Monday, June 18, 2007

Behind the Bronze Mask

The war.

And it very simply changed everything.

Our last hug, our last kiss, I could still remember it so vividly. I gazed into her wet eyes for the last time before leaving for primary base. Both hands holding her cheeks gently, rubbing away the tears that was rolling down from the edge of her lovely eyes, I was at a lost for words for a while. Not knowing what was best to say, I just blurted something out.

“Don’t wait for me if you can’t. If you find a man you can love more than me that loves you more, just go. I want to see you happy.”

With that said, I turned and left. Tearing my hands away from her, I left without even looking back. It just hurt so dearly to part with the people that you love especially when you don’t have any assurance of seeing them in any near time to come.

“Come home colonel!”

Come home colonel!

Her voice still rings in my head. Now lying on the hospital bed, surrounded by groaning patients of my same fate, her voice now haunts me. It taunts me. The reminding of sweet memories and times I had with her only causes me grief and sorrow. It just doesn’t help anymore to think about her now that I’m alone and injured and immobile. Those thoughts, no longer keep me alive. Those thought, unlike the war days, no longer inspire me to stay strong and keep moving. Instead, it only makes me wonder why wasn’t I killed in action.

She was supposed to wait for me at the base when I was being transported back, but I was already knocked out before the carrier chopper touched down in base. She could have been there. She could have seen me in such a terrible condition. Perhaps, she couldn’t accept the Me that was before when she last saw me.

If she left me then at the base and never return, I don’t blame her.

I blame myself.

I blame my foolish self. I blame myself for letting her go too easily. I blame myself for not being the tough soldier I should have been where she was concern. I honoured the call of my country to protect the Zanotopian citizens. And as I protected the house from intruders at the front gate, I was robbed of my very own belongings from behind.

I love her enough to let her go.

Maybe she was never mine to hold. Maybe she never was meant for me.

Such self pity and self comforting words just doesn’t work anymore. I pushed the little red button beside my bed. A nurse came to my aid. Young and fresh from nursing academy, she smiled and asked courteously how she could assist me.

“This bronze mask…” I whined. “It’s suffocating me.”

She let out a little laugh as she rolled me to the side to check the back of my mask. She loosened the screws at the back of my mask. “Better?”

Yeah. Better. But not good enough.

I thanked her as she trotted off to check on other patients. I took great effort to move my head from one side of the bed to the other side of the bed. The mask was heavy. I had no idea what happened to me when I was still asleep, but all I knew was that when I awoke I had this big shiny brown thing over my head.

The doctors said that it was an innovation. It was a breakthrough in technology and medical research. It was supposed to initiate mitosis of skin cells at an accelerated and yet controlled rate. By right, it would help my wounds heal even faster.

But I just couldn’t see that right now. I couldn’t see how that bronze mask was going to heal me. I was already relieved from duties from Pishrow team. I was expected and supposed to be promoted to be a Reyarp in a few months time due to my excellent performance, but all of that has suddenly changed when I was planted and left alone in behind enemy lines.

A Reyarp cannot be in service as long as he is still injured.

I lost my dream. It was my next greatest dream after Nire since joining the army. It didn’t matter how many medals I’ve collected or how many letters of commendation of excellent service I received. All I wanted was to be a Reyarp. To be in the midst of the elite and Supremes of the army. To yield the best weapons and clad the most sophisticated armoury and conduct missions like none ever. To rescue and reclaim territories, to expand the Zanotopian influence.

The greatest dream I lost, was Nire.

It took a long time to win her heart. Many many years of loneliness and waiting, many sleepless nights of soul searching and wondering why she would never respond or reply, the times where the body is just shouting to give up but the heart quietly tells me to hang on, the moments where I look at all the other guys from military academy trying to tackle her from a distance and swallowing all the bitterness in my guts.

And I couldn’t see how the bronze mask was going to help heal that dream I lost.

Again, I was left to doubt in the Sergeant. Shortly before I went into unconsciousness, he again promised that he will take care of me, that he will make sure that he sees me right until I recover. He promised that everything will be fine after that.

Everything will be just fine. Yeah right. You can count on that.

It was the same type of loneliness that crept into me again. The very same loneliness that I felt back when my troops left me. Alone to face the enemies and alone to face death. The same loneliness I now face behind a bronze mask where people try to show their concern and care to me without knowing how I look or feel. My family visited me. They tried to sound encouraging but they just couldn’t see me. They couldn’t look through the bronze mask.

The bronze mask was supposed to heal me. But now it’s hurting me. It’s suffocating me. It’s killing my soul. Deep inside me, I wished the doctors just didn’t give me the bronze mask. I wished that they would never put it over my face. I want people to see me. I want people to know what I’m going through. I want people to understand all that I’ve went through for my country and nation.

Was it?

Or was it just that I wanted Nire to see the face behind my mask?

No, she wouldn’t be able to accept it. She wouldn’t be able to take it. Maybe, perhaps, the mask is doing me a good. Maybe it’s protecting the people I love from being further hurt.


The sound of crunching boots was getting louder and louder. That sound was familiar, and soon enough I saw him. He grabbed a chair and sat beside me and warmly greeted me.


“How are you doing?” I couldn’t bear to answer that question. I couldn’t allow myself to let him know the truth about how I’m doing. Deep down I was doubting him; I was questioning every single word he said. Although he has always proven his words to be trustworthy and reliable, but this time I couldn’t believe what he said. Again.

He looked straight into my eyes. Past the solid bronze mask that hides the face and my eyes, hides my tears and my pain. Past the mask that I wore not just on the face, but over and around my heart.


My eyes met his. For once, I saw such concern, such love, such mercy and grace. The tears that now rolled down just felt different. No longer were they cold lonely tears from a shattered heart, but they were now warm, so full of hope, so full of joy. Tears that I’ve never felt before, tears that never rolled out of my eyes ever before.

"Eyes on me. Eyes on me, your commander, your chief, your leader..

.. eyes on me, your friend, a partner in arm, a companion in battle, a counselor in your war." He could read my mind. He knew exactly what was on my mind. He could sense the doubt I had and the disappointment that I’m going through. He knew me inside out.

He stretched forth his arm, and as his sleeve folded back as he stretched, the scar obtained from the blast back in the mountainous desert was seen clearly. A dark bluish black scar that formed a little valley from his wrist to his elbow, the stitch marks were could still be identified from a distance.

He touched my mask. Though the bronze mask, it failed to hinder his warmth from reaching me.

"Eyes on me. As you look towards me in battle, as you look towards me behind your bronze mask and not on Nire or anyone else, you will not be disappointed.

I promise you."

From the ashes of defeat came the fire of hope. A small spark ignited in my heart, and though the wounds are yet to heal behind that mask, still it gave me the courage to continue my battle and to continue to fight on. I slumped back into the comfort of the bed, now resting in total peace that the bed could have never offered me. That peace came from the assuring Sergeant when He saw the tears behind my mask. Not only had he saved my life, now he's saving my soul.

Sergeant, I trust you.

“Come colonel, let’s go for a walk.” He called a nearby nurse and summoned for a wheel chair. Helping me get on it and making me comfortable, he pushed me out of the ward slowly.

“There are some things that you are yet to know Colonel,” he said calmly. “There’s much that you have to know about the things I see and the things you don’t see.”

He wheeled me out of the ward and headed to the cafeteria. A few people that passed by recognized the Sergeant and greeted him cheerfully. And in return he acknowledged them graciously. He sure is popular everywhere he goes.

The cafeteria was abuzz. People were moving here and there. Some were going in and some were going out. I was still wondering why Sergeant brought me here when my eyes just caught hold of something.

It was a small lady with her head nested in her hands, lying on the table in a little sleep. My eyes turned moist as I slowly and carefully analysed her features. The same long hair, the same eyebrows, the same ear, the same hair band that I once told her was my favourite, the same green T-shirt that she always wears when we’re at home…

“You see Colonel, she was always here from the very day you were warded. She never left you; neither did she ever look for anyone else. She was always waiting for you to come home. She was waiting for you to take her home.

“And she’s still waiting.”

I looked up to the Sergeant. “How did you know all this?”

He smiled back. “She’s my younger sister.”

Behind the Bronze Mask - Epilogue

That day finally came. Both excited and nervous, he went back to the hospital. Not alone this time.

He was nervous and worried at the same time. Would I look the same? What if my face was equally deformed? What if the wounds didn’t heal properly? What if she couldn’t accept me again?

There were a few doctors in the room. As he was the first and only patient in the country to be tested with the bronze mask, a panel of top specialist was formed to monitor his progress with the mask. They were very assuring and encouraging, but it still didn’t do much to help him.

Inside him was a great struggle to maintain his composure. He thought he was experiencing a nervous break down. He didn’t know what to expect from the meeting with those doctors. What if something went terribly wrong with the mask?

And he prepared himself for the worst.

“Colonel,” a representative cleared his throat. “We have discussed and debated for a while on who should have the honour of removing that mask for you.”

The rep paused for a while. He stole a glance at Sergeant who was also part of the panel. “And we have all agreed,” He said calmly, “that the only person who deserves to take that mask off your face is your lady.”

Nire was stunned for a moment before her trademark smile was carved over her face. She didn’t even give him time to react. Before he even knew what was happening, she was already behind him.

Slowly removing the screws, his heart was racing. Palpitating and perspiring hands, he feared the worst. She was done with the screws, and then she came back in front of him and gently took off the mask. A gush of fresh cool air caressed his face. It was such a relief to get the mask off his face. He was so grateful and wanted to thank all the doctors one by one, but he was stumped and rooted to his feet when he saw Nire.

She gasped. Nire’s expression was written all over her face. The smile before she removed his mask suddenly vanished and evaporated into thin air. She nearly dropped the mask that she was holding. Clearly she was shocked and dumbfounded by what she saw.

His heart sank. He knew what was happening. Something went terribly wrong, right?

He nearly broke into tears when a nurse handed a mirror to him. Initially he refused to even look into that mirror. He didn’t want to see the face that crushed her little heart. He didn’t want to look at himself. He pictured a hideous monster looking face. He imagined himself as a Dracula with half of his face rotting and chewed away and gone, probably revealing part of the skull.

He stole a glance into the mirror. Just a glance. And that glance turned into a stare. Then he grabbed the mirror from the nurse and brought it closer to his face.

He gasped. Now it was his turn to be stupefied.

No scars. No signs or indications of a wounded face. A totally new layer of skin. He touched the once-burnt part of his face. It was even new flesh.

He looked better than before. He looked greater than before going into military. That mask gave him a new face. And with that new face, it gave him a new life. More than just a new life, it was a new perspective and outlook of life.

Entering the car, Nire finally broke her silence. “There’s going to be a problem,” she mumbled.

“What’s the problem?” he pushed the keys into the keyhole and turned it clockwise.

“I’m gonna need to get used to waking up and staring into a handsome face now onwards.” Then she grinned cheekily as she pecked him on his new face. “But wash your face and your hair first thing when you get home. You seriously need a hair cut.”

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lonely Garden - A Father's Day Tribute

Lonely, literally, because in that 5 acre piece of land, because in the midst of the thick bushes and tall lalangs, the only thing that moves in between it, bending down and kicking up dust as he moves along, is my father.

It's hot and sweltering. At 12 noon, the heat is enough to cause any joker to start to enter a state of illusion, to begin to hallucinate, to get fainting spells, to become dizzy and lethargic. At 3 pm, the heat waves could cause a heat stroke at anytime.

And there he is, in the middle of that lonely garden, pouring fertilizers, occasionally shaking trees to make sure that no fertilizers are caught in between the shoots because it could kill the plants. He brushes the lalangs that get in his way as he wipes the sweat that trickles from his forehead. In vain he tries to cool his scorching hands with his warm breath. He wipes the little beads from his neck to no avail.

From a distance, I stop to look at my dad. From that distance, he looked so small. The field was so big, and in the middle of that big field was my dad. A lonely figure, as lonely as the garden. Like the garden he worked in, he was always on his own. In places which were always scorching, putting himself in tight and painful spots, never allowing himself to break and rest even when the situation speaks otherwise.

Nobody would ever understand. I couldn't initially. I couldn't get myself to understand why of all places my father chose to work in such tiring and sweaty conditions. He could have easily opt for an air-cond office with nice leather seats. He could have looked for a high-tech lab with the most sophisticated equipments. But instead he went for the simplest job of farming in a 5 acre field with nothing other than palm oil shoots, grass and shrubs.

That garden, was not a place for leisure or hobby. It wasn't gardening that he was doing, it was farming and research. It was a place of sweat and tears, of pain and agony, of heat and scorching, of suffering and crying out.

I was with him for 2 days. I went through a fraction of the pain that he went through. I saw how hard it was to earn those few bucks he earned over the last half a year since he started work in that garden.

Then I realised, there wasn't a reason behind my father's choosing to work in that garden.

Simply because, there wasn't a choice in the first place.

Behind that decision to work in the farm, was my family. My mom, my brother and me. Someone had to feed us and put the bread on the table. The government well wouldn't do that for a retiree, so he had to do it. And when nobody wanted to offer an old and experienced microbiologist a better job, he had to go down to the garden.

A father naturally does what he believes is best for the family. Any father would obviously do what he feels is best for his children. A father would go through the fires of hell and the waters of the sea just to make sure that the people he loves are safe and well.

And with that reason behind their actions, no one else would understand nor comprehend.

Only when one day I become a dad with children and a wife to take care of, only then would I look back in awe and comprehend fully the wisdom and the love behind the decision of my dad to work, bend and survive in that lonely garden.

The greatest Men in this world, are always the dads. When the mother rocks the cradle, they change the world for both the mothers and their children, making it a better and a safer place for both of them. Sometimes dads go unnoticed and forgotten, and though they never complain or whine about it, deep inside their hearts is a longing for a bond and relationship with the people they love. Simply because they are men with muscles and strength, they are often overlooked as the people who need love and care.

But that perspective of mine changed, the day I stepped foot in that lonely garden. Everything changed when I saw my lonely father toiling to make sure that his family will never be lonely again.

Missing You

Missing you is not about thinking about you all day and not doing anything
Missing you is not about wishing that you were near so that I could whine and complain about how bad life has been to me
Missing you is not about dreaming about you day and night

Rather,missing you is about remembering the good times I spent with you
and looking forward to the better times I'd have with you in the near future

Missing you is all about admiring your wisdom behind the words and actions you said and done before
and reminding myself to continuously be inspired through such words and actions

Missing you is to listen again to your voice and laughter
and to always sought for the joy behind your happiness

Missing you is always about reflecting on how you've been there for me those times when I needed you the most
and to again make sure that I'm there for other people who need me, especially you

Missing you is the thought that comes every night before my lights go out
and the simple prayer for you
that you are safe and sound,
that you are happy and cheerful,
that despite all the tough times that you may be going through
you are still joyful and happy

The wind that carried your scent
The calls of the bird that woke me up
The music that you love and always listen to

That is missing you.

It's not wrong, and it's not a sin.

I miss you.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Staying Strong

If next time you wish to complain about how difficult exams can be, try being there for the people that you love when you know that you can't do anything to help ease their pain.

My mom's sick. She's always been a lady of strength in the family. Despite the toughest problems and trials that may come our way, she has always been the one that stands up and takes the problem by the neck and by the horns, tackles them, and moves on. Now she's sick and she's lying on the bed getting rest. The burden of the home and the house now rests on me and my dad's shoulders. The worst part is not the house work - though it's frankly enough to kill a cow - the greatest pain is to see my mother in pain and not knowing how to ease it. That's a struggle. A big one.

My dad's busy in the farm. He is working on a 5 hectare plot of farm land where he's growing palm oils for his research project. I went down to the farm to help him out here and there. Guess what, I nearly killed all his palm oils in his farm. 5 hectares of palm oils killed over one afternoon. All because I sprinkled fertilizer into the shoots of the plants. And my dad had to go back to the farm and slog for an additional 7 hours just to make up for my mistake while I was watching movies with my friends. That's a big ouch.

My close friends are far away. Si Han's in YP, Erin's back in Kluang, Jim's back in BP, Allison and Caleb's in SA. I'm left without my best friends! I miss them, especially at times like this where I'm down and tired.

The toughest thing in life is not to get through tough time, but to stay tough and strong in the times where people depend on you. My parents depended on me at such times, and I let them down. Disappointing and to my dismay, I failed to be there for them.

Forgive me for whining here. I'm just venting out some tears in the form of steam. Nothing much left here, so just move on.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

An Angel Cried

Heaven watches in silence as they set their eyes on the little girl that walks alone down the street. She looks left and right before crossing the road, and once clear she quickly hurries down the lonely street on a hot afternoon.

Some angels whispered among each other as they refused to take their eyes off her. She was always wearing a smile on her face and a black shirt above her favourite jeans. To many and most people, she was this happy girl that was always sweet, nice and friendly.

But the angels saw her tears. After church and lunch, after walking back home, she closes the door and locks it. She lies down on the bed and wonder why is life never fair on her. Why is she always the one so vulnerable to the heartaches and pains of life. Why is she always the one challenged beyond what she thinks she can take. Why is it that there will always be people that hurt her unknowingly and unwillingly. Why is it that people will always come and be a thorn in her little rose life when all she want is the little space that she desires?

And in the security of her little room, she lets out a tear. Her hand reaches for a piece of tissue and she blots the tears off her eyes.

The angels in the heavenly realms are still and silent. How much do they long to just hold her in their arms and wings, to protect the girl. They look toward the King on the Throne for instructions to fly down and sweep her into a place of no pain nor tears.

But the King gives no motion.

He knows, that those tears are necessary. For when those tears dry, she will walk out of her room and walk into the world testifying of the One who dried those tears. For when the storms have faded, she will sail her ship to the nearest port and speak of the One whose hand was over her when the winds blew and the waves hit her.

For when the angel cried, the King knows. Exactly when she cried, and precisely why she cried. The King, after all, never leaves any angel on Earth, left to cry alone. In His own ways, he reminds her of the fact.

Don't cry little angel. You're not alone.