The rain pelted down acid bullets again. The watery memories came flooding back to her. Months, running in muddy fields despite the drizzle. Torturous hours, shouted at over the rain in meetings. That evening under the umbrella, smoldering flames rekindled. Endless nights spent carrying out the harsh orders, relinquishing her sleep. Days spent waiting in thunderstorms, unsheltered, fatigued, and cold. The wind whipped raindrops in her face, stinging, drenching her. She shivered. Then, a figure appeared. That hated poker face. “Why did you go?” She turned, tears mingling with the rain streaking down her face. Inside, another watery memory surfaced.
Please expand on this theme in 650 words or less.
“United we stand, divided we fall”, so goes the old adage. This is the bond which holds communities, nations, entire civilisations together – unity. History has proved time and time again that unity is the key to the rise of great civilisations. On the contrary, a divided society will fall to its knees, tripped over by the uneven pace of humanity, participants in a three-legged race. Obviously, the strength of unity is great, and with great power comes great responsibility. As denizens of this community, we have to shoulder the weight of preserving unity to ensure the continuity of posterity.
We can see the importance of unity just as the British saw it back in the colonial days. In their efforts to retain sovereignty over Malaya, they alienated the three main races from each other, setting up new settlements to isolate one race from another, thus dividing them. Where would our country stand now had this invisible barrier not been broken? We would still be milling about in our respective villages, going about the banalities of our humdrum days; the state of mutual distrust unchanged for the better. Looking back, one cannot help but profess our undying gratitude to those far-sighted, sagacious forefathers who brought back the gift of independence to this land.
However, one man cannot move a mountain, nor can one tongue talk its way to independence for the whole country. Malaysia is what it is today because of the unity of the people. Regardless of race or religion, our countrymen were all united by one dream: to be master of the ground we stand on. It is this great strength which swayed the colonial stakes on our native soil, which now pushes our country forward to achieve new highs. United we stand, indeed.
Now, 59 years since we gained independence, the roots of this beloved tree are being gnawed away by greed and materialism. The bonds of unity are disintegrating fast, and thus slacked, our compatriots’ action will lead to ruin. The debate on racial discrimination has returned, stronger than ever, leaving street rallies in its wake. Once again we see hostility mounting between the races, dark clouds preceding a storm.
Let us turn to history for counsel, in the last days of the Sultanate of Malacca. One of the key factors of its fall was the power struggle between the Malays and the Hindu-Muslims. Tun Mutahir, the vizier at the time, was a Hindu-Muslim, which caused dissatisfaction amongst the Malay officials. They vied for political influence, the Malays accusing Mutahir of infidelity to the Sultan, while Mutahir elected his relatives to important positions in the palace. Naturally, the people also took sides in the matter, and thus divided, it was not long before the Portugese took advantage of the unstable political situation. Needless to say, divided we fall.
Having suffered centuries of colonisation under the hands of four countries, we have finally clinched independence by throwing aside cravings of personal gain and working together on the same page to write history. Yet, inebriated in our regained freedom, we have forgotten the reason why we were robbed of our sovereignty in the first place. The philosopher George Santayana once said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. His words ring true as our country is once again on the verge of falling.
Cultivating unity is not a simple task, nor can it be achieved in the short term. It must be understood that it is up to us to turn enmity into fraternity, to turn misgivings into trust, to shape a united society with our own hands. The vernacular education system left behind by British colonisation must go, to be replaced by schools where all children study in the same classroom, regardless of race or religion, so that they will never learn the difference between one another, because “United we stand, divided we fall”.
A dark, stormy night looms in ominous foreboding of the days to come. I believe in such things, taking them to be signs for my eyes only. In the ward, the air-conditioning is at full blast, chilling me to the bone. Bedridden, I attempt to find some warmth under the crisp white sheets, but all I am rewarded with is the pungent odour of bleach and disinfectant. I sigh, shivering as my breath escapes in puffs of steam.
From time to time, the coughing spasms arrest me with such vehemence that I bowl over, the velocity greater, the spasms longer every time. My shaking hands reach out to the bright yellow receptacle on the bedside table, grabbing it just in time to regurgitate the thick, milky, repulsive mass from my aching throat. I inspect the phlegm with morbid fascination, noting the distinctive streaks of red amidst the sickly dull orange-yellow. Blood. I gasp in ragged breaths, the spasm having taken all the life out of me. Every sharp intake of breath pains me, the infection spreading in my lungs. I dare not take my hands off the receptacle, preparing to intercept whatever my ailing body will eject next, no matter how gruesome. I feel helpless, swathed in an enormous gown, unable to do anything but cough. Tomorrow, all my sufferings will come to an end. I am sure of it.
They said that it was just a minor irritation of the throat, that there was nothing to worry about. They dismissed me every single time with the exact same words: “Come back tomorrow, and we’ll see how you fare.” They gave me nothing but cough syrup, and then concluded: “Come back tomorrow, and we’ll see how you fare.” Tomorrow, they say, tomorrow. All they want is a consultation fee of $50 every day, the bloodsuckers. All they want is for me to foot the bill for their absurd, costly tests, the gold-diggers. How can they take advantage of the ailing, the dying, to do nothing but squeeze their purses dry, then deem them fit for the grave? The apathetic, opportunistic lot of them, wolves in sheep’s clothing, devils in the guise of angels! I am but one gullible fool, illness having let my guard down, victimized by them. Tomorrow, they will murmur their “heartfelt condolences”, with crocodile tears trickling down their cheeks.
Condolences, I said. To whom? My family? They despise me. They are of the opinion that I am neurotic. They believe that I have an obsession with ailments, that my deathly pallor is nothing but a façade. How unsympathetic, how insensitive they are! No youth would picture death as I do. They think that I am an attention-seeker, feigning illness to engender their sympathy. The absurdity of the thought! All I want is a second chance to live life to the fullest, to leave behind no regrets. There are so many castles in the air which I have yet to complete! This receptacle will show them how wrong they are, that my existence is fading fast. Tomorrow, when my curtain falls on life’s stage to an empty theatre, they will regret their cold-blooded accusations, and berate themselves for not attending my last recital.
But come now, I must call for a cessation of this pessimistic soliloquy. It is too egoistic to blame others for the frailties of my well-being. Thus in thought I pick up my laptop – it is permitted in the ward – and begin to write emails to long-lost friends of blissful, far-away memories, buried in the fertile soil of my childhood days. They are the ones whom I conjure up stories with to pass the time, to picture visiting me in my wasted state, and lament that a brilliant star will fall with my passing. My closest yet furthest friends.
First, there was Tim. A happy-go-lucky teenager springs to mind, responsible, capable and caring. I look at the screen, yearning for his face to appear, that kindly, beaming smile, a ray of sunshine in my heart. I once thought that our friendship could culminate in that profound chemistry known as love, but we always remained close as brother and sister instead. I didn’t want to rain on his parade with my woeful burden. No, my note to him was cheerful and full of hope, of that indefatigable spirit that the show must go on, despite my ailing health. I wrote of the joys in my work with the orchestra, about my increasing repertoire of songs that I was practicing. I wrote of my trials of teaching the basics to my young juniors, and the simple games which I invented to delight my little virtuosos. If only I could recover tomorrow, and do all those things that I long to do. Tomorrow, perhaps a ceasefire will be called for the battle with this stubborn ailment, and I will be free to work, to play, to study, to be with friends.
My thoughts turned to Luke. A friend from a holiday camp, his portly figure reminiscent of a Christmas pudding stood out in my memories. He shared my infatuation with music and Chinese culture, and his energy always remained undiminished no matter how strenuous the task at hand. His broad accent made his words seem unintelligible, but I could decipher his thoughts through the musical inflections and his garbled articulation, thus bonding through our mother tongue. He was a soulmate, who knew my every thought. He would sniff out every trace of sadness in me, no matter how I tried to plaster a smile on my face. I could not hide the sickly undertone of my predicament from him, not even in a note, but I could attempt to mask it with hope for tomorrow, for the unknown beyond, and wish that the tide will turn for the better. As I write I find that all my negativity is fading, and I really do hope that tomorrow will be a day full of miracles for me. Tomorrow, a word which once brought dread and gloom to my mind now sends a surge of exuberance and excitement, dispelling all signs of lethargy.
But then a dreaded memory surfaced to plague me. Memories of months of depression, of fatigue, of suppression, of insomnia, of hunger. Memories of him, the bane of my existence. I abhor even the thought of his name, much less writing it out. He was a cunning old fox, with his thin gaunt figure and slit-like eyes. His beady pupils shone whenever he had a new brainwave to experiment, and I was his favourite lab rat. It had been exhilarating to watch the fruits of our labour gradually taking shape, but I was always dispirited by his everlasting discontent, his frustration streaming from his lips, a bubbling brook of dissatisfaction to dampen my spirits. He was constantly finding fault with my actions, and expected me to devote myself completely to his passion. He didn’t see that I had a life to live outside his burrow. I had other interests to pursue, other dreams to chase. The anger riled me so that it broke the dam I built in my heart, allowing my feelings to gush out in a torrent onto the keyboard. All my sorrows stemmed from him, his egoistic ways took the life out of me. Tomorrow, he would regret knowing that he was the root of my illness, that a life was lost because of his ways. Tomorrow, my anger and fear towards him would have consumed the last of me.
My fingers flag down from the keyboard, fatigued from the boiling emotions inside me. They cause more agony than the searing pain inside my chest. In a last burst of energy, I hit the “Send” button. All the fear and anger from that last email chokes me, and another coughing spasm erupts. Again, I am hurled forward from the force of the cough, the loud, crude, raspy noise disrupting the sleep of the other patients. The bright yellow receptacle plays its part, but this time I set it down, grimacing at the repellent, disgusting mass. My eyes water, probably from the impaling ache in my chest. I rub my eyes hastily, not wanting to seem cowardly in the face of death. Exhausted from the exertions of the cough, I flop down on the cold, hard bed. My bones, as heavy as lead, ache with every move I make. My weary eyelids slam shut. Soon the warden will make his rounds and denounce me dead and departed. No one will care anyway.
Except I’m not. Not yet, anyway.
The coughing spasms arrest me, keeping me awake. I wheeze and rasp, clutching my chest in agony as the sharp pangs of pain stab my throat then spread throughout the chest. This ailment has reached a new high tonight in its efforts to unnerve me, the coughing spasms rocking me back and forth until giddiness sets in and I am forced to rest. The viscous contents of the yellow receptacle fill it to the brim, the dark red streaks startlingly prominent in the sea of thick yellow phlegm, like leftover lemon curd with streaks of strawberry sauce. As I retch out another contribution to the receptacle, the pain surges up the respiratory tract, as if hauling up the next repulsive lump of curd. This time, it is not yellow, colour of infection. Oh, no. It is the red masque of death. I gawk in horror at the latest addition to my collection, the bright red lump shining like the blood moon against the dark night sky. Blood moon, the urban name for a lunar eclipse. Soon, I will be eclipsed by the flowing folds of the Grim Reaper’s cloak, his scythe in the limelight that I once stood in.
Then, I hear a bleep from the bedside table. I shift myself, trying to turn towards the bright, blinding screen of the laptop. My world is filled with light and joy at the thoughts that flit through. Someone must have replied my email. Someone does care for me after all. Someone does want to hope for me, for my tomorrow. This world is not devoid of kindness, nor of love, nor of… I choke, gasping for air as the phlegm clogs my nose and throat. I spiral down into that abyss of doom. Everything seems swollen with blood. I slump down on the bed. Tomorrow, I might know if someone did – someone does – someone will care for me…
On the laptop screen, the same message is repeated again and again: “Are you alright?” Perhaps, they will be read tomorrow by a certain recuperating patient, or they may not be read at all… Who knows what will happen tomorrow?
*A little bird will tell you~~
I wrote ‘Tomorrow’ in December last year, but decided that this was more chillingly beautiful. That is, of course, from my point of view as a wordsmith. Tell me what you think! 🙂
1, Jalan Bukit Ledang,
51000 Kuala Lumpur.
23 January 2016
How are you? It has been a blue moon since you last wrote to me. How is dear Aunt Renee? I am sure you must all be in the pink of health. I have been having a ball ever since the school year begun. However, after all these years of old, strict, demanding teachers, Teacher Mersedeh was the best English teacher I had, and will always be my favourite.
Teacher Mersedeh had a certain charisma about her which made her likeable instantly. She was an Iranian by birth, but a Australian citizen, having lived in Melbourne since her childhood. Her eyes were two pools of ink, accentuated by the dark circles around them. She had a deep, melodious voice like a cello, and her Australian accent was not very marked in her speech. Yet the best thing I liked about her appearance was her smile, which never failed to flash when she entered my class. That smile defined her personality.
Teacher Mersedeh was affable in class so that we felt comfortable talking to her, closing the gap between teacher and student. Her classes were always linked to relatable issues in our teenage life, enabling us to comprehend the lesson effortlessly. She often called our class her “baby class” because our class was smaller than the rest, and she showered each and every one of us with her unfailing attention in order to bring the best out of us. I was a shy, timid mouse who seldom voiced my opinions before I came under her wing. She painstakingly coaxed me out of my shell to become a confident, outspoken speaker. She was instrumental in my rapid vocal improvement.
Despite being promoted to a different class, we remained friends for life. I would chat to her when I passed by her class, and was always welcomed with open arms and that dazzling smile. We kept an active correspondence through emails, sharing our accounts of the daily grind and thoughts. She always had time for my queries, correcting the occasional grammatical error in my emails, providing detailed explanations and alternatives, for which I was grateful. I would send her my coursework for her evaluation, which she would give comments on. I valued her opinions highly, and would alter my work accordingly.
The last I heard of Teacher Mersedeh, she had been offered a job to train school teachers. I sincerely wished her all the best in her future undertakings, and hoped that the next time we meet, she would still remember me as her student, for she has never been out of my mind as my favourite teacher.
Well, Natasha, who was your favourite teacher? Surely you must have had one after all these years of schooling. I would love to know more about the teacher you adore. Anyway, do write back soon. I long to hear from you. Send my regards to your family.
Your loving cousin,
A dark, stormy night looms in ominous foreboding of the days to come. I believe in such things, taking them to be signs for my eyes only. In the ward, the air-conditioning is at full blast, chilling me to the bone. Bedridden, I attempt to find some warmth under the crisp white sheets, but all I am rewarded with is the pungent odor of bleach and disinfectant. I sigh, shivering as my breath escapes in puffs of steam. What happened to service? What happened to care?
There is nobody to care for me – I must be independent; I can turn to no one to speak of my heavy heart – they have more than one world on their shoulders – I must bottle up my emotions. Nobody cares more than family, but all they have on their plate is work and more work. Thus I soliloquized – mentally, mind, until I could stand it no longer, and began to write mental letters to old friends, and soon began to put them down on the computer.
Dear Y- How are you faring? Good luck with your competition, I wish I could be there to cheer you on, but I know you’ll bring honor to us all.
I am fine, as busy as a bee with work at the school orchestra. Just came home from a stressful day of the juniors’ practical exam, so tired that my immune system has failed me and surrendered to a bad cold. Don’t worry about me, I expect I shall be as right as rain tomorrow. My friends say I’m a cross old bird these days, but we both know that’s nonsense, don’t we?
Do reply soon, I miss you so much, it’s a pity we only meet once a year.
I love you.
Dear L- Please say we’ll meet next year at the same place. I can’t bear that we may never see each other again.
I’ve been feeling poorly all week, and if I don’t make it to tomorrow, please come see me one last time, and bring all our old friends from those happy days. You understand me so well, and cared for me so lovingly, I can’t thank you enough. I hope we’ll meet again in the near future, whenever that is.
C- All lies. Nothing but lies. You cheated me, that’s what, and I will make sure you pay for it. I’ve suffered enough. Battling depression for two years has taken the life out of me. Everything has gone wrong since you, everything. But that’s not enough, because you have to rile me further by leering at me every time I see you. You, and your eternal sleep that only I can break, eh? Don’t fool me, you’re no Sleeping Beauty.
I’ll end it all tomorrow, and the tables will be turned on you. Take my seat for a change, darling.
Dear Q- I’m sorry I shouted at you that day, forgive me, please. Forget everything I said. I won’t burden you any longer with my sad life, I’ll take it away, and you will never have to worry about me anymore. Forever. It will be over by tomorrow, I promise.
My fingers flag down from the keyboard, fatigued from the boiling emotions inside me. They cause more agony than the flu. In a last burst of energy, I hit the “Send” button. They won’t reply anyway. I just want them to know my last words were for them, if they cared enough.
I flop down on the cold, hard bed. I’m dead to the world. I’ll never wake up tomorrow. I can feel it in my bones, they’re as heavy as lead.
Except I’m not.
The coughing spasms arrest me, keeping me awake. I hurry to the washroom, throwing up and gargling for the better part of the night. It hurts so much, I wish the next will be the last.
Then a bleep. I scampered to the bright, blinding screen. Maybe someone does care for me after all.
Suddenly, everything seemed swollen with blood. I slumped down on the bed.
Tomorrow… I would know… if someone did – someone does – someone will care for me…
A dark, moonless night availed as the clouds gathered, with only pinpricks of starlight to light her way. Vi trudged on into the forest, despite Mother’s forebodings of lurking dangers at every footstep. Cats, she yowled. Bears, she growled. Ghosts, she shrieked. She hauled out every single terror in her bag to imitate in her flailing attempts to scare Vi. Vi wasn’t scared at all then, but now they came back to haunt her. She tried to push the idiotic, childish squeals of her mother’s creation out of her mind, but they were firmly rooted in her imagination.
At last, she made it. A birch tree towered over her, spreading its branches out in a cheery welcome. His hideaway. Their hideaway.
His face poked through the birch’s thick foliage, grinning from ear to ear. He beckoned her to climb up eagerly, his hands hurriedly pointing out the footholds he had fixed on the trunk. She scrambled up, missing a few steps in her excitement. They would play here, invite friends over, have parties… or maybe, they could keep it a secret between the two of them. A secret it shall be, just the two of us. They tied her deep red scarf on a branch to mark it, just in case they missed it. Their delighted laughter added sparkle to the dim starlight shining down on them.
Since then, Vi danced her way through the forest of dark, gnarled pillars at night to meet her friend. They would read if the moon was obliging to spare some light, or visit their neighbours on the boughs. However, they usually just sat among the comfort of the foliage to talk about the day’s events, counting the stars and tracing the constellations with their bright eyes, shining with life and joy, brighter than the stars.
She wished she never woke up from that dream. It was over too soon, for the curtain call to be announced on those happy days.
Night fell like a velvet curtain on the world’s stage that night. She trudged through the dark forest, on the soft carpet of moss and fallen leaves. Her heart full of dread, but not for the monsters lurking in the imaginary shadows. She came to the birch tree, as majestic as before, with her red scarf waving in the wind. Gone. Gone, mourned the wind for her loss. She placed a spray of starflowers beneath its boughs.
There was no cheery lad to welcome her that night.
Where is home? It may be that dilapidated shack by the dusty roads, or a simple shelter on the grassy plains, beneath the ever-changing sky. It may be a mansion in the bustling town center, or a farm amidst the rambling countryside. Yet wherever it may be, or whatever it may look like, it’s the inside that really counts.
“But a chair is not a house, and a house is not a home, when there’s no one there to hold you tight, and no one there you can kiss goodnight.” — Luther Vandross’ A House is Not A Home
The lyrics say it all. Home is where the heart lies, where our family is, to love us and care for us, to be the trash can for our troubles, to be our rock in all our endavours. Home is where we can be ourselves, to take off that smiley mask from work, and be who we are.
Sometimes, going home, there is no warmth and comfort. Just a house with all its worldly comforts and entertainment. I sit in the dark, lonely, typing on my computer. Words are home to me. They give me strength and comfort as I pour out my innermost thoughts. Page after page of stories of my own creation, with characters and a world I long to be in. Where every tale has a happy ending, every villain will change for the better.
Yet the words others love are are the dramatic accounts of my little tribulations, of the bleak lonely truth of my lonely little room, with nothing but a bed and books. Words are family to me, learning every single secret of my thoughts, letting me weave tales through their beauty, keeping my chin up when I’m feeling blue, nurturing me to be a better woman.
On those dusty plains with its tufts of grey-green grass, sticking out like tufts of hair on a bald man’s head, I sit here, alone, with nothing but words in my head, words whispered through wind’s everlasting song, words written in the clouds of dreams to come. I am home, under the baby blue sky with swirls of white and purple, on the porch of a little shack, where my words gush out in torrents to flood its tiny rooms, and winding down an invisible river to you.
Welcome to my home, where words fly and fingers dance on the keyboard’s spacious dance floor. Where thoughts sing and notes soar into the literary sky of paper and ink.