The Analekta 1958

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A Short Story

Leong Siew Yue

Lo Wong clapped his hands to his ears to shut out the disagreeable grating sound his wife's voice made on his eardrums. Mrs. Wong was shouting to her husband in a domineering tone:

"Why, you old snake! You good-for-nothing!" she shrieked. "Why did I ever condescend to marry you? I told you to fill the cistern up to the brim. How can you expect me to bath with half a cistern of water? You should know by now never to make such mistakes! Get yourself another wife, you old goat, and we'll see what comforts she affords you."

How Lo Wong wished he dared take another wife, but he knew that if he did not apologise now, his wife would make a terrible scene, and declare him an unnatural husband who sought to divorce her - his constant wife and comforter. Therefore, as always, to save trouble, he replied weakly:

"I'm very sorry, dear. I thought it was full, but I'll be more careful next time."

To that Mrs. Wong had a last rejoinder: "You'd better be more careful, or you'll fall into your grave soon."

This reference to the weak state of Lo Wong's heart, which had an odd habit of missing a beat occasionally and causing him some anxiety, made him wince all the more.

Now, how had this loving wife and devoted husband ever decided to get married? They hadn't. She had. They were both middle-aged, she being forty-five and he forty-one. In her youth, Mrs. Wong had been an attractive girl, but had always been inclined to be too plump (she was excessively fond of food). She had met Lo Wong, then a nervous thin youth of twenty, when he was employed by her father as a clerk in his office. Lo Wong was now no longer young, but he was still emaciated and nervous. When Mrs. Wong met him, he had been goodlooking in a way, but was more pretty and effeminate than handsome. One thing he lacked particularly, and that was height - being but five foot one in his socks and five foot three-quarters in his skin!

However, Mrs. Wong's habitual bad temper having frightened away all her would-be suitors, she decided that Lo Wong might (in fact, would) have to do after all. She set about to inveigle him into proposing, but failed. She then made a cunning study of Lo Wong's character, and she discovered his fear of scenes. In desperation, she decided on a drastic course of action.

On her twenty-fifth birthday, Mrs. Wong, (then Miss Mah), threw an elaborate party at which were present many of her father's influential friends. As the huge cake was wheeled into the room, Miss Mah caught up a gleaming knife and got ready for the kill. She was the cynosure of all eyes, and, standing beside the cake, she shouted in an exultant tone (intended to create an effect of radiant joy): "My dear friends, Mr. Wong wants me to announce our engagement which we've kept secret for one whole year!"

Everybody was surprised, but Lo Wong was aghast. Old Mr. Mah, Miss Mah's father, was speechless with joy at the prospect of getting rid of his bad-tempered offspring at last, and in his enthusiasm promptly offered his future son-in-law a rise. Poor Lo Wong, meanwhile, was dazedly receiving the congratulations of his colleagues, but felt too weak to remonstrate. He was in a horrible predicament, for if he blurted out the truth that he had been tricked, he would not only lose his job, but Mr. Mah and his influential friends would make it impossible for him to get another one. His weak character therefore led him like a lamb to the slaughter, and six months later the couple were married at an ostentatious ceremony planned by Miss Mah, who was a lady with a flair for organisation.

The wedding itself was a wonderful affair-for the bride. She was arrayed in a gorgeous gown of white satin which asserted itself aggressively with glittering jewels at the throat. Beside her magnificence the unwilling spouse looked, if it could be possible, less than insignificant.

And so they were married, and after twenty-one years of triumphant marriage (on her part), and submissive marriage (on his part), arrived at the scene I have described at the beginning of the story. As Mrs. Wong left the room she banged the door so loudly that the house shook and shuddered. Although Lo Wong was used to Mrs. Wong's habit of generating violent sounds, wear and tear had further weakened his weak heart to such a terrible extent that on the shock of hearing the explosion of the door slamming he promptly collapsed.

When Mrs. Wong came into the room some time later to find out what he was doing for so long, she found that her devoted husband had forfeited all chance of following her orders again.

Or had he? After Lo Wong's quiet funeral, Mrs. Wong returned home and sat in thought for a long time. What! Would she never shout at the old man again? Impossible!

She was right, for a few days later she went to a spiritualist medium in a certain obscure lane and had her husband "called up". Poor Lo Wong (or, rather, poor Lo Wong's spirit)! What could he do but be called up. He was immediately commanded by Mrs. Wong in her domineering tone to see that good fortune came her way. Otherwise, she threatened, she would never visit his grave with food or paper money at the Festival of the Spirits.

What could Lo Wong's spirit do, but obey? In fact Mrs. Wong made it a regular habit to have her husband summoned through the medium once every six months and have him listen to a piece of her mind. Woe to Lo Wong's spirit if he had been inefficient in bringing fortune her way! He was put on a strict diet, instantly and indefinitely, until Mrs. Wong's fortune changed.

Mrs. Wong, moreover had the extreme satisfaction of knowing that not only had she hounded her husband to the grave, but even beyond it.

A Poem

Wong Kee Chong

" The weary strife of frail humanity."

Now I see the wise beget themselves to wisdom and knowledge no more,
The soul and mind enrich, momentarily satisfaction, deep fascination;

this weariness, this world in each and all;

Oh poor, pitiful mortal, bewildered and staggering in the midst -
'Tis forces past control and men are born for killing.
With the dying distant rumble, ideologies clash and cold war rages, a mother
Shivers and weeps, - the air so bleak, smoking, threatening...

Seest thou a magic scene?
Of earthly ecstasy things harmonious and serene?
Blue above and green below,
Sheltered hamlets, streams gush and winding flow?

Whence the Muses? Locke from them steals
And has reduced the earth to iron and blue steel.
The moon reveals the secrets; he reads the mighty seas,
But above, the puny, wily politician holds the wheel of human destiny.

Oh for a world to have; a wann embrace,
With homely virtues, joys, and wise ways;
Evening the fuss of barking dogs and children wild with greetings.
The poor weary man, thus overwhelmed, smiles; the wife smiles;

the world is meant for living!

Picture you of ancient Greece
The sloping country, rocky paths and scattered fleece;
There, half hidden, is the shepherd boy -
He works, he rests, he lies with all his joys.

Paint a Chinese grand,
A peasant farmer and his land,
A muddy field, a sweating ox -
A faint smile from his lips escapes unstopped.

Will man ever realise the naked dignity of man?
Put an end to the meaningless cycles of destruction, passions, lusts

of animal intent?

What every human being asks for is a mind of peace,
Honest toil, simple needs, as life melts into eternal sleep.

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created on 08 December 1999.
Last update on 08 December 1999.

Ooi Boon Kheng