This End of The Telescope

"I see clear at last; I love, I loathe, on this end of the telescope." – Jakob Dylan.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools.

— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time

This time last year, I celebrated New Year’s Eve with five other Malaysians in a student flat opposite the Royal Liverpool Hospital.
Tonight, I sit alone, typing this on my phone after two different meetups were cancelled.

This time last year, the air was cold. It had been raining for hours; the winter sun retreated early as was its new habit. The scent of coconut milk and premixed rendang wafted in the air as we tried to recreate the familiar taste of home. Manglish drowned Scouse as fireworks erupted from Albert Docks that night.
Tonight, the air is cold. It had been raining for hours. Six months have passed since arriving home from Liverpool – tonight, I no longer feel like a stranger in my own house, so familiar yet so alien.

This time last year, my back ached as I stirred rendang over the ceramic hob. (No gas stoves in student flats lest cheap English ale turns us all into pyromaniacs.)
Tonight, the TV blasts another ad asking for donations for the East Coast flood relief. My Chinese masseuse, in her sixth year in Malaysia, told me earlier that the Year of the Horse had brought nothing but bad luck to Malaysia. She was right. Today, they recovered forty bodies from the sea while searching for yet another missing plane. Perhaps the Goat would be kinder on you Malaysians, she mused, as her hands kneaded the arch of my back. She would be going back to China at the end of 2015 – there is no point staying, “the ringgit has dropped and will continue to drop”, she said. I don’t know her name, but she has a son my age, married and unemployed. A least, that’s what my rudimentary Mandarin understood.

This time last year, I wished I was in another place, another timezone; holding her in my arms.
Tonight, I wish I was in another place, another timezone; holding her in my arms.
But the “her” of tonight isn’t the “her” of last year – love couldn’t bridge the distance between us.

This time last year, I walked past the largest cathedral in the United Kingdom as the Mersey wind sneered at my £30 winter coat from Primark.
Tonight, I think again about the question Alycia asked me earlier this afternoon – “why are you still a Christian?” This was not very long after I struggled to hold back my tears when I read about Leelah Alcorn, a seventeen-year old transgender woman driven to suicide by her Christian parents.” I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help”, Leelah wrote in her suicide note. Hope. Hope where there is none. I should have told Alycia that. I wished I could have told Leelah that.

This time last year, yet another year is about to pass.
Tonight, yet another year is about to pass.

Selah.

(For the meaning of selah , see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selah )

Image

Take | Photo by Derek Kok

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

Selah.

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say, Lord
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your Name – Matt Redman

“You give and take away”.
I find myself unable to sing those words, the words that precede them nor the words that follow.

Because I know what those words mean, what they entail.
I know their significance.

I fear that what I treasure most will be taken away from me.

Because He gives and takes away.

Selah.

But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Selah.

So I lay my Treasure on the altar.

Selah.

Hospitals.

Death feels like a scalpel.
Smooth edges meet with a sharp end.

Cold.

Sterile.

Death smells like disinfectant.
Rotting flesh masked with a veil of iodoform.

Cold.

Sterile.

Touch a metal surface.
Smooth. The occasional rust.
Breathe. Ironic that we equate disease with the smell of a substance that prevents disease.

Cold.

Sterile.

You don’t see Florence Nightingale.
Instead, there are overweight nurses in white.

You see empty pupils in hollowed eyes.
Limp limbs in wheelchairs.
Alive, but not quite so.
What is dead may not die, they say.

You hear the beep of numbers.
324, the monotone beckons, but yours is 335.

People pacing.
Left and right, front and back.
People waiting.
For life or death, whichever comes faster.

Hospitals. | www8.georgetown.edu

Heloise and Abelard on the Train

First published online in LoyarBurok and in print in  Selangor Times .

A short story inspired from a poem by Alexander Pope.

”In these deep solitudes and awful cells,
Where heav’nly-pensive contemplation dwells,
And ever-musing melancholy reigns.”
Eloisa to Abelard – Alexander Pope

The train beeped monotonously as it pulled up in front of them.

The Train’s Crawl | Photo by Derek Kok

Finally’, they muttered under their breaths simultaneously.

Read the rest of this entry »

Camera 360

If I Had A Boat - JV McMorrow

“If I had a boat, I would sail to you.”

down low, down amongst the thorn rows
weeds grow, through the lillies and the vine
birds play, try to find their own way
soft clay, on your feet and under mine

If I Had A Boat – JV McMorrow

Flurorescent feathers.

“Saya kanak-kanak istimewa. Tapi dah pandai berdikari. Hari ni ambik bas sendiri.”

He was far from a kanak-kanak. He hulked over me and he looked at least 18. (Although you could say that’s because of my eternally-young looks and petite frame.)

“Saya dah pandai berdikari.” | Photo by Derek Kok

With that thing on his head, I thought he was one of those flamboyant hawkers prone to extravagant displays to attract customers.

I thought he asked me what I wanted to drink when he rushed over to my table. Instead he shook my hand and offered me the Arabic greeting of peace.

“Assalamualaikum, bang.” “Saya kanak-kanak istimewa. Tapi dah pandai berdikari. Hari ni ambik bas sendiri.”

I returned his greeting with a limp handshake.

T-shirt tucked into drawstring pants. Ah dispose of that inconvenience called the zip.
His right hand played with a rubber band; flicking it, stretching it, alternating it from one finger to another.

A permanent smile resided on his tanned face, engrossed with the black-and-white Hindustani movie showing on the oil-stained television.

MGR. | Source : thehindu.com

Wah, cantik ah. Berapa beli? A portly Chinese man asked him. White hair cropped short, cigarette in hand. Whiskers of salt and pepper framed his mouth.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only person who was curious about the headgear on his head.

The truth was out : he bought the headgear at RM 20, having bargained with the vendor to lower the price from its original RM 25. He was clearly proud of his achievement.

“Manyak mahal wor,” the Chinese uncle muttered in between puffs of smoke.

He smiled at everyone who walked by, as though they were all familiar friends.
Familiar strangers more like it.

Perhaps, this is his playground.

I finished my plate of nasi padang, my gaze still fixed on him.

He vigorously sucked at the straw in his drink, as if leaving a single droplet of teh ais would be illegal.
The moment the last drop entered his mouth, he whipped out a ubiquitous red plastic bag which every hawker seems to use,  and stuffed his RM20 buy into it. He carried two bags. A backpack. The other sported the winking portrait of Walt Disney’s round-eared mascot.

He stood up but didn’t leave. Instead, he paced from left to right, restlessly.
Occasionally smiling, his legs kicking, as though waiting. His right hand continued playing with the rubber band.

Mak cik, apa khabar! Selamat petang!”

The janitor smiled in return.

The azan sounded in the background; the imam stretching and twisting his vocal chords.
Perched high above the trees was a bird with yellow plumes; its streaked little head cocked up, as if respectfully listening to the call to prayer.
Hop, hop, hop, it cantered away on its limbs as men continued puffing and chewing down below.

Sometimes it seems that kanak-kanak istimewa are the only ones who still smile at the world.

Smile.


Cocked eyebrows.

Kindness is so rare people write in to The Star to highlight acts of kindness.
It is no longer a daily occurrence; such that paragraphs are dedicated to a Japanese man who showed the way to a lost Malaysian tourist.

Women greet doors held open by adolescent boys with wary stares, as if those boys are closet voyeurs wanting a better look at a woman’s derriere.

A heavily pregnant woman; the maternal glow of her cheeks dulled by the monotony of a 9-5, being offered a seat on the packed sardine can we call the monorail. Her eyebrows arch faster than her facial muscles can curl into a smile; bewilderment at an act of kindness.

“Thank you” is replaced by arched eyebrows, by question marks scratched on foreheads.
Because gestures that “thank you” is supposed to reply to, are no longer in the vocabulary of our daily lives.
A bewildered half-smile, a cocked eyebrow, wary furrows on our forehead – is how our appreciation is now  manifested.

Give us days to be filled with small rebellions
Senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all.
Small Rebellions – Jars of Clay

Grime for grub.

It is not a mere fantasy elicited by academic masturbation; neither is it only a nightmare brewed by an overdose of caffeine. Reality begins when fantasies and nightmares cease to knock at the doors of your slumber.

You can see the fingernails framed with dirt and grime, you can smell the putridity of urine-stained rags, you can hear the infantile wails of hunger.

But you don’t see, you don’t smell, you don’t hear.

You can’t.

You won’t.

Image

Grime for grub. | Source : TrekEarth.com

They Taught Me Racism?

This article was first published in LoyarBurok and mentioned in Malaysia-Today.

A, C, D, E, F . . .

I went to kindergarten at Tadika Riang Baru.

The author, the 'angmoh' kid and Joanne.

Read the rest of this entry »

And it’s worth fighting for.

Sam: It’s me. It’s your Sam. Don’t you know your Sam?

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo; the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was, when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going… because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

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