Monday, December 13, 2010

My Home

As published in M208 Convocation Magazine

The hallway lights sneaked into her room and fell nicely on her silky head. She stirred as I watched, and those big brown eyes sparkled into life.

“You left this morning without saying bye-bye,” she grumbled groggily while rubbing her eyes.

I’m sorry Sweetheart, but you were still sleeping then… I replied softly, taking small steps to her bed. She shifted herself into a corner, making just ample space for me to squeeze onto that tiny pink bed. What time did you wake up this morning? I asked, as I bent down to pick up her matching blanket that had gotten kicked off earlier in the night.

9 o’ clock…

Eh... didn’t you have school this morning? “No… the teachers were helping the church with a big party..”

I got into her bed and tucked the blanket over her. Wrapping my arms around her tiny body, she snuggled up and nestled her head in the folds of my arms. “Where were you this morning, Daddy?” This morning Daddy went to the hospital really early, at 5am, when you were still fast, fast asleep. I patted her head. “How come?”

There was an old uncle who had a very bad heart attack. Daddy had to go and save him, if not he would have died. “Did you have to open him up?” Yup! We opened up his chest, fixed his heart, and then closed his chest. Remember the time we opened up Honey, your little bear-bear, to fix her tummy because she had stopped making funny noises?

A slight giggle, a gentle nod over my chest. A sign that she was slowly lulling back into her own world.

Something like that Sweetheart.

“So… did you save the uncle?”

Yup! Daddy managed to save him. The uncle’s wife was so sad before that. She was crying a lot, you know.

“How is aunty?” She’s fine, dear. And she’s very thankful that uncle’s alive.

I tucked my nose into the soft mess of brown hair and took in a deep breath. That smell has remained the same ever since the very day she was born. Like baby soap, wildflowers and honey all rolled into one. If innocence had a fragrance, this would be it.

“Daddy?” Those brown eyes gazed up into my face.

Yes, Sweetheart. I pushed a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Why must you save the world?”

I gave her a gentle peck on her forehead. I had always told her that a doctor’s job is to ‘save the world’ - it was so much easier to get her to imagine a doctor as a superhero stopping the good guys from dying than to try and explain how a doctor manages sick and difficult patients.

Because if Daddy doesn’t save the world, then there will be many small boys and girls like you who will have no Daddy or Mummy at all, poor thing, right?

“But you are always not home,” she sulked.

I sat up in her bed and propped her into my lap. You know, many years before Daddy met Mummy, I began. I was young and very active. Daddy would always be working in the hospital, from morning till night, and sometimes Daddy wouldn’t even go home. Po-po (Grandmother in Chinese) would call and call and sometimes scold Daddy but Daddy still wouldn’t listen! The sweetheart giggled softly. “Daddy naughty!”

I laughed. Ya… Daddy was quite naughty. But after a while Daddy got sooooo tired and felt like giving up. Daddy complained to God that it’s not fair, that Daddy is so tired and doesn’t want to be a doctor anymore. Then I told God that I wanted a home, so that when I’m tired I can go back and get rest…

Eh, you slept already ah?

“No… Look!” She looked up at me with eyes pried open on purpose, and we both chuckled.

“Then what did God do?”

Well.. God gave me a home! I answered cheerfully. God gave me first your Mummy, after that God gave Daddy and Mummy the most beeeeeautiful princess in the world.

“But that is not a home…”

She looked into my eyes. Not even blinking or flinching, her big brown eyes full of anticipation, waiting for me to say more.

That’s the best part. God showed me that home is where the heart is. And God put you – I gently tapped my finger on her nose – inside my heart. I held her tiny hand and rested it on my heart. And you will always remain there. Forever.

She smiled, that lovely smile that makes me feel greater than any superhero-doctor I could possibly be, and sank down lazily into my arms again. Rocking her to sleep, the sweet voice asked again,

“Daddy, will you come home tomorrow?”

Princess, I reassured, you are the number one reason I come home every night.

And like many other nights, I put her to sleep with my arms around her and my heart melted all over her -- knowing that the next morning, my wife would probably find both me and my Sweetheart in her room, on that little bed under the tiny pink blanket.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Part 6: Beautiful

As published in the MP109 Convocation Magazine

My name is Miriam. My son, Mike, is six years old. He’s the light of my life. Intelligent, inquisitive, playful, cheeky. He loves jumping around, has a somewhat disturbing affinity for mud and grass, and if he ever had the chance to sit on a piano chair, I assure you he’d be laughing away at the music he makes – that is, if it is even music to begin with.

Every afternoon when my son comes home from kindergarten, he’ll give an exceptionally detailed report about his adventures in the past four hours. Sometimes it’ll be about how he ran across the kindergarten field without hitting anything or anyone, and there was once when he boasted about how he sang Jason Mraz’s ‘I’m Yours’ in class and his girlfriend gave him a flower for it.

“Where’s the flower?” He proudly held up his bag. I laughed as I discovered the crushed and mangled ‘flower’, a paper aeroplane wedged between his water bottle and a half-eaten sandwich. Boys will be boys.

One fine afternoon, I was working on my husband’s tax returns as Mike sat at the table going through the details of his day, as always. He related a difficult word the teacher taught in class today. “Um, it’s A-d-j…” he tried to spell the word.

“Adjective, you mean?” I offered.

“Ya ya ya!” He said excitedly. “Teacher said we can use it to talk about things, like big, small… His hands waved frantically as he showed me ‘big’ and ‘small’. “Then she taught us many other words… um, sweet, beautiful, sour…”

“Mikey, what is sour?” I quizzed him teasingly.

“Ummm… Sour is… like when you eat lemon!!!” he squealed, with eyes tightly shut and eyebrows curled into a frown. I chuckled and ruffled his soft hair, as I picked up my pen to continue.


“Yes, love.”

“What is ‘beautiful’?”

The pen dropped out of my hands and nearly rolled off the table. My heart sank. As I turned to look at Mike, it hit me hard, again, that no matter how he behaves, no matter how much we try to treat him as normally as any other kid, no matter what people have to say about his beautiful brown eyes, the truth still remains.

My son is blind.

So how do you teach a blind child to see?

“Well Mike…” I fumbled for the right words as I sat him down on the chair next to mine. “Something beautiful is something that makes you very very happy…” I gently touched his cheek, only to see a smile curve over his chubby face. “Something that you like so so so much that you want to keep it forever and never it give away!!”

He looked thoughtful. “Like ice-cream?”

“Yes honey, something like that. But even better than ice-cream.

Something that you love very much. Something that will always make you smile, something that will always make you happy…”

Oh, okay… came his reply.

I rearranged the papers in front of me aimlessly, noticing a slight tremor in my hands. My son still remained rooted on that chair, and my heart was in a mess. I felt awful, not being able to teach my son about what it means to be beautiful. And in moments like this, I wished I was a better mother, perhaps better equipped or trained to deal with my son’s disabilities. To have better answers, maybe?

“Mummy?” he called out, arms outstretched.

That’s his cue when he wants me close, or when he wants me to pick him up, or give him a hug. I leaned over to reach him. His small hands gently squeezed my cheeks.

“Mummy," the words seemed to take an eternity before he blurted it out sweetly. "You are beautiful.”

Any words I had just caught in my throat, and tears flowed from my eyes as I picked him up and hugged him tightly, never wanting to let him go.

That day, I discovered something I’ll never forget. That the eye grants you the ability to look, but believing in those things that never meet the eye? That is sight. And for all that it is worth, my blind six-year-old son, my precious Mike, has probably taught me more about seeing than anyone else ever will.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Butler: Deception

My name is Alice. I am his butler, and my employer happens to be his late wife Michelle.

I could clearly remember the day her body was lowered into the ground. Her sister, Serena cradling her half month old boy, stood beside me, expressionless, dark glasses perched on her nose.

“There is one more thing that she would like you to know,” she said solemnly while walking away from the cemetery.

Already I had 2 special tasks. Firstly, he must not know that Michelle had died from a late stage cancer, apparently triggered by the trauma from the accident. The doctors never gave a proper explanation on that. But they are doctors anyway. Hence, the cover up was that she left him while he was still in a coma.

Secondly, I was to kiss him every night, at exactly midnight, only on the left cheek.

That would be because, apparently, he sleeps on his right side.

And of course, every other duty of a butler. I’ll have to clean and press his shirts, take out the garbage, manage his schedule and see to it that he doesn’t sleep too much. A few days back, while looking through his medical reports, the doctors noted that he sustained a ‘certain damage’ from the concussion which would ‘cause him to have an increased tendency of sleeping’.

Don’t fall in love with that man..

I stopped in my footsteps. Serena turned around and smiled.

“There is a reason why she couldn’t tell him that she has died.”

My first day of work started as soon as he woke up from his coma. I politely introduced myself as his butler and manager; that he is to take over a chain of companies as the Chief Financial Adviser and will resume duties as soon as he is discharged.

He groaned and mumbled. Like a man drugged and gagged, he struggled to get up. I don’t need a manager, he said. The first question that came out from his lips,

Where is Michelle?

Keeping to my part of the bargain, I lied. I told him that Michelle has already left him for another man, and had a child. He cannot meet her due to a restraining order.

And at that very moment, I knew why he had to live in a deception.

He immediately stopped struggling, slouched into his bed again, and as the reality sank in slowly, his gaze fell to the ground. His mind must have had a thousand questions racing through within those seconds upon the realization that she will not be there for him anymore.

“Sir,” I broke the silence after a couple of minutes. “You will need to bounce back up as soon as possible. There is work awaiting you.”

Just give me a few days, I will get over this. True to his words, he did.

“I’m not too sure whether Michelle told you this, but you will discover that he is a pretty decent man. Responsible, nice, gentle, polite. Virtually everything a lady would look for in a man.”

I nodded gently, respectfully. So what would be wrong in falling in love with him then?

Her smile turned into one of pain and sadness, one that I would see again on that morning when we were in the car outside the church.

Because he is made to love only one woman.

I end my day at midnight. I arrange his clean folded shirts in his cupboard as he lies motionless on the bed, blanket kicked off the floor, just as what Michelle had warned me months before. He doesn’t stir easily to the squeak when the cupboard door closes, or when I switch on the dim lights to put the clothes in order.

Sometimes, I will sit on the huge armrest facing his bed and every night, I see a man. A man worn out and drained dry from the coma; a man who had to continue his journey without his only love; a man who had to bear the consequences the accident he caused.

He was truly lost in deception. He never exactly got to the part of how Michelle left him, how he got into that accident. Worse still, he never knew that it was all a deception.

Yet there was one thing that never changed, one thing that he was sure of: he still loved her dearly. Judging from the times when he would stare and gaze at the portrait of Michelle hung in the middle of the hall. And how the name Michelle would make him sit up straight. Or like how that notice of Serena’s son’s baptism and baby-blessing ceremony in the papers got him all fired up.

So I tuck his blanket neatly and tightly under his arms, and gently peck his left cheek.

“Hi Michelle.” He mumbles in his sleep.

“Hi dear.” I whisper into his ears.

I walk out of his room, close the door and sigh to myself. Have I fallen in love with him? I shut that question from my mind. Perhaps I’m too afraid to admit that I have indeed loved a man who could never love me. Perhaps in my attempt to protect him from the guilt of him killing his wife in that accident, he showed me how to move on with life, how to continue to stay strong for his world that depended on him, heading the companies and making tough decisions. Perhaps that amazed me, charmed me, captivated me.

Perhaps, I too am living in the very deception I created, for I am not and will never be that only woman in his life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Employer: Slumber

“Good morning sir, rise and shine.”

I hate waking up. The voice that wakes me up is now cold and stern; the blinding lights painfully flood the room immediately from the curtains drawn forcefully and loudly. Subsequently Alice places my neatly pressed shirts on the edge of the bed while I slowly get up, rub my eyes, and listen to her chant the agenda for my day.

“You have breakfast at Grands with Opes, a lunch appointment with the CFO from Dell, and a concert by YTL to catch at night.”

I hate waking up. Since the accident, I’ve been waking up feeling that she has been in the room with me the night before, lying on her side of the bed, probably watching me sleep, gently stroking my cheeks just like good times before. Yet when my eyes open wide, the other side of the bed is empty. I thought I heard her whisper into my ears last night, her voice so sweet that it would’ve melted my heart a thousand times, yet when I stirred, all that I saw was the darkness of the night. No figure. No Michelle.

I loved the way she would wake me up back then. Her warm fingers stroking my cheeks, and when my eyes open, right beside me on the other pillow, nested cozily would be the most beautiful face in the world, with that pink lips stretched into a bow from ear to ear, dimples on the side. “Morning dear,” and my reply was on her forehead with a ‘Morning Michelle’.

Michelle’s not on the other side of the bed this morning. “Wait,” I interrupted Alice. “You’ve forgotten something else.” Alice sighed. “You’ve got a church appointment right after breakfast.”

Yup, I reminded her. We’ve got a baby dedication ceremony to catch. She left the room with a sigh and made a phone call. I know that sigh. She sighs when I’m stubborn and insist upon something which she totally disagrees upon.

She disagrees me remembering my past.

That morning I woke up thinking that I was either in heaven or in church. The walls and the bed linens were all whitewashed. It certainly took me a while before registering the beeping sound from the ECG monitor and the oxygen mask over my face.

“Good morning sir,” the girl whom I know call Alice was standing near the entrance of the door. “I am your butler and secretary, I will be your manager from this day onwards.”

No, I protested. I don’t need a manager, I need Michelle. Where is she?

Sir, she replied, she has already left you. She couldn’t wait for you to recover, so she remarried and she moved on with life.

Stunned, a million questions raced through my mind. How long have I slept? When was the accident? What happened? No, I asserted. Michelle would never do that. She has waited for me all those long nights and those business trips before, why couldn’t she wait?

“You’ve been in a coma for 3 years since that accident.”

“Where is Michelle?” I demanded. “Sir, she already has a family, and I cannot allow you to find her. She has already obtained a court order to have you divorced and will surely seek a court restrain if you harass her.”

That was when the ghost of the night started to haunt me.

“Sir, wake up sir. We’ve reached the church already.”

I woke up, the car engine was turned off, the radio still playing my favourite baroque pieces. Eyes half open, I pushed the button at the side of the door, and the black tint came rolling down, again flooding the car with a similar blinding light.

The church is a beautiful heritage building, every brick unique and different from the other, block by block, stacked and cemented over each other. A beautiful arch gracefully forms the front door, with a red carpet flowing along the aisle, and at the very far end of it is a couple, facing the priest, with a baby in the woman’s hands.

The lady turned to look at her child, though only revealing half of her face, it was unmistakable. Her curled up hair still draped over the right shoulder in a messy twirl, her eyes still sparkles with a warm gentle light, her smile still curves with that beautiful red arch with a lovely dimple at each side.

I’ve seen the husband before. This well built man with a small but strong smile. He seems familiar, but I could never recall when I’ve met him. Maybe one day I’ll remember, I mumbled beneath my breath. I may have forgotten much since the accident, but I will remember it one day.

The priest sprinkled some water over the baby’s head, and from afar Michelle slowly rocked the baby in her arms, making sure the baby doesn’t stir or cry while the priest went on with the rituals. I was sure that I was neither crying nor tearing up. It’s already 6 months since Alice broke the news to me. I know I’ve handled the rejection pretty well now.

But my heart, that feeling inside me… An unexplainable burden made my heart sank deep into a pit of sorrow. After all the good times we gave each other, how could she leave me for someone else? What happened to all those promises of being there for each other down the years, of being our one and only true love?

If I recall correctly, we were supposed to have a church wedding. It’s always her dream to have a church wedding, and though I only thought marriage was on paper, I was prepared to oblige. Then again, she left me before I obliged.

So what did he do to her while I was asleep?

She turned back and looked long and far, her gaze travelling down the aisle to meet mine. My heart skipped a beat, face turned into stone. She saw me. That was all that was left in my mind. The smile on her face left as quickly as she saw this face inside the car, her head shook gently to a ‘no’, and she turned back to her baby, hair swirling over her shoulder to interrupt our gaze.

“Sir, we really have to go for lunch.” She sounded cross. Alice pat the driver on his shoulder. The engine roared to life, the black tint closed up the dam of light, and the car rolled out of the church compound. So many questions remain unanswered ever since that accident, so much has changed in that 3 years when I was asleep. For every reason I have to hate falling asleep, I probably have even more reasons to hate waking up.

Yet, my eyelids still grow heavy when Alice’s voice fades into the background, and when the baroque pieces lullaby me to sleep. I still fall asleep, knowing that there could very well be a surprise that I never wanted, or a dream I never want to remember, waiting for me together with the blinding light that floods the room whenever I wake up.

PART 1 of a new trilogy, dedicated to Amanda Albert: Amazing editor, best friend, wonderful companion, and a different-n-unique bro.