.
"But to be your wife, I don't think that's possible.
"Your lover, maybe. I'm more interested to make as much money as I can as a singer and possess the luxuries that I'd always yearned and pined for. Susan's no longer the little girl who wept and felt sorry for herself, ten, fifteen years ago. The world has taught me to be strong, but James, inside me, I still feel frightened. Do you understand?"
Then she went on to tell me that she thought I had over-reacted the previous night when I was involved in the brawl at the nightclub. Getting to entertain unwelcome customers was part of the risks she had to face as a singer. She might not like it herself but she had no choice. It was a matter of survival. The unwelcome attention she often received, seen from a different perspective, only demonstrated that she was still attractive and popular. It was as simple as that. Of course she had learnt how to keep within certain boundaries.
Susan emphasized to me that she was not all sugar and spice. She would not pretend to me that she was completely innocent. She had found it very painful and stressful pretending to live up to my expectations of her.
"I can foresee more incidents like last night's happening if we were to come together. It won't bring any happiness to either of us. So why force ourselves?"
Susan was right, I thought to myself, after having ruminated for hours over what she had related, when I got back home. I couldn't sleep. I would be kidding myself if I thought Susan would make the kind of wife I wanted. A very good friend maybe, but not being wife. I was aware of such a relationship between men and women. Even husbands and wives who were divorced could remain better friends than when they had stayed married to one another.
I decided to leave my present job and return to France. I had come back to Malaysia a year ago because my mother had wanted to see me again after an absence of more than ten years. I had gone to work in Germany and then to Paris soon after I had quit high school mid-way. I was seventeen then and had left my sisters to care for mum, just like what was going to happen now. It was the best thing for me to do, under the present circumstances. At least I could free myself again and continue with my life abroad as I had been doing some ten years previous to my return to Malaysia. I feared that I would not be able to carry on with my life if I could not continue to see Susan. That was her final request before we parted after dinner that night. I might be almost thirty years old but I was confident I could still make it good in a foreign land. Susan would have her own peace of mind, without having me around to remind her of her lost innocence. She would have preferred it that way.
Time heals, people say. It was already five years since I had left Malaysia for the second time. My old boss in Paris offered me my previous job in his Chinese restaurant as a supervisor. I found myself easily and quickly adapting to my new surroundings although I had been there before. I renewed my association with my former friends, both Asian and European. Many of them were Malaysians too.
It was in Paris, among my new friends that I had come to know May Lin, who was also from Malaysia but working in Paris. We found each other good company. She was Chinese educated but that was not a barrier because I had been to primary school to learn Chinese back in Malaysia. May Lin had learnt to speak English and French though she was not that proficient in writing the two languages. I picked up a smattering of the French language.
Our relationship grew by the day and the weeks and the months. Not very much later we decided to get married. May Lin said that she would want the wedding ceremony to be held in Malaysia, where her parents were. So we decided to resign from our jobs and return to Malaysia. I was a bit apprehensive when she said we should return to Malaysia. However, I felt nothing bad would happen. I was actually thinking about Susan.
It was a beautiful morning. The sun shone brightly as I went to fetch my bride, May Lin. Chinese custom demanded that certain times were auspicious and I had to follow strictly to the letter all the procedures, and ceremonial rituals that were required. My mother had played a major role in giving verbal instructions while my sisters organised and carried out the planning, preparations and execution of my wedding.
At exactly 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning, I arrived at May Lin's house which was crowded with her relatives and the curious neighbours peered at us as May Lin and I performed the marriage rituals and took our vows. Her parents were Buddhists. Everyone commented on how radiant the bride was. But I was glad they did not say much about the bridegroom.
That night a wedding dinner was held at the restaurant where I had used to work just before I went to Paris for the second time. Many of my relatives came although I did not know who was who. They were mostly from my mother's side. Suddenly I was congratulated by uncles and aunties, cousins and a host of others whom I had never met nor seen before. I just nodded my head in acknowledgement and to be polite.
When all the hectic routine was over, with the speeches done, the toasting completed and the eating and drinking came to an end, May Lin and I were glad that we were left alone together finally. As I glanced at the mountain of gifts and presents that were strewn on the table and floor, one extraordinary package caught my eye. I was attracted by its unusual and special packaging with exceptional designs and colour. I picked it up to have a closer look. I was curious to find out what it contained. It was a Rolex watch.
On the silver foil it was written:
The Singer Not The Song!
From: Your old friend, Susan.
"Thank you, Susan; thank you very much!" I heard myself muttering aloud, as I clasped the watch close to my heart. She had taken the trouble to know about my wedding to May Lin although I did not invite her because I could not locate her after I had returned to Malaysia to get married.
I showed the Rolex watch to my new bride and wife. She smiled at me but did not say anything. May Lin already knew all about Susan and I because I had told her everything about the past between the two of us. I knew May Lin and I would be happy together as man and wife. For she was never a singer nor was I only a song.
BAK KUT TEH AT PUDU MARKET
Before the sun had time to be awake,
They have come, these men,
Foraging for meat ribs in herbal soup,
Steaming in hot ceramic bowls.
The waiter in sleeveless Pagoda singlet,
Prevailed from table to table,
With the ubiquitous pot of Chinese tea,
Apart from chillies, garlic in their proper place.
Mostly men, the customers, in middle-age,
Are the loyal members,
Waiting to be served.
Prior to the start of work,
With feet bound in black rubber boots,
Wearing a troop of samfoo the market women,
Made foul language their main menu,
Adding to the smell of meat.
In similar manner, their words only louder,
A heavy traffic of men,
Around the marble tables,
Filled the vacant seats.
The new arrivals sat in a herd,
Peering at the bowls of meat,
Attacking them at a hungry speed.
And I was there, a distance away,
With my foreign friend, and sipping tea;
We watched this merry band of men and women,
Lapping up their habitual meal,
And bowls of rice ran off,
With a passion seldom seen.
Next moment they have gone,
All but the empty bowls and bones,
So quickly as though in protest,
Against the dawn that came too soon.
I don't recognize this face,
I used to belong,
Now in the mirror
Another one is in its perfect place.
I seem to have left behind this person,
In this frame of time,
In a sheet of glass,
He belongs to another age.
When I touch my face,
The reflection does the same;
Somehow I cannot understand.
Similar in action,
These same hands perform,
Upon the stranger's face.
This apparition of the face,
I pore over the details,
To look for a common tale.
The face in this mirror returns,
The same curiosity in me,
But the early darkness removes
My chance to ruminate,
leaving me with the mystery,
contained in the mirror's face.
Goodbye is never an easy time,
As the ocean begins to devour,
The little planet of my life;
There aren't many explorations,
As I feel a greater distance,
Parked on a bench in the open.
Those lovely songs and their music's magic,
Belong elsewhere with the winds,
And I gather the small crumbs of the soul,
to throw them into a recycle bin.
Yet in this simple token of my love,
Amidst the confusions,
When there's has been no time,
To be understood,
I share in a considerable way,
The friendships that I have made.
I won't be long,
It's never too late to say goodbye,
But not forgetting the memories,
Although unsure of what or who will follow.
'Tis better this way,
That my departure will not be felt,
No impact as the sky begins to change,
Its mood from rains of grief,
To showers of gold,
No other that can replace,
The mystery of your person.
Thousands of years ago I wandered upon this earth,
And China was the land I chose to live;
This was the country, the place of my birth,
To its people I bequeathed the wisdom of my thoughts,
Until today they are not forgot.
Someone asked, "What is death?"
"When you don't even know life why ask about death?"
I answered and he nodded.
I gave the people what I believed
Would make a nation great;
A whole civilization was then built
Upon the simple tenets of a simple faith:
"Do unto others as you would want others
To do unto you."
"Honour your father and mother,
Respect your elders and never forget,
That you are the next generation.
Work on these,
For my gift to you are contained
In the Analects and the I-Ching."
The glory of the Chinese people will never fade,
Even the emperor Qing Si Huang tried
To destroy my thoughts but he too died,
My thoughts on life survived.
My dear friends at Confucian School,
You were born in 1906;
Try adding 651 more years and you will know,
The years I've lived through and my age.
You have borrowed my name to be,
Unfurl the beauty of my words;
The calligraphy you enjoined,
Are your personal translation,
That will continue the civilization.
My dear sons and daughters who come and go,
The school that takes after my name;
Remember you are a Confucian and will forever be,
Whether you are here in Malaysia or overseas.
Long live the Confucians who have learnt to live,
The way your ancestors have taught you!
Long live the manners and love you have imbibed,
And never to perish in the greatest fire!
For long ago I had been like you,
Searching for an identity;
Now that I have given you all,
The one and only Great Wall,
You must protect and preserve.
For yourselves and your generations in the future!
Last update on 14 January 2007.
PageKeeper: Ooi Boon Kheng