Getting Back on Track

As you may or may not know, I spent the last three months nursing an ankle injury. Quite similar to my knee injury during JC2 right after my track and field finals (thank God!). Its a funny story really, one that features a good serving of stupidity. Much more than a days worth, definitely.

It was book out (I’m still in the army at this point) and it was peak hour. You know how the traffic is in Singapore. Pretty congested to say the very least. So I brace myself for what is to be a very long ride home. I mean, it’s Changi to Boon Keng (Do you guys even know of Boon Keng?) That’s when I start to think for myself. Maybe I don’t have to face the traffic… And that, my friends is when it all goes terribly wrong for me. When it comes to running, I adopt a do first, think later approach. Because when you start to think, let’s be honest — you’d never ever run again. So I just put on my running shoes absent-mindedly, held my credit cards and my phone in one hand and I was out there door, or the gate. Whatever, you get the idea. The amount of thought I put into this? Not enough, apparently.

It’s not long before I realise that 18km without any real build up wasn’t exactly beneficial for my body. Besides, I was also wearing the wrong pair of running shoes for that distance (I know right, different running shoes for different distances — what a creep). This pair didn’t have much of a sole so in the end, the results were rather predictable. It just hadn’t hit my brain yet that I may just be hurting my body in the process of my commute home.

My ankle hurt after that but that didn’t seem like a good indication to stop. I just kept on running. The pain wasn’t so bad at first. It came and went, like passing clouds. It didn’t really bother me so much. As a runner you’re trained to trick yourself. This pain is real, this pain isn’t (all pain is real by the way). This pain can be overcome, this pain can’t. You had to make decisions fast. Categorize things. Lie to yourself. To give up or to press on? And of course, I wasn’t giving up. And that is my greatest flaw. I chose to be brave at the wrong time, and I only chose to be brave for myself. Its the sort of payback you get for being young and thinking your body can last forever.

It was right after I ran my personal best 10km at Jurong Lake (under 40 minutes!) that things started to get bad. And I mean, really bad. On a short training run it became obvious that I wasn’t going to run again anytime soon. The passing cloud became a thunderstorm. It blocked out all the sunlight. Well, enough with the metaphors. Basically, it fucking hurt.

I was in and out for a while after that. I waited, to no avail. After a month or so I tried pacing my friends for the 2.4 km run and paid for it after. I even tried to go for the army cross country trials. Looking back, it was like throwing alcohol into a burning building. Bad as the situation already was, doing that could only make things worst.

I went to a sports doctor and got an X-ray done. Everyone suspected it was a torn muscle or strained ligament. It showed symptoms of such. Slight pain when you put weight on it, slight limping at its worst. But what the X-ray revealed was a hairline crack in my tibia. In other words it was a stress fracture on my ankle. Holy cow. Who would’ve expected that.

From that day on, I treated running like a nun treats sex. I simply didn’t do it anymore. There wasn’t any point. To see that X-ray, that 2 cm line on my bone, it frightened me. It made me rethink everything. There was something more important than pursuing the things you like. Maybe this thing you like is an extension of yourself. You don’t feel like you are yourself anymore. Like a singer who gets throat cancer or a butcher who breaks his hand.  You stop doing what you’ve known for so long. You feel down for a while. You’re unsure about what to do. Its a stifling feeling — yes it is. But then it hits you, that this is exactly the affirmation you needed — that you really loved the thing you’ve lost. Sounds pretty damn cheesy but what absence has taught me is to treasure the presence. When I’m well again, I’ll know exactly what to do. Pursue running with passion, but never never to overkill.

I stepped out of my house yesterday morning and went for a light jog. Its been three months and I haven’t felt any pain for a month now. I ran a few kilometers and kept taking notice of the injured ankle. As far as I could feel, all was good. I reached the last part of the run, realizing that my fitness had plummeted. A few times, my lungs almost gave out and threatened to slow me to a walk. But no, I realised through the whole thing: this is what I love. And somehow when you believe in something so much, you’d do everything to make things happen. So I finished the run.

But I guess finishing the run and accomplishing things in general isn’t the most important thing. I remember this running quote I once chanced upon. “Run hard, run far, but never outrun your passion for running.” These three months have taught me that giving up your dreams when you have to and putting them on hold may just be the best way to pursue them. Give these dreams respect. Because when you’re so into something its all too easy to lose yourself and lose your passion in the process.

Next stop will be Standard Chartered Half-Marathon in December. Who knows how that will go? I guess you never know. And that is the beauty of running for me.

Finding your Roots and Running Away from Home

“Let’s try this today” Mom suggested. “Let’s try leave our phones at home. All of us.”

Ok. This wasn’t usual. We normally didn’t do this sort of thing as a family. We were normal and had normal family rituals. We put our shoes on the shoe rack nice and neat. We fed the dog twice a day. We rid the air-con vents of dust every Thursday. These were our known family rituals. Leaving our phones at home? No way. I was bringing it.

The four of us sat in silence as we drove out into the street. The family car was small but cosy, bought 5 years ago when the COE prices dipped slightly. It was strange that day, mom and dad gave no warning of a new car but suddenly just drove in in a grey Honda Accord. It had beige leather seats and a grayish themed interior. It had the smell of processed leather and forged steel. Well, I couldn’t be sure of the latter, who actually notices such smells on a regular basis anyway? It had to be though, new things all smelled like that. You just knew it intuitively.

The car now possessed no such smells. After years of continual usage, it smelled very much like ourselves. It had no noticeable smell, of course. It was like how one can never quite smell his own body odour due to lifelong exposure to it. We certainly did have a smell, just not the sort of smell we noticed anymore. If someone stepped into our car though, he would notice a different smell. Likewise if we ventured into a different car driven by a different family. This family would have different routines, lives, perfume, cologne, aftershave, shampoo. The car would smell like something else altogether. We’d notice it immediately. But when we are conditioned to ourselves, we don’t notice anymore.

I sat there thinking of that for a while, as the car narrowly lost out to a red light. A strange thought, but not an inconceivable one. I observed my brother looking out the other window. His hands looked awkwardly long. Like they were almost freakishly long. I wouldn’t say just long but lacking. Long and lacking. That’s right, his hands were supposed to be holding his phone. It was a habit that was brutally broken today. He couldn’t look through a small interactive screen so he had to gaze out at the real world, boring as that sounds. A red Ferrari passed by in the opposite direction. It was moving slower than I thought it would. I imagine my brother thinking of this Ferrari, weighing his chances of owning one and being successful in life. The order of the two probably didn’t matter so much to him. He was still a kid.

My thoughts raced as I, too, realized that there was nothing for me to do really. I would have made a few connections by now. The stray text message, the browsing and judging of uploaded pictures, reading up on peoples thoughts. People far away who didn’t care, but the fact that they were people…it was a heartening thought. This was how we were all connected nowadays, by thin yet tangible threads. My hands were empty now like a puppet master who had his strings cut loose. The puppet had been left at home, unable to come for the show.

My parents sat in the front seats. My mother drove today, while my father just looked straight ahead. He probably wore the most neutral expression in all of human history. An amber light this time, the car hurriedly raced past it as kids race to the last chair when the music stops. My mother usually drove. Don’t ask me why, in most families the father drives. At least that’s what I’ve observed from years of seeing my friends being picked up by parents. Dads usually drove, but my dad was always a strong believer that women could drive better. He always insisted that he had traumatic experiences driving in his youth. The truth was, as he revealed to me while we were in an overseas sauna: “I’m just too lazy to drive son. Mom doesn’t know this but freedom and gender differences is the last thing I care about. I just want to rest.” I just want to rest. I turned that phrase over and over in my head. What does it mean for a father to say that he “just wants to rest”? Strange thoughts. Judging by his posture as he sat in front, he does indeed look like he needs a rest.

What kind of rule was this anyway? to leave your phone at home while we went out as a family? Did other families do this? My close friends, they had families. Yes. But did their families leave their phones at home when they went on their family gatherings? I wouldn’t know for sure, but something told me that they didn’t indulge in such strange tendencies. Who was my  mom to suddenly impose such a strange rule, to leave our phones at home? Did she realize she may be starting a new habit, a horribly inconvenient and strange new family ritual? Bad things could happen. The world could drastically change without us never knowing of it until we got home and discovered this change on our phones. There were other ways to read about world changes. We could gauge the expressions of the families around us. Read the change in the air. Watch a public television. Not that there were many of those.

The car entered the expressway through a slip road.

My mind traced back to 9/11, that was already more than ten years ago. I was still in primary school and my brother just born. I sat at home preparing for Wednesday. It was getting late and i should have been sleeping but I stayed up for those few extra minutes. The house was dim and my parents sat huddled in front of the television watching the 9 pm Chinese drama. the house phone rings, and my father lazily walks over to pick up the phone. I remember vividly, it was three rings. I could not remember the color of my school bag or my school principles first name, but I remembered: three rings. Promptly, he switched channels, and my mother called me over. We sat, the three of us, huddled together and watching the scenes of terror. Events that were happening a world away were mercifully kept separate from our lives by the glass of our TV screen.

“So how was everyone’s day?” My mom attempted to break the silence while keeping one eye on the road. Not a bad attempt, but with more experience in awkward phone-less situations she could improve a grade or two. “Ok lor. You know. School, homework, teachers. There’s nothing more everyday.” My brother seemed rude or callous in his remarks, but he did have a point. Everyday we live our lives, without anything significant to share around. We don’t think about this and let days, months, even years pass by. we believe its great to keep up these routines, but simple questions like how was your day shine a light on how oppressively boring it is, these lives we lead. “Mine was alright.” It was alright“We had some presentations, ate Quiz Nos for lunch, had a great time filing all my reports too.” I am officially the most boring twenty something on earth. “What’s Quiz Nos?” “It’s that subway thing you know, the sandwich fast food thing.” “Oh…” My mom didn’t seem very interested in what Quiz Nos was, nor did she seem very interested in what our lives were like today. I couldn’t blame her. They were so ordinary. A teenager studies, a grown up goes to work. A teenager longs for the freedom of work life and I, the grown up (Yeah right) longs to be dependent and restrained like a teenager. But in the end there is routine. It sticks to us like how small barnacles stick to the back of blue whales.

We seemed to have exhausted all possible conversation topics on the first attempt. My dad turned on the radio. It was playing some Jay Chou song about a girls hair that resembled snow. I remember the music video for this particular hit. Jay Chou sits in the deep snow and sings while a love story unravels in olden China. Speaking of China and snow, I realized I had seen neither for the longest time now. The last time our family traveled to China was to visit our ancestral village. It was strange. It was nothing like the lives we lived back here. The walls were made with stones and the toilets all had a generous open air concept. We only visited the toilets in the main building that were slightly more private in nature. We had a refreshing steamboat on the last night in the bitter cold. I remember how I felt sitting around the group of old villagers I wouldn’t believe were related to us. Their smiles revealed golden teeth and their wrinkles deepened with every expression. It was a comfortable feeling midst the cold because part of me knew, if there was any place in this world I could feel comfortable about, it was this place. My justification of comfort was my comfort. Such fulfillment was innate and did not need any origins.

My thoughts had gone a few places by now, unbeknownst to the rest of the car. Again, I wondered what my brother was thinking of, staring out of the passenger side so intently. I had a feeling it couldn’t be good. It was tough being a teenager, and tougher without your good ol’ mobile handheld device. He might be planning to leave home, just pack all the essentials one day and run off. What would I pack though, if I really wanted to make a break from home? I guess I’d need to steal as Much money as I can. Passport, IC, and a spare phone. I would change my number in preparation too. I would keep some physical pictures in case technology failed me. Pictures of my loved ones and to remind me always what I was running away from. These would be the essentials. Of course that wasn’t all I’d bring along. I’d pack one set of formal wear and sportswear, alongside the clothes that were already on me. I’d wear my best dress shoes and bring along one sport shoe. I had no time for vague in-betweens and sloppy fashion statements. I thought a little longer. Heck, that’s probably all there is to it. I’d write a letter maybe, explaining to my folks that I needed some time to discover myself and that I would survive alright. I’d try find a part time job, get into my own routine again. That sort of idealistic stuff any runaway hopes for; to sustain a living all by himself out there. That’s what I’d do, definitely. So brother, if you’re looking to run away, you’re free to consult me. It can be our little secret. If mom and dad found you gone one day I’d play it dumb. I’ll pretend to search high and low for you. I’d turn every stone except the precise stone you were under. It would be a strange brotherly moment. I shook my head in apprehension just thinking of it. Well, that’s if he was thinking of running away. It may just be a blotched round of DOTA that preoccupied his mind. Both were possible, but the former would have made life more interesting for us.

The car exited the expressway. A Harlem Yu song now played over the radio. It did just enough to suppress the silence.

We drove for no more than two minutes before we were caught in a jam. The red break lights of a thousand cars angrily greeted us. “Wah good game lah. Like got accident in front eh?” My brother reacted. The car stood silent after the first remark and we listened to any radio reports. The time was 8:39 in the evening. In no way was this a rush hour kind of jam. Two more songs came and went as we craned our necks at odd angles to catch what was going on in front. The wail of an ambulance was heard as the cars slowly edged forward. “Bottleneck.” My father guessed. “But it doesn’t seem like a normal accident hor? The roads at this time where got car, where got time for jams?” My mother hypothesized. As we crawled forward I noticed the cars around us, each with its own occupants. Some had families, others just couples. Many cars had in them only the driver. As expected, most of the above mentioned occupants were on their phones. I dug into my pocket and felt its empty bottom.

It was 9:02 in the evening when we reached the accident site. It was a total wreck. A car lay in ruins with a battered bus at the end of it. A motorbike lay casually on the ground to the left of the car, tipped onto its side. There was nothing casual, however, about the blood that pooled beside the fallen motorbike. Even in the night it was obvious that it was blood. Not by the colour, but by the thickness of it. You just knew it was blood, as a human you could easily associate with it. The personnel involved in this mess were probably either receiving treatment or dead. Well, or both. We all looked over to the wreck on the right of our vehicle. I craned over my brother’s shoulder while my dad leaned over the hand brake to grab a look. Yes, somebody definitely wasn’t ever going home again from this. Even with a helmet on nobody could have lost that much blood and survived. The car drove past and the viewing window was only a good five to ten seconds, but to me it felt that much longer. How much longer? I wouldn’t know for sure, but it was that much longer. I know that for some people, traumatic events pass by in a blur. Their minds help shelter them from such events. Time moves faster in retrospect, and when you ask them about what they’ve been through they can’t really tell you for sure.

That certainly wasn’t me. The world seems to slow down, or should I say time starts to slow down. It doesn’t slow down when I’m happy, no it certainly doesn’t. It chooses the most inconvenient times to slow down. Not inconvenient maybe, but just terrible. It chooses the terrible times in my life and slows down. I absorb the scene that passes by our vehicle. I could see the accident happening. The car makes a right turn while unaware of the bus driving into its path. The motorcyclist trails close behind the car and the bus rams into both vehicles and cuts through the lives they carried with expected yet brutal ease. The car grinds to a halt but only because it has dragged the motorcycle along with it in its undercarriage. How can I tell? Because there’s a long trail of blood from the point of impact to the motorcycles’ eventual position. Something tells me the poor guy was dragged those few meters while being pinned under his motorbike. A horrible way to die. His silver motorcycle glimmers in the streetlights.

Everyone is now deep in thought it would appear. My mom looks solemnly forward, focused on the road while dad heaves a deep sigh. My brother and I are deep in thought, looking out the window at the scene no longer there. Again we seem to be separated from this external reality by the car window. It is as if our precious reality, our very lives as it was, was something too precious for that to happen. Were were going to be the protected ones. Again. I reached deeper into my trousers pocket and yet again, found nothing.

The silence was broken again. So many silences were broken I’d post count. “We should have brought our phones out.” Lamented my brother. His voice was sincere, and it was despondent. The first if its kind yet that said I’m sick of pretending. Perhaps we all were. I certainly felt fine though my fingers were still digging into the emptiness of my pocket.

We maintained our positions of discomfort within the car. Who were those people involved? Did they had families? Families like us, lives like us? We couldn’t care less by now. The car drove on.

Exercise Flash Thunder

When asked if I wanted to go for exercise flash thunder, like many of us who went, I was unsure. The overall intent was of the trip was (obviously) the promotion of bilateral relations. But somehow we knew there would be a good amount of hard training, a load of safety risks and in addition to that, the reputation of our army to uphold. With reference to past army overseas trips, we neither dreaded not looked forward to flash thunder. We just didn’t know what to expect, and didn’t know what these two weeks would mean.

The C130 landed in the tarmac of the military airport and after a bumpy, uncomfortable ride, the heat that greeted us was of little relief. A three hour bus ride through country roads brought us to Lopburi camp, home of the Thai rangers. At first glance it is a simple camp; the buildings were no taller than 2 storeys, and the roads were bumpy and unpaved. But what seemed like a far cry from our own camp back home soon revealed itself to have a homely and comfortable aura about it. Our bunks were simple but spotlessly clean, and the same could be said of the shower facilities and dining hall. The soccer fields, tchoukball courts and outdoor gym made it clear that the rangers had made this camp their home.

We were paired up with our Royal Thai Army (RTA) Ranger buddies soon after the opening ceremony, and from our first attempts at interaction we knew there was a monumental task ahead. Differences in culture aside, the sheer language barrier seemed insurmountable. Phones were whipped up and Google translate was (humourously) abused. Comical attempts at sign language tried and tested, our lips twisted and vocals stretched to portray sounds of the battlefield. There was awkward silences and nervous laughter, both parties clueless as to what was being said yet fully understanding each others dilemma.

The activities soon started and we had no time to ponder upon our differences. Things kicked off with a quick weapon introduction, the RTA trying out our weapons and vice versa. We loosened up to them through our weapon handling and hand actions and soon discovered that they were quite the cheerful bunch. They often laughed along to fill the silence and smiled at us reassuringly.

The live firings soon commenced, each army trying out the others’ respective weapons. It was an eye opening experience. For one the weapons were vastly different, firing the RTA’s assault rifle was a novel experience for up till then we were only limited to the SAR 21. The manner in which the RTA conducted these live firings also caught our attention. The vast land space meant our range was casually located at a mountainside. We also observed that their numbers largely consisted of regulars who had much more experience so it was apparent how quick and proficient they were at engaging targets and clearing ammo. We marveled at their skills while they simply smiled at us in return.

In many ways the same attitude and proficiency could be observed for our fast roping experience. We had to slide down a rope from a 5 storey height; first from a building and then from a live helicopter. We were excited to demonstrate our abilities for we had a few days of practice prior to the trip. We were cautious at first and many safety regulations were put into place while it was chaotic at times with shouting and exaggerated hand gestures. Everyone, even the Thais, seemed to be on edge as we roped down one by one. The Thais put things into perspective when it was their turn to demonstrate. They sped down the ropes and each man descended in quick succession to the next. It was like watching a coordinated circus troupe. What seemed to be a lack in safety at first turned out to be a well practiced routine that the Thai rangers have been working on for years. We realised this level of familiarity and comfort with height elements wasn’t something easily achievable as NSFs.

With the Thais proficiency in mind we soon tackled live tasks, every one of us excitedly boarding the Thai Air force black hawk and roping down. The deafening sound of the helicopter rotors and turbulent wind made it a truly memorable experience. We even had time for a joyride around the province later on, ending in yet another fast rope session. It turned out to be a tremendously tiring but exhilarating experience.

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With both army’s bilateral interests at heart, this trip wasn’t all work and no play. There were vast pockets of time in between activities where we had the chance to have games sessions and nights outs. Soccer games were especially fun, with both sides a mix of Singaporean and Thai, with each soldier slowly beginning to recognise the other with a pass of the ball and a pat on the back. There was a generous provision of snacks and drinks at the side; their hospitality smashing our expectations. Most of us had Thai buddies bring us for nights out, and we soon got acquainted with their obsession of eating and drinking. Many of us savoured the famous Mookata, a Thai grill and steamboat and downed glasses of Hong Thong, their home brand whiskey which claimed a few over enthusiastic drinkers every night. It was during these pockets of fun that our Thai buddies laughed and joked with us as we added each other on Facebook. The initial awkwardness of the first few days quickly dissolved in the volume of our shared experiences. It was a comfort to know that somewhere else on earth there were people we could laugh along and easily associate with. People going through the same journey with us as a soldier.

With the end of the trip on the horizon, we headed into the final mission profile where we would fight alongside our Thai buddies. At 7 am four black hawks appeared over enemy skies as detachments of Thai rangers and Singapore commandos fast roped down to kill the common enemy and secure the objective. Smoke grenades were thrown and commands shouted as the plan of attack unfolded. It was over before we knew it and the enemy was brought down. Soon it was all high fives and hugs. We exchanged with our buddies simple Thai complimentary phrases we had learnt and they smiled and nodded in appreciation. We had finished our last activity together.

The closing ceremony was bittersweet. We were glad to have accomplished what we came to do, and looked forward to returning home. We were glad for the new experiences and the friendships fostered. What had seemed so uncertain at first turned out to be such a rewarding experience. We exchanged airborne wings, formation tabs and shirts. The royal red and gold of the Thai airborne wing stood out on our dull green uniforms like how this trip stood out amidst the monotony of army life. And so with all good experiences, there is always a reluctance for things to end. After both commanders spoke to us, the Thai national anthem drew the ceremony to a close. We watched as the soldiers sang loud and proud, a glimmer in their eyes left no doubt that they believed with all their heart in the country they protected. The patriotic tune plays on in the background.

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Amidst all our experiences that scene had always stuck with me. Upon returning to Singapore I realised the best thing I’d learnt from the Thais was to approach the challenge of army with a big heart. I still remember their cheerful ways, the helpful gestures, the thousand smiles that did in fact greet us. Many of us may have entered this trip thinking  that these benign elements could never exist in the army, but fortunately these two weeks had shown us otherwise.

Home Alone

You could almost hear the moving air between the creases of the linen curtains. The still air of the room only momentarily interrupted by it, yet necessarily so, as if to remind me of the fact that time is very much still in play. Though my wishes for it to stand still are often strongest at such moments. The specks of dust float in the air gracefully, only revealing themselves through rays of sunlight that poke through the dim of my bedroom. They remind me of my imperfections that only become apparent upon close examination, I cannot help but wonder if these specks ever felt like they, too, were deviants from the norm. My left cupboard door is left open. I was never one to follow through with things. The clothes reveal a part of me. The mixture of colours and textures suggesting a lack of direction or theme in the way I choose to project myself. I don’t deny that, I’m still trying out what may be the best version of myself. I doubt I will ever be remembered for the way I dress. Not that I have any particular desire to. I decide to shrug that thought aside.

In the meantime I lie fully stretched out and face up on my mattress. Its been like this for a long stretch of the day with the occasional snack and toilet trip. I almost feel like I’m stuck watching a show that I’d be too embarrassed to just walk out of. Or maybe part of me likes this show. Whatever reason, I stay firmly in bed. You know you’re programmed to do more than this, but there is an attraction to such a lifestyle nevertheless. I am aware there will only be less time for such intimate moments with myself in the future. I cling on to this fact like a girl to her doll.

I lie down and think things through to the smell of fresh sheets. What has life been to me so far? John Mayer plays in the background. I never liked music intruding my thought so I always turn down the volume. On days like this, background music is a must but it has to stay true to its name. It keeps me calm and is the antidote for any thoughts of loneliness. I am aware of my weaknesses and know exactly how to keep them at bay. I’m too old to indulge in meaningless melancholy. Life has been sound. Why has this been so? I’d like to say my surroundings and upbringing have made it so but I believe in more than that. Either I’ve been in denial of a storm brewing outside or very simply I have attained peace with the person I am. I can accept who I am in my entirety. I am happy. Yes. I am happy and fully content with the person I have grown up to be. It has to boil down to that. There is no storm.

The stillness of the room pretty much sums up my life then. Stable, carefree, the kind of atmosphere a pilot would prefer to fly his plane through. If only the skies were filled with the stillness of the air in my room. That would be some much appreciated calm. The silence too. Yes, that comforting silence. You could almost hear it snuggle up next to you. Hear silence snuggle up next to you. Something audible yet inaudible, intimate yet empty. It was a feeling of peace and elation that would soon follow after such a realization that such paradoxes could exist in harmony. At least within my world. I was sure no one could take that away from me.

It was about 4 o’clock when I noticed the sky darkening outside. It was rather sudden, and for no reason really. There weren’t any overbearing clouds. It was just a general darkening that threatened to compromise the clarity of day. Something was wrong but I didn’t feel any need to panic. I just lay there in wait. I watched as light drained from my room, the colour seeping from my clothes, which brought along with it the yellow of my walls and the beige of my curtains. The colours flowed downstream and was claimed by the darkening sky. I lay there, staring upwards. I hoped my body wasn’t losing light as well but I had no inclination to look at myself and confirm this. I just pretended that I was the only thing still illuminated in the room. I firmly believed that at the moment. It was all I had to hold on to. The darkness around had me paralyzed. I just lay there, illuminated.

I thought back to when I was a child and I had been unwittingly trapped in the boot of my fathers car when I tried to hide from my parents. My dad freed me after what he said was 3 minutes but they were the longest moments of my life. Time has the ability to make the most of itself in times when you just want it to disappear. I feared for my life and it felt like death. The hopelessness wrapped around me and felt its way to every curve of my little body. I was convinced that I was getting a free preview of hell itself.

The room didn’t take long to turn pitch black and my hand would’ve definitely disappeared before my face if I had looked at it. But I was illuminated, I was illuminated. I had to be the object of clarity in this world of darkness. In that moment I felt no such fear that I had felt when I was a child in my fathers car. Time was not about to make the most of itself now. I felt the light within emanate through the room. I closed my eyes and saw the room, aglow, bathed in my light, thankful for my very presence.

I thought I had it under control. Opening my eyes would mean everything was back to normal again. I was certain about that, like a child assumes his mother will always be by his side. The darkness would have faded, that I would have prevailed. I thought I had it under control. Then a sudden tightening of my chest- I was slow to realise it at first but the sensation was that of holding one’s breath. It feels alright at first but your desire for oxygen increases exponentially. It turned out to be shocking. At this point I was undoubtedly paralyzed. The sensation wasn’t pleasant nor unpleasant up to this point but the heaviness on my chest started to weigh down on me. It challenged by very being. I still believed in myself but my belief was a waning candle. The light could only last for so long. My faith started to seep away, my chest tightened, I had to know what was happening. I had to open my eyes. Once I opened my eyes everything would be OK.

But then a part of me doubted, and a part of me believed. All my life had amounted to, all that I have known started to dawn upon me. I couldn’t just believe things were going to be alright. I couldn’t just believe in a sudden restoration of order amidst harsh and arbitrary uncertainty. The physical impact of this was apparent, and as I stopped believing, time stretched, the light that was me started to dim. My limbs disappeared, followed by my face and finally the chest that caged my heart. Eyes closed, I watched my body flow downstream and smash into nothingness as it crashed against a wall of darkness.

I had reduced my breathing to short sharp breaths. I was certain that there was only darkness around. My limbs weren’t there anymore. I was numb. I couldn’t open my eyes, my nightmare and reality had merged. There would be no difference between knowing and feeling. I had to keep my eyes closed. I had to. It was the only way to still hang on to the hope that I wouldn’t awake to the darkness that had had me cornered.

Curry for Lunch

I smelled curry. It was a strong, intrusive smell and I had to know it’s origins. I could imagine the crushed peppers, cumin and spice, mixed into some coconut milk, the ingredients that resulted in such a smell could be easily discerned for the smell was so abundant! I lay in my living room and put down the book I was reading. I was in my boxers and torn t-shirt as I stood up from the couch and wandered around in search of the smell. Every breath was precious, and I imagined the smell dispersing with immediacy and vaporizing into nothing. It took me by the hand and led me out the door and into the front garden. The smell got more faint before I realised it was from next door. I peered over the fence and the smell hit me like a wall. It was definitely the work of my neighbour. It was an amazing sensation, my body drew weary with hunger all of a sudden it seemed, and I desired the curry more, I needed the provocation of spice and the smoothness of coconut milk.

I changed out into soccer shorts, and ran down back to my front garden hastily. I grabbed a loaf of white bread along the way as an offering and to go with the curry. Before long I was tiptoeing to look over the fence, pants firmly on and bread in my hand. The grass tickled my feet as I called out for my neighbour. I called out twice, and then a few more times, before realizing no one was about to respond anytime soon. The front door, however, was open. I deliberated that there were only that many ways to get to the curry. Jumping across would be the best choice. There was no backing out of this, I wanted to try the curry and going back to lie on the couch was definitely not an option. I slipped on my Haviainas and stumbled over the fence, easily making it across. Now I just had to explain why I was walking into my neighbors house without their permission, which I envisioned wouldn’t be too hard if I told the truth. After all, the curry smelled truly phenomenal and everybody likes to hear that about the curry they make right?

The neighbours had a messy front porch. There was no shoe rack and a bunch of casual shoes and flats littered the space in front of the front door. The umbrella rack by the door frame was in fact just a giant clay flower pot and the umbrellas were either handle-less or frayed, or in the unfortunate case of the one with a Garfield design, both. Chucking my slippers aside, I stepped into the house and was greeted by the cold marbled floor. In terms of architecture the house was a mirror reflection of mine. The living room was to the right while in front was the dining table and further in there was a kitchen with a study room on the left along the way. I had only ever walked in during Chinese new year and the purpose of those visits were entirely different. There was something intriguing about seeing a house that was designed like yours but had a totally different interior decor. It was like watching a pair of identical twins grow up to become totally different people in life.

In a sense this could have been seen as an overly zealous approach to living. I was only going into this based on one very compulsive desire which was my hunger for curry. It took me across a fence into another person’s house. A house similar to mine but not quite similar at the same time. Guided in by the smell, I walked deeper into the heart of the house, I was astonished at the differences. At first it was just the floor design of marble that differed from the wooden floor tiles of my house. Then I noticed the lights had been switched on deeper in and they shone on me and had a different hue, a more yellowish hue of a filament bulb. It was strange to see myself like that in a house that mirrored mine.

I walked on and before long I was at the heart, a small kitchen about half the size of mine that was connected to the laundry room on the left. The tiles here were ceramic and coarse, they felt rough on my feet and strangely warm. The cabinets were similar to my own kitchen’s, wooden with brass handles, rusty from the humidity of the kitchen. I saw that on the kitchen stove was a good portion of golden curry boiling in a large steel pot. The pot was shiny, round and I saw myself always reflected on its side no matter where I walked. I placed my bread on the kitchen table and walked towards the pot.

There was an effervescent bubbling that emanated from deep within this brilliant concoction. The smell gripped me relentlessly this time, and I breathed it in hungrily. I stood over it and soon decided I needed to have the curry. Not just a dip or even a small bowl, but the entire pot. There was no question of it. I had no idea where my neighbours were but the house looked empty enough. If they were on the second story, they hadn’t heard me. I could easily sneak this back and have it all for myself. I had to work fast.

The pot was searing hot so firstly I had to grab a small kitchen towel. Once this was done I grabbed on the metal handles with the towel to protect me and lifted the pot. The smell was overwhelming but I had to ignore it if I wanted to have the pot for myself. I had to be fast. The pot was heavier than I expected, but manageable by a long stretch. I deprived the pot it’s place in the very heart of the kitchen, and brought it out into the living room, and soon I was on the front porch and putting on my slippers. I balanced the pot delicately on the flat part of the fence, and jumped across nimbly before retrieving the pot at the other side. Thankfully the kitchen towel stayed on the handle the whole time.

I looked up at my neighbors house and caught some movement on the second storey. It was a quick stirring of the curtains but nothing more followed up upon closer inspection. They couldn’t have seen me could they? No matter what, it was too late. There had to be said though that there was a strange allure to the movement. It drew me back, back to where I had just escaped with my loot. I shrugged off that feeling and stepped into my house. I laid the pot on my own kitchen table that was laid out almost on the exact same spot as the house which the pot came from. I searched for bread before realizing I had left it on the kitchen table next door. Right behind the wall in front of me was my bread! How could I have been so careless! I couldn’t possibly go back, I wouldn’t be so lucky the second time. I just hoped the neighbours wouldn’t notice they had an extra loaf of bread in the kitchen.

I decided to just cook some rice instead. The curry was getting cold as well so I turned on my own stove and put the curry on a simmer. I scooped uncooked rice into the cooker and added water. At the same time I put a ladle into the curry. After putting the rice on boil, I focused on the curry again. It was definitely a peculiar smelling curry, nothing I’ve ever smelt before. I really wondered how it would taste and what sort of ingredients really went in. I gave the curry a quick stir, and the smells teased me further, drawing me in. I fished out the boiled ingredients to reveal half a potato which glistened with a thin layer of oil. What a treasure, I thought to myself. I stirred further, but this time from the depths of the curry surfaced a thoroughly boiled and wrinkled human hand.