Wednesday, January 31, 2007
And as she held that photo under the light, the photo became stained with her tears. Blotting out little patches on her photo due to the teardrops that 'washed' away some dirt that remained on the photo, the image became even clearer.
The only thing on her mind now was, "He'll never wait for me."
What was on the photo, was a shot of her and her boy friend few years back before she left for Toronto. With the highlands as background, with his hand firmly over her shoulders, with the largest and sweetest smile she could ever possibly flash at that time, at the back of her mind was nothing more than happiness, comfort, and the luxury of having a man that loved her more than anything in the world.
That, was what she thought back then.
Maybe not now.
He's a superman in his very own ways. He's a state athlete, he's a boy genius, he's a 5-star musician and an accomplished performer in theatres. At his young age, he was already signing contracts for recording and advertising companies who exploited his good looks and talents.
Perhaps it was for that very reason, he never kept his promises, leaving a heart broken and alone in Toronto.
Wiping away her tears, she said to herself, 'I'll be strong. Strong and never give up.'
Tears may dry, but how about the wounds of the heart? How long will it take a broken heart to heal?
Pushing out a trolley full of her boxes and luggages, her parents were already waiting eagerly for her at the arrival lounge. Beaming with joy, her parents took her luggage from her and patted her head.
"So proud of you, Doctor Allison!" dad said.
Doctor? She never wanted to be a doctor. It wasn't her choice really, and she despised the thought of being one. The thought of saving lives were never real, the noble idea of helping reduce people's pain is now a far fetched thought. The only real things that she has seen all these many many years of training and practical in Toronto, were the long hours, the suffering of the doctors themselves, and the hard work.
Worse still, she had no man there to love her.
She fought to hold back her tears to little avail. Hugging her mom and resting her head on her shoulders, she sobbed until the tears would just not come out anymore, leaving both parents at the side to wonder what is going on.
She came home to find her room in order, nothing different. The bed is as soft as ever, her pillow has the same detergent fragrance as before, the flowers were fresh and new. She took in a deep breath and finally smiled.
It was good to be home. To be finally home, it was a luxury. Home was the one place that gave her true solitude and security when the world was closing in on her. Home was the place where she could just turn to her parents when she needed them the most. Home was the place where she got the rest the world could not give her.
And that night as she rested her head, as she put herself to sleep that night, she said to herself,
"As the past becomes the past, as the night comes and darkness falls,
so shall the promise of a future be near, and the coming of a new morning be soon.
As people walk in and out of life, as love comes and goes,
so shall the blessings of God come and be given,
but through it all His faithfulness will never end."
She may never have the love that she desired, she may never work a profession that she would die for, she may never be the everything that others expected her to be. But one thing for sure was, where the home is, the heart is safe, the soul is at peace. Even if nothing would work out well for her in the world, the home was always and will always be that single refuge that she could run away from when the tears come.
And once that tears are dried up, once she wakes up from her deep sleep, she will rise to the challenges, stronger and better. She will find the love that God has for her all this time, she will find the greatest of joy not from Man but from God in a work that she commits to the hands of the Lord. She will know that through the storms, God is above it and God is in control. Only when she decides to come home.
Dedicated to my seniors leaving for Australia soon. May Australia be the home that you desire it to be, may Australia be the land that you can face bravely, and may Australia be a land where God's glory will be seen in you.
Her face had no smile. Usually people who sat on the swing would smile or glee as the wind breezed through the hair and the ears. Not her.
Motionless eyes that gazed into the sky, not looking at anything particular or of focus, she just allowed herself to be immersed into her own thoughts. Even from a distance, problems, loneliness, desolation, despair, all of it could be seen from her eyes.
Getting out from the van I was in moments before, I asked, "Need a ride?"
She hesitated. She explained that she didn't need one since she was living nearby, and her parents just went out for a little while.
"But it's not safe for a girl like you to be alone." Then she frowned.
Perhaps the only thing on her mind was not to be safe but to be alone. She wanted to be alone in her own thoughts, in her own thinking, in her own little heaven. Her thoughts were her solitude, her emotions her fortress. Perhaps that was the case.
She eventually went up the van with us after a fair bit of persuasion and reasoning. Throughout the whole journey to the coffee shop that we came from earlier on, she was quiet and uttered not a single word. Again she was left to wander in her very own world.
The noise around her in the coffee shop failed to deter her from being in the state of selfness. Friends all around her were yaking and talking nonsense and were laughing, but she sat still beside all of them, gazed at her own shoes and sighed. No longer did she frown, but her tears could be seen hidden deep in her eyes. She never let out a single word, cried not even a single tear, commented on nothing, just left alone.
Looking at her from across the table, a sudden sense of hopelessness and helplessness overwhelmed me. I could just do nothing to help her, I couldn't comprehend the magnitude of the problems that she might have been, neither could I be of any encouragement to her.
Later did I realise, that sometimes, the best therapy for helplessness is just to be by their sides and let them wander on their own.
Sometimes, the best discipline is to do nothing.
Sometimes, the best words said are silence.
Sometimes - right now - as I look back at how the world is unfolding, how darkness is creeping into this universe, how problems are invading our lives, the only thing that reminds me of the tears never seen, the only thing that reminds me of the wanting to be alone and in solitude, would be that girl on the swing.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
For a time in my life I only thought that my dad was all about a stern face and the cane. Everytime I did anything that would piss him off, it was the cane landing on my backside and a good time of shelling and bombing. After that I'd sobbingly retire to my room to lick my wounds.
I should have known him better back then. I didn't then, but now I do.
Born in a big and poor family, my dad struggled to send his brothers to university. Back in his secondary school days, he'd literally sit underneath a lamp post to study at night in preparation for his HSC examination. With a CP scholarship he was able to pursue medicine in Australia, but his condition denied him that opportunity. He had a side growth on his thumb - the growth was like a little thumb - causing him to not be able to wear gloves. Because of that he turned to microbiology instead, and it wasn't until his final year in Australia that a kind professor decided to help remove that little growth for him.
He struggled in the government sector. He would be the one working the longest hours on a task, the first to enter the office and the last to leave, the one preparing all the letters and stuff, and was never recognised for that. He would be the one to take up every single job and task people ask him to do, and even if he is being stretched to the limit or breaking point, at the verge of breaking, he'd still stubbornly continue doing it. Frankly it was by God's grace that my dad survived the brutal years in the Hospital.
I often was frustrated with him. I'd complain to my mom, "Why does everyone takes Papa for granted? What do they think Papa is? Their servant?"
"No Joash," my mom would explain patiently. "It's just that Papa is very nice and tolerant."
"For what? Not like they're paying him more or recognising his effort." I'd protest, and my mom would talk about the weather and my homework or ask me to go practice my piano just to divert from the topic. My mom hated to engage in this kind of talk with me, becasue she knew too well that it would all end in a rather nasty way.
And all I knew about my dad back then was that he'd rather let people trample on him then to let them suffer. I thought he never knew that he's doing other people's job when they should be the ones doing it.
I was always envious with friends. Most of my friends came from rich family. That's partly because I met them in debates and competitions, so I decided to get to know them better. Everytime they hoped into a huge Mercedez Benz after tuition, everytime they took out their new Nokia or Sony Ericsson, everytime they talked about which country their dad's going to send them to after SPM, my heart sank.
My dad could never afford any of those, I'd think to myself. He's just a poor government servant bullied by his staff.
Again I'd protest to God. "It's not fair God!"
I kept forgetting, that nothing was ever fair in the world.
That's if, I choose to believe it.
That Father's Day back in 2005, I made my dad a card.
Would it be better if people said 'Tan Chong Eam, father of Joash'
or 'Tan-Loh Joash, son of Tan Chong Eam?'
I'd prefer the second even if you'd prefer the first."
And I left it on his bed. He walked into his bedroom as usual after work, and after he changed he came out from his room and walked into mine. I was honestly a bit surprised when he walked in.
He smiled at me. (If I haven't mistaken, it was a long time since he really really smiled at me.)
"Thanks Joash, I never expected you to give me a card."
I think he hugged me, and walked out of the door. I thought I felt something different from that day, and I started to look at my dad from a much different perspective.
When I compared what my father gave me and what other dad's gave their children, it would seem that I was at a losing end, becasue my dad never gave me the luxury of the materialistic world. What I forgot was that for what luxury my dad could not afford to give me, he made it up by sponsoring me for my music lessons. Every music lesson would cost a bomb. It was around a thousand eight hundred bucks per month for my piano and violin diploma course, and yet he paid for it.
My mom once sat me down at the dining table and calculated my music lessons for me. "If your father didn't send you for music lessons," she said, "we would be driving a Mercedez Benz by now, all of us in the family would be using the latest handphones and we'd be going for holidays overseas every year." That struck me.
I only thought that my dad would never buy me those expensive stuff because he was too stingy or because he couldn't afford it. What I forgot was that he himself could have bought those things had he not send me for music lessons. I was remorseful and practiced the piano till my hands would break or just drop off from my body. I would sit on the piano for hours prior to the diploma test just to make sure that I don't waste my dad's money.
In the years that followed, my dad started to treat me like a man. He would just talk to me about non-children stuff like 'how would I handle my life next time' or 'what kind of wife I'd have to choose'. My perception of my dad changed slowly from that wicked whip-master to a wise old man that had experience in him. Once thinking that 'my dad's just a stubborn man that thinks he knows best', I realised that 'my dad knows a lot after all' and now as I type this, I must admit that he can amazingly perform a lot of stuff beyond my wildest imaginations. (To know more, read the rambutan tree post)
On one trip to KL I decided to follow my dad down to KL for his meeting. On the way back we were talking about something - I couldn't remember the jist of our conversation - and he pointed out that I should be more helpful in doing the housework.
"Mummy's very tired and is not strong enough to do everything, so if you can do it just help out."
"I do," I replied. "I'd be the last person to let my mom suffer."
Again, I saw my dad smile. I knew what he was thinking.
"Looks like we love the same lady I suppose?" I pointed out. "Yeah," he replied briefly.
When my SPM results were released in 2006, he called. I told him I got straight A1s except for a Chinese. After all, no-one on earth - not even my evil Chinese teacher - expected me to get an A1 for that subject.
"You didn't get straight 1s then?" Through the phone I could sense his disappointment. After he put down the phone, guilt creeped in. How could you have let your father down? He needed the assurance that you'd do your best and you let him down, didn't you?
I went home a disappointed and defeated student. In front of the press, I openly admitted that I wasn't happy with that results. I didn't reveal to them the reason, but only my mom knew about it. I wasn't disappointed about the fact that I didn't get an A1 for Chinese, but I was disappointed about the fact that I let my father down.
My father assured me that he wasn't disappointed later that day, but one thing for sure: my dad's a terrible liar. He couldn't even lie to himself. =D
But had it not be for that point of time, I wouldn't have ever noticed how much my dad meant to me. He means so much to me now that I'd be more disappointed with myself if I were to disappoint him.
My dad, in the last few years I spent with him before coming down to Shah Alam, was a teacher. He taught me how to survive and how to study. He taught me how to live alone and how to face my fears. He never talked to me about all those things or wrote it down in paper or pen, but he taught me those things by lead of example. His history, his experience, his past became my guide and direction.
Now I finally come to terms that what my dad truly was - and still is - lies way beyond what he does. What he has done in the past, like caning me or bombing me, was for disciplinary purposes, but beneath the hard shell of his stubborness lies the softness that every father has deep in their hearts. Though he may never give me what I perceived to be the best, yet he never failed to give me what was really the best that I should have. The best thing that he gave me, after all, was himself and all that he had.
That I recognised and realised, only after the day I saw my dad smile.
Postlude: The above is NOT fictional.
Papa, if you're reading this, I hope you won't mind it. Anyway, it's just another way of me telling you how much I love and miss you.
I'm coming home soon.
We want the world to know us, but what will they know?"
As I type this post, my hands are still shaking. Earlier the afternoon me and Si Han (Freezer) helped carry a disabled man on a wheel chair down 3 flights of stairs. The stress on my arms was overwhelming - though the man wasn't heavy at all - and the effect is still there.
That's not the whole reason of me typing this post. I'm not complaining about showing some kindness to a disabled man who was struggling to near the stairs in hope that someone would offer to help him down.
The whole purpose of this post is that - what happened to the Malaysian spirit?
What are we doing with that spirit?
Play batu seremban in space? Build a ferris wheel so large for Malaysians to ride up for 15 minutes while both money and time could be spent at better use?
Upon boarding the bus to head back to Subang, Si Han protested. "KL Sentral is the most fantastic architecture in the country. One toilet per level, and no special lanes or facilities for disabled people."
"There are facilities for them," I pointed out. "Just that it's spoiled."
How often do Singaporeans regard us Malaysians as people who 'can-build-but-cannot-maintain' and the leaders of this country would react as if the skies were collapsing beneath their ego? Isn't that a fact? The elevators meant to take disabled people downstairs from the upper floor in KL Sentral was spoiled, so how do you expect the poor disabled uncle to go down? Fly or glide down the railings?
That's not the real issue. Allow me to address the critical problem here.
The spirit of Malaysia.
I once know of a land where people were nice and friendly. I once believed that the this land is peaceful and free from social diseases. I once thought that I my country is a home where the families of the home would stand up for what they believed was right, fight for justice and uphold righteousness.
I want to believe in that Malaysia, but is it becoming the Utopian Malaysia?
The disabled uncle rooted his wheelchair at the edge of the stairs, hoping for someone to carry him down. Hundreds of people must have passed by his side and walk without giving him a second thought. Credit given to the kinder souls who dropped in a couple of pennies inside a little plastic bag he had on his lap.
And if no one still believes in the spirit of Malaysia, I chose to be that spirit.
The spirit of Malaysia is fading. How shall we revive it?
Implementation of new policies by the government?
It must begin from us within. No one can change the nation, we can. Simply because we are the nation, we are Malaysia. Not the physical state, not the geographical location. But us, the people, the citizens.
We often want Malaysia to be known in foreign countries. It seems awesome when foreigners praise Malaysians. Of course! Who doesn't like the honey of the ear, while forgetting the bitterness of the medicine that we ought to be taking now?
We want the world to see us, but what shall they see? A dying spirit, a failing enthusiasm, a moral-lacking society?
We want the world to know us, but what will they know? A nation divided morally, an epitome of nonchalency, an example of tidak apa?
Boarding the bus back to Subang, I realised that I had no small change left. An aunty graciously smiled to me as I approached her with a ten-dollar bill in my hand. Counting the one-dollar notes that she exchanged with me, she adviced me on purchasing the right tickets next time before boarding the Rapid KL Buses and to plan my journey ahead of time - to save money.
And I thank God, in all of His grace that He showed me that the dying spirit of Malaysia is not dead. Beneath the defeated ashes of a fire that was once a fighter's spirit, the glow is still very much alive. There is a chance that this glow will once again burst into a magnificent fire, if and only if we choose to fuel it one more time before it's too late.
Friday, January 19, 2007
not knowing what the best other people expect of me.
I give my all in everything that I do,
not knowing what the expectations are and the standards lie.
I work to be what I should be,
in reality what should I really be?
I am happy to be myself
but can everyone accept me for who I really am?
I strive for excellence and distinction
but who will stand by my side and see me through it?
I hate to struggle
but I have to
How many roads more to walk?
How many battles to fight?
How much more work to day?
How many more days to go?
The battle's a lonely one
The road's a long one
The journey's a tiring one
The day's dark one
But in all doubt and pain
in all tears and sadness
I've learned - the hard way -
and at all times
put your heart and your hope in the Lord
and trust in all His ways
that he knows what you need and not what you want
When love hurts too much, it's time to let go
because letting go is the beginning to healing and restoration
and the start of a new journey
Who of you, have seen my tears?
But God has.
Who of you, have let your tears fall in front of others?
I'll never know
But God knows.
Thursday night I delivered the hardest message I ever delivered in my whole life. No debate or speech was any harder than that.
It was a CA night and it was the first one of the year, and Pastor David told me to go deliver a message. I prayed about it, and the message that came to me was clear.
Talk about something close to your heart Joash.
The verse that came to my mind was Luke 18:36. The blind beggar.
And I decided to talk about it. Talk about how the beggar had problems that he had to face, and how he decided to face it. Talk about how he cried for mercy, talk about how desperate he was and that in his desparation when he cried out how God delivered him.
Tha wasn't the hard part, the hardest part was to believe what I said. Especially after going through a real hard year before that.
I spoke about why problems came into our lives. Moulding, character building, purifying through trials of fire. I shared about the importance of recognising such problems in our lives. It's all about humility. I showed them what happens when we cry out to God about our problems. We recognise that He is supreme and that He is the one that can deliver us from our problems. I lastly shared about allowing God to come into our lives to work those miracles. Don't struggle with God!
Easier said than done, more often than not, including in my situation. I was struggling with God, and I did. Just recently I was asking God, why am I short and pimple prone. I questioned him, why can't He make me tall and handsome?
Where would my glory be? Would people see My glory or yours?
And I was rebuked.
And I was convinced.
Then did I know, it was no longer about me or myself. It was about God. The Giver of dreams, the Healer of wounds, the Physician, the Keeper of time. He is all and everything, so who am I to take that away from Him?
1 hour before I went up for my message, I had gastric. Half an hour before, I bruised my thumb so badly while whacking the conga I thought the blood veins nearly burst. 10 minutes before due time, I had such a bad stomach ache I thought I was going to get diarrhea.
I prayed and covered the message with His blood.
The very second I picked up the mike, God proved to me that at the end of the day, He was, is and will always be in control.
Grabbing my gear and dashing across the empty streets at 2 am in the morning with a cup of steaming coffee at the side of my door, I briefed the juniors following me in the back seat of what they had to do with cases like this. "What were the probabilities that this could be a severe case? How would I diagnose whether is it a cardiac arrest or brain dead?" I asked them. Part-time lecturer, some people called me.
As soon as the monitor at the dashboard told me that I was at the accident scene, I jumped out from the car with the gear in my hand and my juniors tailing me closely behind. She lived in an apartment at the 4th floor, so by the time we reached her room we were heaving, huffing and puffing.
A lady in her senior age was at the door weeping, close to a total mental break down.
"Please doctor, she's dying.." she sobbed while pointing towards the bedroom.
We rushed in and saw a motionless figure lying on the bed. That was all that we could see. Without much thought, we went right up to her and began our job. No pulse, no heartbeat..
"Ready for charge sir," my junior finally said. That was the signal for a clearance to pump the defibrilator. I checked the little nodes over her chest and on her heart. The electric sensors attached on her hand clearly indicated that her pulse was dropping by the second.
"30 watts, clear!" I shouted. Pressing the defibrilator against her chest firmly, I pulled the little trigger on the handle. Boof, a little sound and her body jolted up violently.
"No pulse sir."
"40 watts, clear!" Boof
"No pulse sir."
"50 watts, clear!" Boof
"50 watts, clear!" Boof
"50 watts, clear!" After a last and violent jolt, the danger warning on the heartbeat screen faded away. Her pulse was coming back. We heard a little cough. We saw her turn her body a little, and she was moving her hands. My junior pushed a breathing mask into her face and started pumping the gas bottle attached to it.
The next morning before I went home for my off day, I decided to pay that fine young lady a surprise visit. Straightening my shirt and taking a deep breath, I knocked on the door.
"Yes?" a sweet voice from inside called out.
Opening the door and walking in with a small bouquet of flowers I just bought 2 minutes before, I tried my best to stay as calm as possible though looking at the most breathtaking lady lying on the bed with a charming smile carved on her lips.
"Hi! I'm Joash, paramedic. How are you feeling now?" I extended the bouquet of flowers to her. She looked great, better than the night before. Her pale face yesterday was now flushed pink on both cheeks, making her look greater than ever.
"I'm great.. thanks for saving me.." she said politely. "..and for the flowers."
She was supposed to stay in the hospital for a few days for observation and stuff. Every evening after work or before my work started I'd drop by to pay her a visit and chit chat with her. She was a really really fun lady to be with. She had this totally assuring, encouraging and easy way of laughing out loud. As reserved in the way she laughs - like any other conservative women in the West - yet she was never too stingy to give any. It nearly became routine to sit down by her bed to talk to her.
In that one week, I knew the most about her. She was an orphan whose parents passed away in a highway accident back when she was little. Grew up with a nanny that she was sent to by the Children's Aid, the nanny brought her up through labour, pain and sweat. Deprived of all forms of luxury, she was forced - at times - to take to the streets selling newspaper, collecting tins, and occassionally as a cleaner from house to house. The carrying of goods, the scrubbing of floors, the washing of bathrooms, the picking of scrap metal rejected by people, all of it made toughened her up over the years. Her beauty, through the trials and tests of time never faded; her heart, over the months and years of rain and fire never grew cold. Instead, she walked out of that situation a better lady. Like a little butterfly hatching from it's cucoon, she went through a metamorphosis that transformed her from a girl to a fine young lady, lying on the bed now.
She never had enough money to pay for tuition fees, so while working in a paper recycling factory for a few months she gathered all the old school textbooks and revision books. After her long day's of work, she'd creep out to the streets and squat under a lamp post to study. She could never sit down on the damp wet floor as her back would hurt due to the long day's work. Many years of perseverance, she sat for the SAT test and aced it. Offered a place in Harvard Business School to study acturial science, she humbly turned it down for a teaching position in a local training college to fulfill her lifelong dream.
"I want to teach!" she beamed. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke of her childhood dream. "I'd stand by the window in school from outside, watching little kids learning how to read and write inside. I envy all of them inside. They were so fortunate to be sitting inside there to study while I was outside helping my nanny collect the rubbish while trying to keep up with their lessons on my own."
It became a desire to help those who needed the help most, but yet couldn't afford it.
She made her vision a mission.
And yet, as she walked out of teacher's college when she was 23, she collapsed and fell in the midst of a shocked crowd. Panic striken, the college board sent her to a nearby hospital. After a few examinations, doctors diagnose her as a chronic case of 'cardiac muscle malfunction'.
The state whereby the heart fails to beat normally due to the occurence of malfunction of the cardiac muscles occasionally, resulting in a temporary state where the heart stops beating. Symptoms similar to a cardiac arrest, but in this case the heart is perfectly normal other than the muscles.
She would just collapse or feel a shocking pain everytime that happened.
She could even die from that.
Before she left, I gave her a little portable Radiator-charged-defibrilator - simplified rad-charger. It functions similarly to the defibrilator. She was to tell the people around her about that rad-charger, and if she were to go into a state of cardiac arrest, her friends were to pump and charge her with that and she'd be fine in no time. We exchanged numbers and met up with each other on and off. And one day during lunch she told me that she was going on a UNICEF mission in Chiang Mai. She was to go there and enter the rural villagers to teach the small kids there English.
"The administrative told me that they would need help from a couple of trained and experienced doctors there," she blurted. "The only person in my mind was you." Before I knew it both of us were spending all our free time going to the shopping malls purchasing proper gears and clothes to take down to Chiang Mai. Apparantly UNICEF reported that Chiang Mai that year was going through unpredictable weather changes and temperatures has dipped below 10 degree Celcius.
"Better safe than sorry," she said with a chuckle. Going out with her was an amazing experience altogether. She would surprise me by choosing clothes of my favourite colour of matching size. She'd pick up shoes with designs I liked and put it back after looking at the price tag.
"I know you inside out dear." she mumbled, often with a little smile.
Few days later, we were in Chiang Mai and for once UNICEF was right. It was freezing and it was a real rural area. Expecting to see a similar scene to the slums in New York, I was taken aback by seeing children wearing nothing except for a sackcloth over their waist. Huts with no electricity, huge jars containing water, ladies cooking using no gas or electric stove but charcoal and firewood. Tears came to my eyes as I saw their dilapidated state. Tash - as I call her - was more concerned on starting her job.
Together we unpacked and swiftly did what we had to do. Little nonsense, little talk. Pure work. She set up a little blackboard and gathered the little children. With what minimal Thai she learned while onboard Thai Airways, she slowly taught the children the alphabets and gave them all pencils and papers to write and scribble on. From afar, as I treated the villagers of all sort of disease and sickness, from the corner of my eye I could see her joy and satisfaction of hugging the little children, sitting them on her lap as she told them stories, holding their small hands and showing them how to write...
Speak of a dream coming true.
Approaching the end of our mission trip there, I took her to some higher peaks near the local village. I promised her a surprise earlier the week after a villager took me up there to pluck some rare plants to take back to NY. She gave me the best hug when I brought her up there and gave me a light peck on the cheek. She sat down on a near by rock and motioned me to go over. Sitting down beside her, she cuddled up beside me.
"I forgot to bring my jacket dear. Care to lend me some warmth?" she asked cheekily.
I touched her and realised she was freezing. Though the night was dark - except for the illuminating moon and the flickering stars overlooking the valleys and creeks - I could make out that she was shivering. Taking off my jacket and revealing my singlet I was wearing inside, I wrapped it around her.
Shocked, she gasped, "You'd freeze!"
"I won't." I replied softly as I zipped the jacket over her. "You by my side will keep me warm."
Nesting my head over hers, I couldn't resist from smelling the fragrance of her hair. The natural odour, I'd never know why I'd be so attracted to it. Holding her hands from the side and rubbing it gently, my fingers made it's way through the fine valleys on her palm. The evidence of a rough past and proof of hardship.
Suddenly she started shaking. I knew what was coming.
"I.. I think.. I need my Rad-charger.." she mumbled. Her hands reached for the little bag she carried everywhere with and took out the little equipment. Unzipping the jacket and placing the electric nodes beneath the shirt she was wearing, I asked her, "How does it feel everytime you charge yourself?"
Without stopping from assembling the equipment, she looked at me in the eyes and said, "Hurts.. stings.. pain.."
And that moment I felt the pain she went through. I cried in the heart, with no tears falling from my eyes. Scrambling behind her just in time before she pressed the charge button, I wrapped my arms around her tightly.
"Let your pain be mine too."
Her finger that was over the button never did tightened. She never did press the button. Instead she turned her head over. "You'd feel the shock too, dear."
"What shock is greater than the shock of standing beside you, not being able to be share your pain? What hurt is deeper than the hurt of not being able to help you?" Too long she has suffered, too long she has been in pain. I realised that she became the one I loved with everything I had in me.
She never did press the button. Instead she turned over and hugged me tightly. Holding her in my arms, she drenched herself in her own tears. The muscle problem never triggered. She forgot about it and she was fine after that. As the moon blanket us with a layer of imaginary snow, her thoughts became mine. Her heart became the only means of expressing her feelings, and her passion and her dreams to teach became the only bridge that brought us together.
We flew back with new dreams. We chatted happily about our future throughout the 7 hour flight back to NY. Upon landing, I held her hands firmly as we walk out of the airport.
She pulled her hand away. "Oops.." she exclaimed with a little grin. "I forgot something dear.. wait for a moment ok?" without waiting for a reply, she ran back inside the airport. As I saw her from outside she walked towards a souvenir shop. For a while I couldn't make out what the cheeky Tash was up to, then I saw her walking out with a large bouquet of roses. She grinned from ear to ear as she strolled out slowly, and that was when...
"EVERYONE DOWN! THIS IS A HIJACK!! EVERYONE ON THE FLOOR NOW!!!"
2 masked man with rifles in their hands pointing towards the air was walking in the foyer. Over their heads was a red ribbon with some sort of Arabic words written on it.
Oh no, not now..
And I dreaded the worst. Tash who was nearing the entrance decided to make a dash for the door instead. She nearly made it to the door when one of the gunman saw her running out. He made an aim for her.
"NO!!!!" I yelled as I ran towards her. "DUCK TASH, DUCK!!!"
PANG PANG PANG
I ran to her and pulled her over behind me. Hugging her, I turned her around to face the door with my back to the gunman. I thought the world stop moving. I saw the shock on the faces of people nearby. I saw the beautiful face of my beloved Tash under my nose. Her mouth was slightly ajar as if she wanted to tell me something.
Then I felt it. A piercing shot of pain. Something like the tearing of flesh. And I felt it again. And again.
Warm fluid trickled down from my shirt. My back was burning hot, and in a matter of seconds my strength drained out from my back. My grip on Tash loosened and I collapsed. All I saw was Tash holding my face with tears running down her cheeks as she yelled and yelled for help.
What happened next was a total mess. I thought I saw the SWAT team storm past me and Tash. Many many gunshots were heard, I couldn't make out who won and who lost. But soon enough paramedics were all over me and wrapping my wounds with clean dressing, they lifted me to a trolley and wheeled me into the ambulance.
I was conscious for a couple of minutes in the ambulance.
Before darkness overwhelmed me.
Struggling to open my eyes, my vision was blurred initially but I soon made out who were beside me. Freezer, a good friend of mine whom I met back in college days was beside me.
"Joash, you have Tash to thank for. She gave you your heart." he said solemnly. I thought I knew him better than that. He was the only cardiologist in the whole NY who had enough sense of humour to hold a heart in his hand and crack the whackiest joke on earth.
"Tell me a better joke dude," I mumbled. "Where's Tash?"
He looked at me with eyes I've never seen before. His lips were sealed, but I could make it out.
"Where is she Freezer? Where is Tash?" I demanded. I tried to get up and with all my strength I yanked at his white overall. "Where is she?"
I cried all night. I couldn't have cried anymore than that, I could't have cried over anything other than that.
Tash really gave me her heart. Freezer wasn't joking.
The 3 bullets penetrated my heart and punctured the heart walls. It was as good as dead. Tash, out of desparation signed for a heart transplant. She could donate her heart because her's was in good condition, spare the muscle malfunction. That wouldn't affect me because my muscles and nervous system could take care of that.
Why did she do that for me? She was so silly..
And in my attempt to save her, she saved me in return.
Returning from hospital, I opened my apartment door to a mess. I left my apartment in a mess before heading off to Chiang Mai, thinking that me and Tash could handle the mess after returning from the mission trip.
Now I'm left to clean it up alone.
Frisking through the pile of get-well mails accumulated over the week while I was in hospital, the door bell rang. I thought it was another irritating sales rap trying to promote his product, or probably another sympathetic friend who tried to be compassionate in his futile attempt. I decided to ignore the door bell. Thankfully the door bell never rang again.
It was unmistakable. I couldn't have been hearing a ghost. Though I was going through a depression and was on Prozac, but hallucination was never a side effect of the drug. I could swear that I heard it loud and clear.
"Dear.. I miss you.."
I made a dive for the handle and opened it. I didn't even have to look at who - or what - was standing before me. I dragged her into my arms and cried over her shoulders.
"What have you done Tash?"
"I gave you my heart.." she said. ".. so that I could get a new one."
What Freezer did not tell me, was that he implanted a little glass heart that ran on motor power to replace her real heart. It ran on motor and not on the nervous or muscle anymore, that means that she would never have the problem of a cardiac muscle failure. She was free from the bondage of Rad-charger. She could leave the charger at home for good.
"And that little glass thing," Freezer once explained over a lunch way before meeting Tash, "could well last a decade or so without replacing or recharging."
Hugging her like we never hugged before, I smelled her hair. The fragrance remained the same. My hands crawled up to her heart, and pressing it I thought I felt the motion of a running motor inside a hard casing, and I asked her, "How does it feel like to have a glass heart?"
"It doesn't matter anymore, my heart is in safe hands."
She freed herself from her heart problem by giving me a heart. By giving me her real heart, she gave me the chance to live again, not because I once saved her life, but because by giving me the chance to live again she too gave herself the same opportunity to live a normal life, free from Rad-charger. Her ultimate sacrifice wasn't to let Freezer open her up and take away something from inside her, her ultimate sacrifice came the very day when she, while lying on the bed that one cold night waiting to die, decided to give herself up for a man that God would send to her in time for anything.
In giving me her heart, more than just a new life, she gave me the assurance of a love that will never grow cold, and most importantly she gave me the very basis and roots and fundamentals of a love that will last and never die.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
After leaving for college in Shah Alam I missed that home. I missed the soft pillows, I missed my large and soft bolster, I missed the water heater, I missed the bed and the piano. I so wanted to go back to Ipoh and sleep there for good. I didn't want to stay in Shah Alam.
Also, the food there was bad. I never complained about Malay food for one thing. I love curry and spicy food, but when was the last time I had Hokkien noodles? When was the last time I ate Char Siew - Chicken rice? How long was it when I last patrionised my favourite banana leaf stall in Ipoh?
Food also was part of my home.
I realised, in no time to come, that I was after all living in a disillusioned world. Because all that attributed to my home was not really my home after all.
One Sunday morning my parents visited me and came to my church. I was delighted! They worshipped in my church and listened to their sermons. They met up with the pastors and my friends and seniors from INTEC in church and we went out for a good meal and catching-up in Klang later the day.
As I was busy sharing my experiences with them, I noticed something different in me. Something that I've not felt for a long long time after going to Shah Alam.
Homeliness. The state of being at home.
And I searched myself. I was still in Shah Alam - or Klang - so why suddenly the warmth and the security overwhelming me?
It was not the physical state after all, it was not the food, not the belongings of my 'home'. It was a house, a physical structure, it was dead.
But my home was alive, and it still is alive.
I realised, my home was my parents.
My house gives me a roof over my head, but my home gave and gives me security and comfort. My violin and piano gives me something to do when I'm bored, but my parents give me companionship and advice. My bed gives me a place to sleep and toss, but my parents gives me rest.
See the difference?
And as they left, as I stood at the door watching their car fading away into the dark night, I sighed. The real thing that I missed wasn't anything else but them. Over the years, I've learned to appreciate both fact and truth that heaven is where my mom stands on, and the center of the earth is where my father places his feet. Both of them provided me more than shelther and clothes, they gave me a home.
They gave themselves to me for me.
That is a true home.
Here's one of the 2 toughest cases that I handled before when I was in office.
In the second half of 2005 3 months before the AGM, I heard that 2 notorious students were sent from Sam Tet to my school. This was outrageous as our school had turned out to be a junkyard. The next morning I went to meet my HM and he just blew his top. "I couldn't believe that my good friend over there (referring to the HM in Sam Tet, his friend literally) would be so nice to send his rascals over here."
"Sir, I say we send them back."
"How to send them back? They were expelled from that school and were sent here by PPD. I called Sam Tet and they said that he had no hand in this issue. Nothing much we can do here, but if they don't toe the line I assure you they're going to get out."
Well, that's fine with me. As a friend to the HM and as a servant to the school, I knew what I had to do. But what made me curious was that almost right after I walked out of his office the prefect disciplinary teacher, DP called me and some other officers in. She wanted to brief us about the new boys in school.
"They were notorious in Sam Tet and had their gangs there, so do be on guard." DP said.
"Ma'am, their cases were..?" I asked.
Surprised, I asked again, "What were the cases?"
"I told you, it's classified. You don't have to know."
Why not? I had every right to know what their cases were so that necessary pre-emptive measures could be taken to prevent similar mishapes from happening. If they were expelled for whacking up their prefects in Sam Tet, then it would be all about beefing up orefect 'defense'. But it's fine, I could always pick up the phone and call Sam Tet - which I did later the evening. The HP of Sam Tet briefed me of their cases and he was surprised that my teacher did not do that instead. After thanking him, I put down the phone and thought, there sure must be a reason why my teachers didn't want to tell me those cases.
It was just a gang fight case involving prefects. Nothing much about that, was considered a relatively small case as to the heavy ones I've seen before - like possesion of weapons. So what was so secretive about that?
Few days along, the second case came along. One of my juniors - who's now out of school - was sexually harrassed. She went for counseling therapies in school but to little avail. As the counsellor was my trusted and loyal prefect too, he told me that something had to be done. I was responsible, she was my junior and I had to protect her for everything that she was involved in.
The next day I brought this matter to the HM to seek advice in actions. He, for the second time, was furious. In both rage and yet concern, he called in the discipinary teachers and demanded them to take actions. That's when another disciplinary teacher, B started to meddle things up. He broke this news to the lady officers in my prefect board - although he was given strict and stern orders from the HM himself not to do so - and that was when things became really messy. The lady officers, thanks to the gift of their gap, spilled the whole thing out to the whole prefectorial board. In no time to come, even people from ACS asked me what on earth was going on.
If you thought that was bad, the worse was yet to come.
The ladies thought they got the person who was mollested. They called her in, she was made famous in little time. She was legend for being the lady prefect who got mollested.
That wasn't the worse.
The worst was: they got the wrong prefect.
I nearly banged my head when I was called back into HM's office. I had to cover up for both the real junior and for my counselor friend. I never expected this to become so bad, and already they nailed the wrong fellow, if I were to release the real identity of those two people, I'd be fried (fried, not fired) and the both of them would be quietly transferred to other schools - a common strategy used by schools to cover up major cases like teen pregnancy or rape.
She was allowed to be relinquished off her duties from prefectorial - as requested - and thanks to God, the whole thing went cold. People saw her on corridors and would spend a couple of seconds sympathising her of her poor fate and move on with their life in school. But the sight of her in my eyes was a reminder of how nasty the system and how inefficient the investigatory board in the disciplinary unit can be. That was one of it's greatest failures then.
And one fine day during the holidays I was alone in the staff room when I saw a stack of disciplinary case files on DP's table. Inside it was classified documents of the counselling sessions of the 2 boys sent from Sam Tet. Expecting a long case file, I opened it shocked to see 2 liners from the counsellor.
"Gave advice. Will follow up"
That was all and about it. What kind of counselling was that? I checked to see who the counsellor was, it was DP's good friend in charge of the counselling unit.
What was going on?
What happened was that before a student could be expelled, the disciplinary unit had to fulfill a certain quota of actions before their expelling application could be submitted. To expel a student the teachers had to send him for 3 counselling sessions.
That 3 counselling sessions took place in a matter of 2 weeks.
It was all fraud and fake. Nothing about the counselling was real. It was just there for showcause purposes. I couldn't believe that such was happening.
And I assure you, I delivered a hard nail in my final address as Head Prefect during the AGM. I slammed the teachers and the prefects for their inefficiency, but sure enough it fell on deaf - perhaps death - ears. I left the prefectorial board disillusioned and deceived. Serving the school faithfully for 5 good old years only to see that happening. I couldn't have asked for more.
B became history when he was removed from the disciplinary board and was replaced by better teachers, but DP remained as a disciplinary teacher. In that year where all these things happened, a secretariat department was established for non-active prefects only in charge of administration duties. I transferred my victim-junior - who's case still remained unknown - to that unit in hope that she will be less haunted and tormented. Eventually the 2 new boys were expelled after a long fight, but at the last day of their school they shook hands with me.
"Sir," one of them said. "You're the best prefect I've ever met in both Sam Tet and Poi Lam."
I asked them why.
"Because no one has ever treated us like humans ever since we came here." the other replied.
Watching both of them speeding off on their bikes, I accidentally saw my junior standing alone outside the gate, waiting for her parents to come. I approached her and apologised.
"I'm sorry for not being able to protect you."
"Sir, I don't know what you're talking about." she covered up. Deep in her heart, she knew that the admittance of the case would mean more publisity and more coverage, that the best defense was denial.
Perhaps the only thing left now is just memories. Such secrets are no longer secrets because people will only talk about it over tea and coffee, and no actions will be taken against the perpetuators. No one will remember who the people were, or how they were involved. It's not even in history.
Now, I know why I'm the Keeper of Secrets. Because I kept the secrets that could have changed the cause of both my prefectorial and the disciplinary.
Disclaimer: No names were mentioned in this whole article, yet it remains a true story. The only identity known here is mine, and I am no longer accountable to any questioning from any party, especially from my school's disciplinary board as I am no longer related nor responsible to them.
She summed up her conversation with her as quickly as possible and plopped her bag and books on the table I was sitting on. She turned back to look at the queue of people, lining up to form a long centipede of humans, waiting patiently for the food.
"Nah, I'm not going to wait," I thought I sensed some disappointment. "Just wanna have some bread."
I was half way eating my lunch then. I actually bought my lunch earlier in the morning - which frankly qualified to be my breakfast back then - and was eating it half way. I seriously and honestly felt very very bad to continue eating and torture her in such inhumane way.
Half way through our discussion - we were discussing on the transportation problems for CA on Wednesday night - I decided to excuse myself from the table and ran to the counter. I bought a reasonably large packet of butter bread for her and ran back. Seriously, I couldn't bear to watch my partner in Christ starving while working on His business.
I thought, at that very brief moment in time as she saw the bread, a little sparkle in her eyes and a relatively large smile. "Thanks!"
As we finished our discussion by 1.45pm, the crowd was slowly dwindling of and the cafeteria was empty other than for the both of us. I popped a question that I had always wanted to ask.
"Ever felt lonely?"
She looked thoughtful. She was scribbling on her notebook about the itinery for transportation while munching on the bread. Looking up for a short while, she replied, "Sure do, but I keep myself occupied with other things."
"Notice that when your mind is occupied, you don't feel lonely that much?"
Yeah.. pretty true there..
"I read a lot. Do my fair share of the housework and just help around where I could.. wouldn't want my mom to overwork herself, especially when she's already working very very hard.."
I seriously felt then, that what I've written about her in my previous post was just too little and too way off to describe her. Lady of peace, and her traits go way beyond that of reflecting the essence of her true peaceful nature. Her peace, more than just with people, is with herself. Her ability to just wait upon the Lord and be still. The peace that's not from Man, but from God himself.
And with that peace, comes the joy. The joy and the laughter like a little child, the fun and whackiness (again, forgive me for the teenagerese) that ignites interest and dissolves any form of tension in any situation.
Who said she had no problems? Who said she was not going through a hard time?
It's just the way she handles it.
"When my fridge got confiscated, that night I couldn't sleep at all becaue I was just so frustrated. But the next morning when I reflected on the whole thing, I realised that it was really and actually nothing much. No more frustration, no more problem."
It's just the way she looks at the problems. Funny thing, in the jaws of problems and crisises how she can still smile back at - or into - it. I won't know whether she ever wondered whether the problem would overwhelm her or whether she would never see a solution of the problems she face, but maybe it's the little assurance she has that gives her the peace to smile at the problems she look at.
And the assurance comes from God.
Coming from a home that in Kluang that taught her solitude not loneliness, growing up in a school that thought her about trust and faith, living in a hostel that made her strong in will and in stature, and studying in a college that is always about competition and hostility, she is the epitome of peace. Maybe not in the physical sense of fighting or war, but in issues and areas which require one to be steady and at ease at all times, she's the one that we should all look to for an example.
p/s: She's pretty helpless when it comes to pillow fights though. =D
I purchased a packet of rice with a curry chicken and a vegetable dish.
“Tiga tujuh dik,” the old man said. I thought I heard wrongly and begged him to repeat the price.
“Tiga tujuh,” this time he sounded really impatient.
3 dollars and 70 cents for a curry chicken and a vegetable dish? Doesn’t that sound a little steep? Then I saw one of the people purchasing 3 packets food, one chicken, one curry cockles and one huge packet of vegetable. She passed him a five dollar bill and he gave her 1 rinngit in return. I chuckled and wondered whether should I be surprised or not.
As I walked down I was very much attracted to a murtabak stall due to the aroma and fragrance from the fried murtabak. I decided to buy 2, one with chicken fillet and the other beef.
He told me to wait for a while as he was frying more fresh murtabaks for the other customers who have already crowded around to buy more. While he was frying the murtabaks, one of it slipped off his grill as he scooped it up, falling onto the frying pan at a relatively greater velocity, spilling out all its content. He quickly pushed the spilled out fillet back into the murtabak and pretended that nothing happened.
Then his assistant whispered something to the person holding the grill, and they both smiled.
I had a terribly bad feeling about that, and I heard a voice from inside telling me to walk away while I still could.
But it was my stubborn self that rooted myself to the very spot I was standing from the very beginning. In no time to come I regretted my very actions.
He scooped the broken murtabak onto a brown oil paper and placed another one on top of it. Swiftly wrapping up the brown oil paper and putting it inside a plastic bag, he looked at me and handed me the plastic bag.
I was at the tip of my tongue to curse him.
Contrary to what I intended to do, I smiled and paid him courteously. Stuffing the change inside my pocket, I walked away whistling and humming.
No point getting angry, I realised. This is the very price I’m paying for a disease that I’m suffering from. A sickness that cannot be cured, a syndrome that creates disgust among normal people, a little problem that causes a lot of discomfort when I’m in the crowd.
Doctors call it the social albinism.
Now I know what it feels like to be different, to be deemed unworthy and to be looked down upon. Though I am perfectly normal physically, sociologically I am a terminally ill patient. Living in a city of which forts are built by the military of the royalties, I am looked upon as a shrewd beggar or an impoverished musician, roaming from town to town hoping for some loose cash and some sympathetic attention.
But I don’t need any. They see me as a shrewd beggar and yet they swindle me off the little I have. They perceive me as an impoverished musician, yet refusing to listen to the melodies that they have never heard. Locked in their castles and fortresses, they have shut themselves from the progressing world beyond the high walls and iron gates of their cities.
Carrying my food and walking back to my little shed, I realise that I am not alone. There are many more people that suffer from social albinism just like me.
No point in getting mad with them, I thought. Getting angry won’t solve the situation.
Normal people try to treat and cure us, but they failed to realise – just as their doctors have – that it is not the discoveries of vaccines and medication that will treat this disorder, but the eyes of those that see us that have to be treated. In the very first place, social albinism was neither a disorder nor a disease, but they made it one.
Monday, January 15, 2007
I hate the smell of the seawater. It's excessive compounds of salt and ions and minerals in it makes me grow sick just to think about it. I hate it so much until I'm used to it already by now. I hate the nets. It just pokes into my flesh and pains me to the bone. But I'm used to it already.
Why must I, of all people, be the one that's fishing in the sea, alone?
'That's what your dad's been doing all this time son,' then my mother's voice rang in my head.
Don't remind me of my dad. He gave up his job just because he couldn't take the pressure from the government. He was getting a fixed salary, was working in a air-conditioned room until he decided to throw in the towel.
At that time, all that was in my mind was,
'What the heck?'
Who, in the first place, in the right mind, would give up a job with a fixed pay, for a miserable job like being a fisherman?
My mother said it was something to do with the red tape. I knew nuts about the red tape back then, and I blankly replied, "Why not go buy some? Why must it be red? I thought we got some blue ones in the shelf..."
And the predictable and almost expected reply from her, "Wait till you grow older."
And here I was, sitting in my little fishing boat in the middle of the sea, alone, with only the nets and baits for company. I was moaning and groaning. I practiced complaining before the multitude of fishes and marine creatures. I learned the tricks of swearing when the only ear available was the sea gulls' ones. I refined the art of allowing myself to be bitter even when the only thing bitter in that vast sea was myself.
And then came the drizzling rain. Sweat man..
And then the drizzling rain started to swell. Gosh..
And then the rain became heavier and heavier.. and it became a storm.
Now the waves started rolling hard from every direction. Like a poor football caught in a fierce soccer match, me and my little boat were tossed and thrown with the waves. Worse than pounding hammers, every wave that slammed into my boat sent me flying up and crashing down into the boat and into the seawater, had it not been for the rope that I'm desperately clinging on to.
Lightning flashed in the sky. Thunders roared.
The beast of nature was unleashed.
And then, in the midst of this fury, something caught my eyes by chance.
Wait a minute, I thought it was in the net long ago..
So why was it swimming around me now? That's really weird.. and it was firmly caught in the net.
The net was floating above the waves that hit my little boat. Gasping for air and clinging hard to my rope, my eyes were fixed on the net and the fishes. Then I saw how the fishes freed itself.
As the net floated above the waves, the fishes trapped beneath it had enough room and water to start swimming. The fishes, as if as it had an equally sophisticated mind as ours, carefully calculated and waited for the next wave to hit before it started wriggling and swimming into the big sea again.
Then it was free at last. With a majestic maneuver, it spun in mid air and dived gracefully into the sea again, leaving behind nothing more than a small splash around it and a bedazzled joker clinging on to a rope with all his life.
And that storm taught me the lesson of life. That sometimes, it takes great effort in great trials to break free. More than break free, but to walk out of it a wiser and better man. Stronger in strength, tougher in the mental state, and tougher in the heart.
The fishes in the storm were equivalent to the light in the dark. The freedom it finally achieved when it was entangled in the net is nothing compared to the victory it worked hard to earn for. And it's victory was the sea, its home, its place where it truly belonged to.
That storm taught me that my father's victory was not in the sea, but in the freedom he chose to appreciate. That when the tapes entangle him, he waited patiently for the waves to hit before he swam to safety. It took him 17 years before his opportunity came in the 1997 crisis when the government had to lay off workers. That was his opportunity, and he didn't missed it.
Carefully examined, planned to precision, exercised with caution.
As the storm slowly died, the evening sun bathed me in it's golden and glorious rays. As I basked in it's glory and climbed up my boat to collect the things that were messed up in the storm, all that was left in me was a new determination. After all, God sometimes chooses to use nature to teach us lessons when He can't get through a tough skull. Every storm has a lesson to learn, and I can't wait to face the next one.
Disclaimer: This article was written metaphorically. I'd really appreciate it if you don't ask silly questions like 'Since when did I become a fisherman'.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
How swift do the wind changes it's direction, so shall the hearts of man.
She was still in high school and was on her way to fellowship with some friends when she saw him talking with some guys. Curious, she stood from a distance and watched him chat with them. From that distance, she clearly saw guys. Taller, more good looking and better built than him.
She thought her heart leapt when she saw both of them.
She picked up her courage and approached them. He smiled as he saw her, but her eyes were just fixed on them. She smiled at them and turned to him. "Your friends?"
"Yeah, my friends. I just invited them over to fellowship."
Oh that's just great!
All of a sudden she forgot all about her little dreams that she had with him. The dreams of going to the cinemas together was disappeared, her little romance story was just shoved to the shelf for the time being. All she had on her mind was the handsome guys in front of her. She chatted happily with them and had a great time them until the fellowship ended. She almost didn't notice that he quietly left to usher other newcomers into the fellowship, but she was just too preoccupied with entertaining them.
After all, I never had this chance to be in the company of such good looking guys for a long long time, she thought.
From that time, he was merely a 'he', no longer the He he once was.
Taking revenge? Not really, just grabbing the opportunities she have in front of her eyes, making up for the lost chances back in her lonely days.
She forgot, that back in her lonely days, it was him who was by her side all that time. She forgot, that in her tears and pain, it was him who was there to comfort her and hear all her whines and groanings or moanings.
See how swift the wind changes it's direction, so shall the hearts of man.
He noticed the change in her. She no longer received her emails or her sms, she no longer had time to spend with him. The fact that he never went out for a date with her ever, and now she just doesn't seem interested to go out with him anymore. Suddenly it was his turn to feel lonely. It was weird, because in the first place it was him who brought her out of her loneliness, but now it just looks like she's putting him into loneliness? Doesn't make any sense does it.
And he called her one evening before she went out for dinner.
"Hey, do you still love me?"
"Uh.. you know.. let's just pray about it ok? You know, both you and I will be heading separate ways after high school, and there's just no certainty of a distant relationship right.. so.. yeah.. hey I have to go soon, parents going out for dinner ok?"
He has seen too many of such things, and he knew what that meant. He quietly went back to his room and wept before God.
Lord, it's so not fair, I loved her so much.
Yet, is there anything that's not fair if a girl seeks what her hearts desire? She just doesn't care anymore. She couldn't be bothered about him. In her life now, in that present time, she already had a choice. She had better choices, she had better options to choose from. I don't need him, I want them.. anyone of them. Any one of them would just be fine.
There sure were the times where she'd feel sorry for treating him that way. She too realised that over the last few weeks she'd been neglecting him and not spending any time with him. She'd think of how much he tried to make her realise that she's been neglecting him, but well, that's just too bad isn't it..
She went out with one of the guys for a movie. He was the slightly taller one, more good looking one, the more talkative and fun among them. She once told 'him' earlier on that 'she'd never go out one-on-one with a guy' because it was a principle that she held firmly to, but she then betrayed and went against her own principle for the sake of going out with that handsome guy. She thought that she looked good with a tall handsome guy by her side. She thought that heads turn as she trotted proudly down the shopping mall on the way to the cinema. She felt that air of pride under her nose, and she thought that the skirt over her waist and the sleeveless shirt over her shoulders were just an added bonus to the onlookers.
He was a rich guy's kid. He drove a huge car and had plenty of cash in his wallet to spend. He gave her a treat to a nice lunch before the meal, and he paid for her tickets and the popcorn. He gave her expensive gifts that stunned her and blind her from reality, presents that would just take her breath away.
She had great fun that day. She sure had her fun, but she too realised that she didn't quite like him after all. He was good looking and tall, but after going out with him a few times and to a church concert, she found out that he was actually not quite a nice guy. He was mad, crazy, had some bisexual tendency and had wandering eyes. She could not take that. She could not accept the fact that the guy standing beside her was looking at other girls. I am the most beautiful girl, how dare you look at other people!
And she left him and decided to try out another one. The other guy was a little tougher. He had his principles right and he had his heart pretty well guarded. But I'll work my way to get him, she determined. And she smsed him day and night, the way she smsed with 'him' few months back. She took photos with him after fellowships, hoping that he notice her intentions. She thought that he noticed her efforts, but he just didn't show much response to it.
Maybe he's just shy.
He was cute, and he had good looks. He was talented and he could play almost all the musical instruments. He would sweep her off her feet when he strummed a lovely song on his guitar and she would just croon over him. She wanted him so badly now. He was just so perfect to her.
She thought he was, but he thought otherwise.
"I'm sorry, but .."
And that crushed her for good. She couldn't believe that someone would ever reject her. She was the most beautiful girl then, she had smooth skin, she had a big charming smile like what 'he' said..
"You're not beautiful.."
To 'him' she was the most beautiful one. Beyond what looks she had, 'he' saw beyond it all and loved her for what she was. Even when her beauty slowly fade, even as her fair skin became dull and the pimples started to resurface all over her face, 'he' blinded himself to all of those because he dedicated his feelings to her, 'he' gave his heart to her and 'he' wanted her to have it all.
But she threw it away for other hearts, other hearts which were more attractive and more alluring, forgettin that she just had no assurance to wining it.
And now as she realise that she was running out of options, she turned back to 'him'.
But 'him' was gone. 'He' left her and walked out of the relationship that she promised him. He gave up. He waited and was left to wait, and he walked out with tears. Tears not of regret, but his tears were tears of pain and hurts. Every thing she did tore 'his' heart to the bits, and 'he' had almost nothing left to hold on to.
Nothing would work out anymore. She remained silent for a long long time, leaving people to wonder, what happened to the once popular girl in high school? As her beauty fades, did 'he' leave her along with it, or did she wanted him to leave her so that she was free for the others?
Perhaps people will just be left to wonder. People just won't know the truth and the real story behind it. Now she cries no more. No longer do tears roll down her cheeks. All she does now is to stare into the blank and wonder about the things that she has done all in a matter of 2 months. 2 months, and things just change, either for the better or for the worse. From the fires he saved her love, and yet she threw it back into the flames. So badly she wanted her wings, and when her wings were given to her, she flew and flew and flew, not knowing that when the skies have no limits, it is the sun that burns the feathers.
She's small, petite, cute, fizzy hair, smart, slim and skinny.. and yes, round nose. Her name means peace.
She's Erin. A partner in CA, a coursemate in ALM.
A friend. Good friend.
First met her in our inaugural CA for the first semester back in 2006. Back then I thought I've seen her before, but never had much thought about it. Then when I finally met her in CA, I decided, it's time to get to know her.
"Hi, I'm Joash." smile, hand extended.
"Hey, I'm Erin." a broad grin, she too extended her hand and shook mine. Firmly and surely. That was the beginning of a close cooperation in the service of God.
What struck me about her back then was, she's so cute! Seriously I'm yet to meet girl as small size as her who can make funny noises and has a million expressions to drive a point across. Shuush.. That's one of the many expressions she frequently uses to describe her frustration.
She's smart and intelligent. She scored an average of 93 back in her last final sem test. (I was struggling to even scrape with an A..) For every point she earned for her tests, she justified it with many many hours of book mugging, note taking, exercise and practices, memorising and remembering important points. As I type this post, I'm looking at her revising the menstrual cycle (it's biology, not social study..). Her notes, at any point of time, far exceeds what any lecturer has ever given to any student. Scary? Not really, simply because her notes are written with her trademark handwritting (scribbling), and the way she presents her notes is so simple: the perfect blend of pencil writing with light colours here and there to highlight crucial notes.
More than originality, it's sincerity. Not only in the way she prepares her notes, but also in the way she does her notes and in the way she handles CA.
She's the lady chief for CA, meaning that she's in charge of the girls section and cell. What amazes me the most is the way she can juggle business with personal things. 3 or 4 girls will just approach her at one same time with transpotation problem, personal problems, enquiries about cell group and advices for certain things. Her ability to handle all of that at one same time is just.. just.. stunningly amazing. You'd have to see it for yourself to believe it. (Knowing all of you, it will only take the eyes to convince you of spoken words right?)
A great partner to the committees, a responsible leader and a dedicated servant of the Lord. What's above it all, is her commitment to her responsibility and role as a friend.
Always there when you need someone to talk to.
Always available when you need godly advice from someone.
Always open to the many problems that you need to solve.
Always able to restore the smile on the face when it's lost in struggles.
Still and through it all, she's always a little girl in her many ways. She'll just shriek upon seeing cute guys in posters, frisk through fashion magazine and condemn the poor-taste-fashion dreses, whack the guys that sit beside her if they were to bully her.
Well well, some things just don't change. But maybe, that's what that makes her a true lady of peace, from within and with people around her.
What made me felt so warm was the 22 other guys around the table, singing the happy birthday song that really made that difference.
My whole life, how many people have remembered my birthday?
Perhaps, how many people have remembered me?
And the night before, Si Han shocked me to the bones by inviting a few classmates and Erin to celebrate my birthday in advance in Secret Recipe.
One birthday, and I realised that people do remember. Maybe a few have forgotten me, that's natural. But not everyone forgets me.
My mom once told me, it takes the simplest actions to show people that you have the greatest and best intentions or thoughts for them. I never understood that, until that one birthday.
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
“Gather round,” the Sergeant commanded. He pulled out a map and a red colour pencil. A marine standing in front squatted down, offering to use his back as a table. Sergeant spread the map over on the marine’s back and looked intensely at the map.
He drew 2 large red circles with his colour pencil on a map and placed a marked it with a cross. “These 2 areas are Ramzon’s strongholds. From our scouts report, these areas are supported with heavy artillery shells and tanks. Approaching it will be difficult, but not as difficult if we take out the bunkers in front.” He sticked his head out of the trench and pointed towards a little cement building. “That bunker,” he said, “is currently hindering our progress.”
We knew that well. For the last 3 days that bunker has been spitting out 20mm bullets from their gunners. The turrets are made to spit rounds and rounds of bullets non-stop for 20 hours straight without overheating. The fact was that we were at a disadvantage. The enemies were uphill and we were stuck in our trench downhill. To make matters worse, they are backed by bombers that sweep so low that we could see the pilots from the ground.
“Corporal.” My day dreaming was cut short. I shook myself up and looked at the Sergeant.
“Do you hear someone shouting?”
From the bombing and the gunfires, a faint voice from a distance not too far away was heard. A plea. A cry for help.
“Somebody help me!”
The platoon looked out from the trench we were bunked in. Further up from our trench, at the stretch of slope leading to the enemy’s bunker, was a marine crawling on the ground. Both his legs were bleeding profusely, and he was struggling to crawl with his wounded legs and heavy gear.
Sergeant shoved the map away and pushed everyone aside. He started to climb out of the trench.
“Everyone stay put,” he replied and scrambled to the ground.
In a second he was dashing towards the wounded marine. For the next few moments, the only thing we saw was him running towards the wounded marine. Then the enemy’s from the bunker spotted him and the gunners loaded their machine guns. It was our platoon that realised the gunners were going to start firing their machine guns again.
I had to do something. “Cover the sarge people!” and we started firing away at the bunkers. The gunners ducked for cover from their bunker hole and stayed down for quite some time. Just enough time for the sergeant to grab the marine onto his back, lifted him off and slid back into the safety of the trench.
“No time to waste,” he murmured under his breath. “Colonel, give me a hand here.”
We cleared a table and laid him on the table. Swiftly I took out my knife and slit open his bloodied pants. Grabbing a sterile cloth and wiping away the blood that literally painted his whole leg red, beneath the layer of dried up blood we could clearly see the burnt wounds on his legs. It was a mortar round that exploded near his legs, blowing away a generous portion of his flesh, exposing the bones.
“Radio HQ, tell them that we have a severely wounded marine that has to be transported back for treatment. In the mean time, let’s work on him and do whatever we could.”
I just looked at the sergeant intently and thought of the great sacrifice that he made for our platoon. He was never originally our platoon chief. He was from the Central Command Post and he was the chief strategist behind the assault against Ramzon’s troops.
The sergeant is a well known and respected man in the army. Not just because he is the president’s son, but because he is the Man in the army. He’s a chief medic, he’s a strategist and military analyst. A brave leader, and a tough soldier who was brought up in the ways of the army. He fought with every breath he had left, he’d run and rescue every man that’s wounded in the battlefield and his courage sometimes leave us all in awe.
“Leave no man behind,” he’d always say.
He was posted to our platoon because our platoon was struggling with the Northern rebel troops. The president knew very well that we could not handle them on our own, we needed help from the Central Command. At that time, we were lacking ammos, rations and supplies. My men were ill and sick, but worse of all? Demotivated. They saw no purpose in suppressing the Northern troops and were at the verge of giving up.
That was, of course, before the sergeant came in.
He restored our troop’s morale. Coming in to take command, he led our troops and restore our dignity and pride that we once had.
“You are soldiers not of the President but the People, the chosen guardians of the nation, the strongest men of all!”
With his control over our platoon, he brought in the supplies and ammos that we desperately needed to continue fighting this battle. He was more than just a leader, he was a friend when we needed him the most.
“Sergeant?” the wounded marine whispered. “Thank you for saving me..”
Sergeant took his hands. Bending over to his ears, softly but surely he said, “Leave no man behind. Not you.”
“Rest and get well soon, marine,” Sergeant said. “Thank you for serving the people faithfully.”
Soon enough an army jeep took the wounded marine away and it was back to the strategies. “Someone has to take down the bunkers if our platoon is going to advance,” I pointed out. “At the rate we’re going, there’s little chance we can move an inch up that mountain.”
Everyone knew how dangerous that mission was. No one could do it. For that kind of mission, it required physical and mental determination, courage to get close to the bunkers and face probably 8 heavily armed enemies there, throw in the C4 explosives and blow that bunker up.
No one in our platoon could do that. Our platoon’s made up of a bunch of scrap troops. Half of my men were trained a century ago and only called back recently when the war broke out. Other than a week’s crash course training, we had no advanced training that could possibly take us on such a mission.
All eyes were fixed on the sergeant. It took us a while to digest what was going on, and as soon as that happened we protested. “But who would take over from there?”
“Sergeant, listen,” I reasoned. “My men need you here. It’s too dangerous.”
We were literally begging him. He was our everything, our leader, our guide... Sending him to that bunker would probably be no different from sending him to his grave.
“Colonel, you know what to do when I’m gone.”
But I’m not ready for this sarge.. you are everything to us..
He grabbed the bag containing C4s and checked his rifles. He looked at all of us one more time before running out. “People, fight with pride. Take care of each other and always watch each other’s back. Most of all, the president, my father, will never leave you.” Upon saying that, he dashed out from the trench and ran towards the bunkers.
“Cover him people! Don’t let him fall!” I shouted.
Explosion, tonnes of soil and dust coupled with some explosions flew into the trench, covering our view and reactively throwing us back into the trench. That bomber caught all of us by surprise. None of us saw it coming. Coughing, we shook the soil away from our uniform.
“Sergeant! Sergeant!” I commanded. “Cover the sergeant!”
We were too late. Through the thick smoke and fire, we could barely see a lone figure running into the bunker. Gunshots were head, shouts and screams. A brief silence for probably 20 seconds when we finally saw the sergeant scrambling out of the bunkers.
“Stay down people! Stay down!”
In a split second the bunker that was still standing firmly on higher ground was blown away. The explosion was so great that the sergeant was sent flying in the air and came crashing to the ground not too far away from us. Our platoon rose up and ran towards him.
“Sarge!!” we got to him and lifted him back to quarters.
We radioed HQ to send another jeep to take him back. We were broken to see him in that position. He was coughing blood and was in pain, but through it all he took it in like a man, and didn’t complain.
It took one man to stand in our gap to change the whole assault. In the wee hours of the next morning, our platoon advanced into the higher grounds and seized control of the base camps that they had. Following what happened prior to that, our troops were highly motivated and were all out to avenge the injury of our sergeant.
He lead, not by words, but by examples of actions.
He was, the soldier and the Man of Zanotopia.