Theophilus is a literature student in Raffles Institution, where he has the privilege of editing two school publications, and lives in denial that he be in Senior High before he knows it. He escapes by taking long and irrelevant walks; these occasionally translate themselves into photographs or poems, which he captures if he can.
I choose the longest path through
the afternoon, count blocks
radiating like stars. Those at the core
of each cluster are stained
a darker shade of sun, almost tooth-
yellow; theirs is not just an impression
of age. Newer sentinels guard each point
naked and imposing
while men slip between them,
scrub their flanks. Surfaces need
to be cleaned, smoothened:
time does the trick, but too slowly.
In the middle of nowhere is a
playground, one that still uses rubber tyres
for swings. They sway, spin gently
in the wind, mimic the somersaults
of children and fallen leaves. From afar
I hear the rattle of a pram, followed only
by a cawing of crows, then silence.
A silver of hair appears at the end of the path,
trundles slowly onwards. The pram is full
Later I sit to write
the floors above, all storeys
with characters scribbled tiredly
in each square. I picture fathers’ worn slippers
apart on cold doorsteps, mothers’
neatly arranged inside, half-lit marble.
Door-grilles swing open, shut, remain
closed, tessellate sunset, while doors
anchored to rubber door-stops
do not move. Beyond the reach
of evening’s fingers shadows flit
within these abodes, meet and part:
silhouettes miming the night,
except slower, with unhurried grace. Few lights
flicker on; our lamps are sacrilege
to movements so familiar,
and dancers quite blind.
Night falls at the same time
for everyone, two hours
past dinner, before midnight, between
dreams. Shutters tilt, catch moonlight,
close, become moist. There are
mornings where some are dry; unseeing eyes
crinkle and moisten in their wake.
These are not hard to imagine: faint
seasons and stories, they drift
naturally to fill this space
where I sit. It is warm
and spacious, even in the night, this
bed-rock of dreams, this void.
There were no witnesses;
no knife-threats, gun-
points; only a sharp
burning like she was falling
in love, followed
(gently, hazily) by nothing.
It happened on Sunday morning,
this theft. Couldn’t possibly have been
me, was still abroad. Later when I
checked, there was no wound.
She recalled no face, no
scar, no guttural voice. In fact
none of the details were clear,
or mattered. Only when I returned
Monday night did she recover words
enough to say (gently,
hazily) that she no longer knew
Strange, how we discuss death over dinner.
Nai-nai couches the passing of a loved one
as a walking away, as if someone
meant to join us for a meal
were caught up elsewhere. Aunty Fang
nods to herself; she was at the wake the night before,
and cannot forget how young the body looked.
Uncle Yang is his usual self, reserved,
but slightly quieter.
Father is last to hear the news. I watch him
mix regret with shock under his tongue,
shape a prayer waiting to be uttered.
He swallows a mouthful of rice, asks, how old?
Fifty-eight, nai-nai replies. She had cancer,
but was still active. So young! –
father exclaims; his voice has an edge
that brings new silence. Someone sighs,
can’t be helped. People
come, and quickly go.
Heads bob uncertainly, then in agreement,
as a bowl of fruit is placed amidst the unfinished dishes.
We each take a slice,
but delay clearing our plates. We have all
finished, but cannot bear to leave.