Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Betrayal

0130 hours after capture
War Tribunal

The War Tribunal was in an uproar. Tables slamming, fists waving, anger painted at every man’s face.

Council men, clad in smart uniform, had all their hatred and anger pointed to that one man. The man in the square wooden box, facing the President, himself too dressed in a well decorated uniform. But unlike his fellow councilmen, he was their piƱata, their dartboard.

“Order, order.”

Everyone took their seats. “Guilty!!!!” someone shouted from the back bench, and the hall erupted momentarily once more before the President raised his hand, the enough gesture well understood by all.

“General Saduj.

“Do you plead guilty to the charges, of conspiring against the nation of Zanotopia by possessing top secrets of the nation and selling them to our enemy, Ramzon of Kalanis, hence jeopardizing the Reyarps search and destroy mission of the stronghold of Kalanis?”

Silence. Councilmen, still wearing their game face with eyes burning with rage, stared at him for what seemed to be like an eternity.

Saduj looked to the floor, guilt and remorse overwhelmed him. No tears from this tough man hardened by many wars, many battles. No apologies from the arrogant and proud general who commands the prestigious and elite squad of the Reyarps.

“I do.” The spell was broken. The councilmen rose to their feet again and threw everything they could grab on their tables down to the box. Saduj didn’t flinch, didn’t react, didn’t turn around to see his attackers.

“TRAITOR! TRAITOR!” In unison, in one voice, in a chant.

“Order, order.

“General Saduj. Would you like to redeem yourself?”

That eerie silence again filled the hall, an impending sense of doom heavily rested on the shoulders of the man in the box. In every councilman’s mind was the simple question, Why did he betray the President?

“Because,” he swallowed his choke and cough back to spill out what may very well be his last words.

“Because Ramzon was a friend, was an ally,” he paused to look straight into the President’s eyes,

“And because he was a son of Zanotopia.”

This time it wasn’t anger or chanting. Many faces turned pale, some turned to each other in whispers, franctically seeking some truth in what Saduj has just said from each other. Was that true? Some asked. How could the worse enemy of Zanotopia once was a son of Zanotopia?

The President hammered the table. “This case is adjourned. We shall reconvene after the dissolution of the war tribunal, and turn General Saduj over to the civilian court.

“The damage has already been done,” he rose from his seat and straightened his jacket. “Punishing him will not save our children.”

The President walked out of the tribunal, calm and composed unlike his councilmen. Nire, his daughter was outside waiting for him. “How did it go?” Both father and daughter paced swiftly away from the Tribunal towards their waiting vehicles outside the building.

“We’re postponing his case. It is neither fair nor right to trial a man during war times. Inter arma enim silent leges.

“Fair?” she stopped in her steps. Rage rose deep within her. “This man betrayed the country, sold secrets to our worst enemy, costing my brother and my husband to be captured. After what he has done, you telling me we should be fair to him? Does he even deserve it?”

“How could you?” Her voice so full of accusation, so full of hurt, so full of pain.

The President never stopped walking, never turned back to look at her daughter. He knew better not to. His daughter was right, her reasoning sound. He should have just charged Saduj with treason, strip him off his stars and medals, and sentence him either to the guillotines or the cells. That would be standard military protocol.

But I am the President.

With that authority came much wisdom and insight. A heritage of the Presidents passed down from one to the other was the Heritage of Discernment, and he knew well enough that he was already punishing him by not sentencing him just yet.

Nire ran up to her father, fist tight and clenched, was about to continue her hate speech when they heard a gunshot, a scream, and many men scrambling behind them. Both father and daughter froze in their steps, meters apart, as they gave themselves a few moments for the events to make sense, if any at all.

Someone fired a round in one of the backrooms of the tribunal. “We need medics here!” a distant voice pleaded.

Civilians were leaving the building, security personnel surrounded the President and daughter. More officers filled the Tribunal and swiftly secured a perimeter. Nire grabbed one of a sobbing and hysterical woman who was leaving the building. “What happened in there?” she demanded.

“Saduj… Saduj… he shot himself…”

Disbelief, confused, shocked. Her grip on the traumatized woman loosened. She looked at her father who still had his calm face on, but eyes filled with sorrow and pain. “You saw this coming didn’t you?” He never responded to her question, never looked her in the eyes.

Both walked up into the vehicles, and sped off to the Command Centre.

Now what? She asked meekly.

“Now,” he took a long deep breath, “we wait."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Beginning of the End

That night we both lay on the bed. Not looking at each other, instead staring at the ceiling. Silence, other than the occasional chatter of the bugs outside the house. The breeze swayed the curtains into a gentle ballet, and the smell of the ground and the grass lingered in the room.

I knew exactly what was on her mind. It has barely been a year since I fully recovered. And there I was, called back to my next mission.

“You’re not ready for this,” she once said many months back. Part of my body agreed with her. The deep wounds sustained from my past tour in the Pishrow unit took a toll on me, and truth be told, there was a strong and overwhelming burden within me that would have rather stayed back and rest. Recover, recoup, nursing my own wounds.

But a lot changed.

And more is about to change.

I gently folded the blanket over and climbed out of bed. Flipped the bathroom lights on, brushed my teeth and washed my face, the whole time knowing well enough that Nire was looking at me from behind. There was just no way I could look into her eyes. Her eyes were screaming at me. What would I do if anything happens to you? What would I do if lost you again?

I snapped on army uniform, pressed and crisps. Only Nire could iron my clothes that way. Other than my gears and equipments, everything else were packed and made ready by her. Even the boot shine. I slumped onto the chair near the door, gears locked and loaded. Everything’s ready, I thought.

Then I saw her leaning against the stairs. Sniffing, sobbing quietly. No, I’m not ready.

The bus approached. I walked up to her to kiss her goodbye. She cusps my face tightly, tighter than ever. “What would you do for the person you love?” she was desperate. I knew then, that she would have done anything, and absolutely anything to make me stay.

What would you do to make sure that you don’t lose the person you love the most?

What would you give up for me?

She caught her breath, and slowly asked, What higher price must you pay?

Her voice, so saturated in sorrow and soaked in agony. I drew her close to me, nose touching hers, eyes closed the whole time. Right in front of me, was the only reason I stayed alive when the trees and grounds around me gave way to enemy fire; right in front of me, then, was the only person who waited for me all those years just to return home, be it in parts and pieces, deformed or perfect, she waited nevertheless.

And it seemed, perhaps it simply was, cruel to leave her just when I returned to her embrace.

Must you leave me, again?

I kissed her on the forehead. My eyes too, were moist. In the darkness of the hall and stairway, I could see the glitter from the crystals formed on the edge of her hazel eyes. I looked deep and long into it, knowing that I very well may never see those eyes in a long, long time.

“For you,” I finally broke my silence, “I would give you anything. Everything

“Absolutely everything to keep you safe.”

That is why I have to go.

It took all the strength within me to break myself from her arms, to pick up my gears and walk out of the door without looking away. With those steady, yet dreadful steps, I walked towards the army bus only to be greeted by the Sergeant.

“About time.” Sergeant muttered in his usual voice. I raised my arm in salute, and he responded likewise. “I hope you’re ready.”

I’m ready sir, I lied.

“You’d better be,” he said. “This mission may well be your last.”

The Beginning of the End

and the Last

of Zanotopia.

Part 1: Sergeant Have Mercy on Me (Edited)

Part 2: Forgotten (Edited)

Part 3: Behind the Bronze Mask

Prologue: And the Reyarps Fell

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


To be honest, that day was a complete mess.

I woke up to that favourite, familiar fragrance of her hair. It took a while for the reality to hit me hard. The actual fact, that she’s really back.

My mind was a complete mess as I stirred the coffeemate into her tea. Why ain't I happy? Wasn't this exactly what I had waited for, hoped for? What's wrong with me?

But really... Why is she back?What if this isn’t real? What if this isn’t what I think it is? What if she’s just back to drop another bomb on me again?

What if she leaves again?

To be honest, I did stop believing.

I stopped believing that she will come back for me. It was two long, lonely months for me. Every night I played old videos I took of her back in university days to sleep. How her hair just swirled so smoothly when she turns around to the camera, how she always flashes that perfect smile at the perfect time, how her laughter could so powerfully strike my soul to the core that eventually I had to mute the sound just so I didn’t end up in tears again.

And those months, after switching the television off – if I even remember to – I thought, maybe, just maybe, one day, she’ll come back. I somewhat knew that she still loved me, somewhat still believed in me. Yes, I screwed up. But don’t we all mess up sometimes? Give her some time, I reassured myself. She’ll be back, it’s just a matter of time.

But after a while, it just got too difficult, too tiring to keep believing. It wore me down. The thought of her not being around anymore just got too painful. She just wasn't coming back. Or at least, not anytime soon.

To be honest, I did give up.

On the hopes and dreams and wishes of her walking back, on the possibility of even seeing her in my life again. Because 60 days, 60 days without you in my life, dearest princess, was just and simply too much for me to take.

Above all else, I gave up on myself. I deserved it. For not being there for you more, for not being the better man, for not being the one who would have fought for you, or held you and never let go, or...

... or for just not being what I used to be.

I did sometimes wonder. While cleaning up the dishes, or while mopping the floor, I often asked myself, does it really matter? How my house looks like, how clean the kitchen is, how neat the furniture’s arranged…

She’s not around anymore, so what’s the point?

I guess back then I never quite figured that out, why I did those things that would only remind me of her. Those times when the quiet and emptiness of home got the worse part of me, I just slumped back, buried my face in my hands, and just quietly prayed.

I prayed that I will get another chance – though I neither hoped nor deserved it – that she will just walk in, back home, one day. I prayed that she will be fine and alright, wherever she was.

'I prayed that you will be happier.'

But that morning, that morning when I woke up with her in my arms again, when I prepared her favourite butter and sugar toast, when I tucked her blanket up to her neck and pecked her on her forehead, it all came back. All the memories of the laughter and happy moments we shared, all those mornings we lay on the bed and just laugh for no apparent reason, all those nights we sat on the couch and watched her favourite series…

I hadn’t had my emotions and thoughts all straightened out, but I did soon enough. Soon after walking into the house, to find a lone pair of pink slippers neatly arranged beside a heap of shoes, soon after finding her luggage bag still in the hall, at bay beside the couch I slept on, soon enough after hearing that unmistakable sound of the brush scratching against the floor.

Soon enough after seeing the most beautiful girl in the world, on her knees, furiously battling the stubborn stains and marks on the edges of the toilet, with such determination and perseverance. I smiled as I watched from the door. As if she felt me coming, she got up, brush still in her gloved up hands, her long wavy hair all in that lovely mess, and that same smile she wore on the very first day she captivated and enchanted every bit and every part of me - and still did.

“Hello little boy.”

That very moment, I had it figured out. It all made sense.

I may have given up on a lot of things, I may have stopped hoping, even stopped waiting.

But I never stopped loving you.

The End

Part 1: Remembering

Part 2: Understanding

Monday, June 13, 2011


Dedicated to my parents, the people in my life who promised to always be there for me, and never once broke that promise.

I was about to step into the elevator when I thought I heard a girl crying for her mother.

It was a little girl, standing near the entrance of the hospital lobby, all alone. Brown shoulder length hair, eyes all swollen and puffy, clad in a sweet pink dress. While passers-by clearly saw her there, all they did was just patronize her with a glance, and then, quite literally, passed her by.

I made my way out of the elevator, went up to half-kneel in front of her and gave her my warmest smile. “Hey sweetheart… I’m a doctor,” I took hold of her hands. Still wailing though, she could at the very least recognize that I was a doctor from the white coat and the stethoscope draped over my neck. “Let’s find your mummy okay?” And sweetheart, pleeeeease don’t cry anymore , my hand reached for the tissue paper in my handbag. You’re spoiling your beautiful face every time you cry!

She stopped sobbing as I gently wiped her face. That’s a good girl. What’s your name sweetheart? “Alice,” she sniffed.

Okay Alice, first let’s go look for a policeman to help us find your mummy ok?

“Princess,” Daddy said one day while carrying me around a shopping mall, “can you see that uncle over there.. There! That one who’s wearing a cap and a nice dark blue uniform?”

He’s a policeman, Daddy said. Daddy also said that policemen are good guys.

I remembered asking Daddy, why are they called the good guys?

“Because they go after the bad guys. They protect us from the bad bad people. And next time if you get lost, you cannot find your way back, or if you cannot find Daddy, you must find a policeman okay?”

“Next time if you get lost, remember to look for a policeman,” I told Alice after she gave the security officers some of her details. “Tell them that you are lost and you can’t find Mummy. You must give them your Mummy’s name, and where you last saw her also, okay? They will help you find your Mummy.” Her small head bobbed in understanding. Her hands were tightly clutched around the cup of Milo that I bought for her while the officers were talking to her earlier. Shortly after, her mother’s name was blaring through the public address system.

We sat at the benches nearby. Her gaze was glued to the ground, legs hanging from the edge of the chair.

Sweetheart? She looked up to me and for the first time I saw her eyes. By that time she had stopped crying for quite a while, and the tiny sparkle you’d find in the eyes of any sweet little thing had returned to those beautiful brown eyes of hers.

Are you scared?

She gently nodded her head. Don’t be scared, I smiled, Mummy will be here shortly, I pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. I promise.

I know how scary it feels.

That fateful morning, of all mornings, a policeman could not be found.

I must have walked and walked and walked down the aisles in that huge but familiar supermarket, without realizing that Daddy wasn’t behind me anymore. I went back to where I last saw Daddy. I walked the entire supermarket. I even tried calling for Daddy as loud as I can.

But I couldn’t find Daddy. I couldn’t hear his voice, his footsteps… Nothing.

I suddenly felt so small. So tiny in that crowd. So little. I was just 6 years old. Everyone seemed so tall, so big. When Daddy was around, Daddy would protect me from all these other big people. But Daddy was not there

I felt so… unsafe.

Daddy will come for me, I said to myself. Daddy promised that he would always find me.

So I sat on that long bench near the gift redemption counter. That bench where Daddy would always sit while Mummy and I went to the nearby stalls to look at the cute little trinkets and tiny soft toys. Daddy would always sit there patiently waiting for us to choose our earrings and necklaces. Sometimes Daddy would even doze off while waiting for us.

Daddy always keeps his promises. Daddy always comes back for me.

Daddy will find me, I reassured myself again as I swallowed back my tears, fearing that anyone who saw me crying might kidnap me.

“But how do you know Mummy will come back for me?”

Because Mummy loves you soooo much, and she would do absolutely anything to find you, wouldn’t she?

She looked thoughtful after hearing that explanation. There was a small smile carved over her face, though brief.

“I’m scared Mummy will scold me,” she mumbled. Her fingers interlocked as she pouted her tiny lips. Across her forehead, small wrinkle painted worry all over her face. I held her tiny hands in mine. Mummy scolds you because she is very very scared of losing you. Could you imagine how frightened she is right now when she can’t find her little Alice? What would she do without you?

Later when she finds you, tell her that you’re sorry, okay? Big girls say sorry when they make their Mummy or Daddy worried.

I remember watching what seemed like thousands of people passing by, and soon I got so tired of looking out for Daddy. Daddy, why don’t you come quickly? Where are you?

Pray, pray, just pray. Daddy said before when we are scared, we must pray. Daddy said that Jesus listens to little children praying. And I know Jesus will answer my prayers.

So I put my hands together, closed my eyes and bowed my head.

Jesus, I’m sorry for not following Daddy. I really didn’t mean to get lost. I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to Daddy when he told me to tie my hair this morning. I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll be a good girl and listen to Daddy next time. I promise I promise I promise. Just help Daddy find me.

Please help Daddy to find me. Please, I want to see Daddy again.

I promise I won’t cry if Daddy scolds me. It’s okay if Daddy scolds me or canes me for walking away. But please help Daddy to find me. I really want Daddy. I love my Daddy, I love my Daddy. I’ll do anything You want me to do if you help Daddy find me.

I really want my Daddy.

“Alice!!” A semi-hysterical woman came running towards our direction. Her curly hair was all in the air like the typical TV shampoo ads, and the way her arms were flailing everywhere made it seem like her hands might just fly off her body. The sweetheart jumped off the chair, screaming while running towards her mother. The mother bent down and swept Alice up into her arms in a single act. “Where were you?? Do you know how worried Mummy was?” the mother cried while squeezing her tightly.

I’m sorry Mummy, I’m sorry… I promise I won’t go missing again..

The mother walked up to me, her face smeared with tears of joy and gratitude. Doctor, thank you so much! I smiled back, and was in time to ruffle little Alice’s hair before she and her mother hurried off.

As both mother and child disappeared around the corner, a familiar face resurfaced. My mind went back to that fateful day, that fateful moment when as soon as I said Amen, I opened my eyes, and there, at a distance, was Daddy, walking and stopping, tip-toeing over crowds of people, bending and dodging oncoming shoppers, looking for me.


I was so happy, yet so remorseful. So relieved, yet terribly guilty.

Daddy saw me. He didn’t run over like Alice’s mother, he didn’t glare. Instead, he walked over towards me, calmly, steps well-paced. Daddy smiled at me. That handsome smile that always made me feel so happy and so safe. That “Daddy’s here, everything’s going to be okay” smile.

That smile that reminded me that I meant the world to him. More than the world.

“Hello princess,” Daddy picked me up and looked me in the eye. “Did Daddy make you wait a long time?”

I remembered nestling my head on his strong burly shoulder. I remembered Daddy asking me whether I was scared when I couldn’t find him. I remembered Daddy asking me whether or not I would like my favourite MacDonald’s ice-cream. I remembered all the many other questions Daddy asked. But I also remembered that then, I didn’t say a single word.

Because I felt so sorry and so guilty for making my Daddy look for me, for making him search high and low for me. The small 6 year old girl who got missing and couldn’t find her Daddy by herself.

Daddy? “Yes princess?”

I’m sorry that you had to find me.

Daddy stopped walking there and then. Daddy gave me that kind warm smile again, kissed me on the forehead, and whispered loudly,

“Princess, Daddy promised to always come back for you… Remember?”

“And Daddy will always, always come back for you. No matter how far you are, no matter how long it takes, Daddy will never stop looking for you.”

I remembered that indescribable feeling, that feeling which words could never express, so clearly even till to this very day. I buried my head into Daddy’s shoulder and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I remembered Daddy’s slow stroll back to the car, softly humming the song Daddy would always sing to me when I cried, Daddy’s big palms gently patting me on my back to soothe me.

In the nick of time, I managed to scramble into an empty elevator as those tears, those very same tears as the ones I shed on that fateful morning over my Daddy’s back, came streaming down uncontrollably again as the elevator doors closed in a fortress of solitude for me, with Daddy’s promise ringing ever so audibly in the stillness of the ascending lift.