Reservist Diaries (1/8)

I just returned from my first of eight reservist cycles. This one lasted for a week, where I was ushered into camp last Monday and just got out earlier today. I had a lot of thoughts, some less pleasant than others and I wrote a lot of them down as I went along, mostly at night before I went to sleep. 

Here’s most of it; some reconstructed from memory, but fully honest. 


Day 1

Hello,

Today was strange because I left my wallet at home as I was on the way to camp and my friend had to turn back to get it and I was late for 20 minutes. When we did arrive and I saw everyone again it started to dawn on me that I hadn’t seen the boys for about one and a half years? Well, at least most of them. We hear horror stories of fat and decomposing reservist men but it turns out one and a half years wasn’t enough for any significant makeovers. Everyone looked largely the same. For that, I was strangely glad.

Time passed leisurely, with nothing being accomplished anytime soon. We waited to move and moved to wait. The cookhouse went underground and the food tasted better than I last remembered. The curry chicken reminded me of BMT which didn’t inspire any other emotion, only the thought that I was eating far less rice than I used to. We talked as we waited, talked as we marched and even surprised ourselves by taking over a senior company by jogging past them. Little was left unsaid at the end of the day, and that’s sometimes rare with a band of brothers. But we’ve got each other’s backs, all of us.

In the evening I fell sick as I was going for a nights out, and I realised that perhaps it would be wise to go home. As I lie on my own bed and feel the softness of it, it dawns upon me that this is the first time I have ever stayed out of camp within my stipulated time of service. That the warm nights and cold showers, deep conversations and late night suppers, they all had nothing to do with the notion of home as I knew now. But then again, no. It was the people that made up my 2 year journey; It was for them that I knew I was home.

Cheers,


Day 2

Hello,

I’m at the second day of reservist now, kind of expected it to be easy but not quite this easy. What we’ve been doing most of the time has been waiting around, hoping that time would go on so that we can drag our bodies across the line and go out at night.

There’s nothing overly negative about this experience, because everywhere we look feels like an obstacle overcome. I see the exact parade square where we spent hours on under the hot sun repeating drills that felt meaningless, the roads where we marched down, singing songs that weren’t on billboard top 100, the cookhouse that served food that wasn’t Instagram worthy and the rifle they forced upon us like an arranged marriage. It overwhelms me because a few years ago we were here in this camp as recruits who knew no better, who only hoped for the easy way out of things , but never got it. Since we have it now, treasuring our liberties is the least we can do.

Cheers,


Day 3

Hello,

Wednesday passed in a blur. We ate porridge for breakfast and curry chicken for lunch. I am still sick and attempting to recuperate as soon as possible but it isn’t easy. I did have the time to go for a run late in the afternoon and it was amazing. I don’t think many people will share how I feel about this, but something about running through a camp that used to trap you for weeks on end is nothing short of liberating. Besides, this was the same camp where I had run some of my best timings, and having the wind blow in my face from the sea that borders the camp, looking past the fence that prevents us from jumping into the great unknown, it made me forget about the yearlong injury that plagued me. I was 18 and fast again. As I looked on at the grey of the ocean that met the sky,  the cool post-rain air blew gently at my face and I felt an utter calm that almost whispered to me the same thing that it whispered to me 3 years ago: that better days are yet to come.

Cheers,


Day 4

Hello,

Today was a rather fruitful day for me. We started off doing a biathlon workout, with both running and swimming. I remember a time when I was a much weaker swimmer. I would get myself from one end to the other and almost collapse from exhaustion. Of course, I’ve been swimming much more nowadays, all thanks to certain obligations during year two of army. Obviously I was still much slower on the swim end, but overall I think I did quite well for the run. I still feel like my legs possess some speed, and to me that’s the least I can ask for as I build up in the coming months for greater things!

And sure enough one of the regulars approached after the workout to ask if I could join the formation running team for the army half marathon; which I duly complied. This was the team that I missed out on 2 years ago due to injury. I guess these things go full circle if you have the patience to wait your turn. From how I see it, this is an opportunity that came my way without me actually reaching for it, and for that I am very grateful. I can only hope that injuries don’t come creeping back, that I keep finding new reasons to run, new timings to meet.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer everyday that this is what I was meant to do.

Cheers,


Day 5

Hello,

Today marks the end of my first reservist cycle, a whole one and a half years after my NSF life ended. We had a buffet and they even booked an entire cinema to screen a movie. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever been forced to eat a buffet and watch a movie, though no one’s complaining.

Seeing everyone laughing and smiling, it almost feels as if the one and a half years between us seeing each other again never happened. It feels like we pressed un-pause, and my uni life, my holidays to the handful of different countries; it felt like none of that happened after all. That what seemed to be progress was just me blindly searching for myself under the illusion of moving on. But do we ever move on, is the question I continue to ask myself as the days passed and we still found old memories to dredge up, still found ourselves enmeshed in bonds almost impossible to break. I have very much grounded myself in the people that have followed me on this journey, and it is a bond that I am hesitant to say I can ever move on from.

Time stretches and compresses according to where we are, our perception of it emphasised at the point we stand rather than what is actually significant. Time doesn’t discriminate, but merely moves on. Our past and perhaps even future experiences lie at the peripheries, always diminished, whilst our current position feels magnified. Reservist has magnified my two years in army, brought me back to where I was as a bald nineteen year old and flustered twenty year old. I have lost a lot but gained a lot as well. It is in this giving and taking that I had eventually grown. I learned to express myself to an empty audience, living out long lonely nights writing fearlessly, recklessly and unapologetically. I have learned that the will to carry on will always triumph as long as I am alive.

Most of all, I have learned that no man stands alone. That it is the people that we fight alongside that makes moving on possible. I would surely have perished if I had to go on this journey alone. I knew that from the start and I know that for sure now, that in every last conversation, every little silly inside joke lies the reminder of who we once were, and the ways we chose to deal with our trials.

The triumph then, isn’t the actual triumph. The triumph was the people I met along the way.

See you guys next year, and perhaps in between as well.

Cheers,


 

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Biting the Big Apple

It was one of those nights that made you want to dissolve into the air. It wasn’t hot, mind you, but misty. It was a misty night where a cloak of vapour hung above the park benches we were sitting at.

“Let’s sit at those swings instead,” she said, tugging at my arm.

I had no choice but to agree. Besides, it was quite a while since I last sat at a swing.

We soon got into a rhythm, her up, me down, me up, her down. It stayed like that for quite a while.

“How do you think it’s going to be like in New York?” I asked. Our voices fluctuated in volume according to our positions on the swing.

“I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to find out.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“You do know, that this is the last time I’ll see you for the next six months?”

I heard her laugh. “Of course, I’m the one going. I know all too well.”

“Well, good.”

We swung in silence. The air hit my face, the momentum made my stomach drop at times. Maybe it wasn’t just the momentum.

“You seem to be thinking about something.”

“I am,” I admitted. “Aren’t you?”

“What’s there to think about? Bright lights, big city. They write songs about it all the time, and I can see from afar that it’s a scary place. That, we all know. If I start thinking about my life there now, I won’t hear the end of it. I’ll probably go crazy.”

“I know what you mean. But haven’t you thought about anything at all?”

The swings creaked under our weight.

“No, not particularly.”

“That’s strange. I’ve been thinking a lot,” I conceded.

“Thinking about what?”

“How sometimes being there for someone isn’t the toughest thing to do.”

“Then what is?” She asked.

“Giving them distance when they really need it. That’s the toughest thing. To care for someone is too easy, it’s what the heart desires anyway. Care and concern is pretty intrinsic if you ask me. A given.”

The night seemed dead still as she shuffled my words in her head. I could almost hear her think.

“But how would someone know that you care?” She questioned. “I mean, think about it. Distance can mean a lot of things. It gives so much space for ambiguity.”

“Can’t you see what I’m trying to say?”

She looked at me as we swung past each other for the fifty-third time.

“No, enlighten me.”

I relented. “I’m talking about us,”

She scoffed. “Was there ever an ‘us’ though?”

“I told you I’d be there for you.”

“And I’ve told you that you don’t have to. I’m leaving for the next four years, and I have a lot of my own shit to settle. You can’t be there for me, even if you really want to. There are a lot of things out there that Skype can’t solve. There’s too much that distance can’t offer. What if I’m hungry for supper, but it’s one AM and New York is fucking dangerous at night? What if a gunman walks into my apartment and I WhatsApped you about it and you freak out and realise you can’t do a single thing half a world away? Do you ever think of the pain it’ll cause me? Worst of all, do you ever think of the pain it will cause you?”

I kept quiet. Soon our bodies melded into the cool night, and our swings finally started to get in sync. It would be best to get into a deep conversation about why we exist in this universe, or about why males can pee standing up and females can’t (well technically they can), but we just kept quiet. There was a wall between us that hell couldn’t tear down.

“Let’s go. My mom is going to shout at me soon.”

We both dismounted the swings, and continued walking. I reached out for her hand, but she crossed her arms. I could hardly breathe, but I kept myself composed. In front of her, I had to.

She spoke first.

“I really want things to be okay between us, I really do. But it’s just very difficult right now. I’m still discovering who I am; this crazy journey that I’m about to embark on is testament to that. It’s film school, don’t you see? It has been my dream since you knew me. Since forever. You can’t stop this from happening. Even if it’s a nightmare for you, it has to run its course.”

You make these nightmares sound like anti-biotics. What do you mean by run its course? So you pursue your dreams and I stay here in a perpetual nightmare? Is that what you’re trying to say? Was this ever fair for me?

But of course I didn’t say that. It was three months of us going out, and she was finally talking about it. About us. I couldn’t risk an argument, even if it meant putting my ego aside.

“You’re right. It has to be like this.” I forced myself to say.

We stood at the bus stop in silence. I forced myself to read the bus numbers and the bus stops they went to front to back, then back to front. Only two buses passed this particular stop near my house, so it wasn’t too hard. She, on the other hand, was looking out anxiously for her bus, making sure she wouldn’t miss it.

Her bus came, and I didn’t even bother trying to hug her. There was no point.

She waved at me and I waved back. All I remembered from that last moment was her small hands. I might as well have been a palm tree in the breeze.

The bus pulled away from the station, and disappeared around the bend, first out of sight, before even the sound of its engine faded.

Walking back home I saw two foreign construction workers resting at a discarded sofa, left outside their quarters under a flyover.

They both used their phones and smiled to themselves as they scrolled through. My heart ached with ferocity.

I walked a few more steps and sat at an empty park bench. The air was so still you could hear a snail slide across the ground. Home was no more than a ten-minute stroll away. I sat there and imagined how it would be like for things to run their course, for my nightmare to play out like water rushing to the terrifying drop of a waterfall. How it ever came to this, I couldn’t have guessed. All I knew was that each day before she left had been a silent hell, going through the motions like it was all I could do. It was like cutting a terminal patient’s fingernails or scrubbing the deck of a sinking ship. You did it merely to pretend that everything would be okay. But how stupid was I to assume that it was going to be okay, that distance would ever afford an intangible closeness? How stupid was I to assume that things were ever mutual?

It was at that realisation that I felt a stinging pain on my right ankle. It was a snake.

I looked down and I saw it, as long as a wine bottle and no thicker than a pencil. It was brown with black spots, and looked harmless as far as snakes go. But it had bit me, the damn thing.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t afraid. I stepped on its body with my other foot, pulling its fangs out of my ankle. The snake then began to writhe as it was pinned down with my left foot, and I promptly delivered the finishing blow by stomping down in its head. I could hear its skull crack between sole and pavement.

I didn’t bring my phone from home, and so couldn’t take any pictures of the snake, nor identify its species. I had no choice but to pick it up and hold in in my hand. It was tiny, this snake. But it had quite a sting. They’d need to identify it if they were to inject me with any anti-venom. Deciding against rushing home in fear of the potential venom in the snake, I decided to get to the hospital immediately.

I hailed a cab, hiding the dead snake behind my back.

It turned out that the snake wasn’t venomous. The doctor did a quick google search and confirmed it. After all, he wasn’t a snake expert.

“You probably trampled on it and it bit you in self-defence. It’s just a common garden snake.”

“Like a garden salad,” I remarked.

“Yeah, something like that. Very generic and safe,” patronised the doctor, though I was quite sure it was nothing like that.

“That’s good to hear.”

“Bet you were quite scared back there,” chuckled the doctor.

“Of course. Who wouldn’t be? I didn’t even know the damn species. We’re always scared of what we don’t know, right?”

“Well, but now you do know, so you’ll be okay. I made sure to apply some alcohol on your wound in case of infection.”

But now you do know. 

I later asked if I could use the hospital phone to contact my family, and the doctor told me to use the one at the reception.

I walked over and dialled her number. She picked up after five rings.

“Hello,” came her voice.

“I’m ending things,” I started.

“Ending things?”

“I’m running away this time. I know now that it’s for the best. I am putting distance between us, once and for all.”

“What’s with the sudden…”

“There’s no reason for this; it’s just how I feel, and I’m entitled to go with that. I’m so sick of thinking about you and putting you first all the time. I realise now that it doesn’t matter. It never mattered, not to us, and especially not to you. Have fun out there in New York. Make some new friends and create a legacy. You’ll be great out there, alright? I won’t bother you anymore because clearly that’s not what you want. So bye, and please. Take care of yourself.”

The breathing on the other end of the line was slow but heavy, and I was breathing pretty hard too. The alcohol they rubbed on my wound made my ankle feel warm. My heart beat uncontrollably within my chest.

Stay, I wanted so badly to say. Don’t go to the big apple. You don’t need to go so far from home to find yourself.

But after thirty seconds of silence, I hung up.

 

 

 

 

 

June 12, 2016

This is a short excerpt from a longer piece of work that I am currently working on. It was written quite a while back, but I would like to dedicate it today to the horrific events that unfolded on June 12, 2016. 


 

Meanwhile, the two men browsed about. They wore ordinary attires: plain t-shirts, fitting pants and one of them had a pair of sunglasses hanging from the neck hole of his shirt. It was perhaps the ordinary that stood out on this otherwise gay couple. I smiled at them and they smiled at me, one of them leaning close and resting his chin on the shoulder of the other, waving emphatically as the other picked up a book to flip through.

“What I don’t appreciate about Singapore literature,” one of them later told me, “is that every story seems to feature a stock homosexual character.”

I asked him what he meant by “stock”.

“These homosexual characters, they are contrived into fictional works, their identity always at odds with society’s expectations, their lives miserable and hype surrounding them riled up. Every damn local author sees a need to work such a character into the story, and you know why?”

I noticed that his partner wasn’t particularly vocal about this issue. Maybe he didn’t mind the attention, maybe he didn’t care for literature in general. Who knew? I gestured for him to continue.

“Because they don’t know how to write a good novel, so adding in controversy is the only way for them to sell their work. Our country is so damn sanitized that our plight is used to replace good literature. Include a homosexual in a storybook for a truly inclusive yet controversial narrative all at once. Homosexuals feel represented, the public feels uncomfortable and the government feels challenged. It’s almost too good an offer to dismiss! People read and drool, but forget that somewhere out there good literature exists, just not in their hands. Books may very well be a tool to deliver a message, but these writers like to shove sexuality in our faces like a butcher using a meat cleaver to slice garlic. If books can make a difference, this certainly isn’t the way to do it.”

I thought of the Satanic verses. 37 lives.

“What would really help is a quiet confidence in ourselves,” started the other. He had remained silent until now. “In a state like this it is all too easy to feel displaced, too easy to feel like all the attention has been focused on us because of what the public views as abnormal. Take a good look at us, and you’ll see that there’s nothing particularly abnormal about the way we work at all. These texts would never say such a thing. This isn’t what the public wants to hear. Nobody cares of the subtlety of such relationships, only the exaggerated secrets and dirt between the sheets.”

And he was right. There was nothing they could be faulted for. In fact, they were less touchy than normal couples, only glancing at each other affectionately as they walked by the shelves. Everything about them suggested a quaint state of equilibrium. They were two human beings in love. In their private spheres this was nothing to be ashamed about. It was society that placed them on the stake.

“We don’t quite like the owner of this bookstore”, whispered the more vocal of the two. “We think his works speak lowly of us. Again, it’s the same deal. It exaggerates our problems and insecurities to get attention rather than seek truth.”

“What would the truth be then?” I realised I hadn’t read any of Irfan’s plays featuring homosexual characters.

“The truth would be known to everyone if we were treated as equals. And we think this starts in the manner we’re portrayed. From homosexual artists to how gays are portrayed in art, we need to focus on creating art that is beautiful, creating art that adds value rather than subtract, that is real rather than sensational.”

“So we should tell it like it is?”

“Yes, tell it like it is. I like that. And also, writers should get off their high horses, and stop feeling like we are poor souls that need their saving. It’s hardly the case. We are perfectly capable of finding our own happiness.”

They looked at each other affectionately, before purchasing a novel by William Faulkner. They left without saying goodbye.


 

The Curse of the Red Rock

Once upon a time there was a man wandering through a desert on his camel. The sun was high in the sky, and he was on his way to a neighbouring town to run some errands. He chanced upon a large red rock rising out of the ground. It was about as tall as he was and about three times wider as well. Yes, it must have been.

He had never seen this rock before on any of his previous journeys. It must have been recently uncovered, or at least placed there by someone. Or something.

He motioned for his camel to bring him closer, but the damn creature wouldn’t budge. He whipped him and shouted fierce commands, but he stayed still on his original course. This was unusual. His camel always listened to him.

Never mind, he’ll do this by himself. Anchoring the camel to a rock, the man dismounted and approached the red rock by himself.

He noticed that there were inscriptions on the rock, telling the man a tale of the rocks origins. There was once a queen who devoted her entire life to the king, only to find him cheating on a mistress. Enraged, she took a dagger to his heart one night as he slept, and dug it out and ate it. She was executed immediately, with the heart still ingested within her.

It is rumoured that as she went to hell, she spat out the kings heart, which was too vile to enter the gates. She wrote the tale of revenge on the sides, before casting it to Earth. It thus rose from the ground in the form of this red rock.

This must be a joke, thought the man. But of course it did make for an interesting story. He walked around the rock. It did look incredibly red, almost bright crimson. There was an ethereal quality about it, the way it shimmered too brightly in the sun and looked too dense. He was unsure whether this was an accurate judgment of matters, especially after reading such an absurd story.

He walked back to his camel, and took a chisel with him, chipping off a small portion of the rock. He placed it in his satchel, and rode the remainder of the way to town.

I swear I saw the rock, he would later tell his friends over drinks. I was there, and the camel didn’t even budge. It was as if the thing was cursed. 

His friends laughed. We have travelled the same route for thirty years and have not seen a thing. Don’t trust your eyes all the time. Dehydration gets to you and you start seeing things. You need to rest. 

He wanted to argue back, but decided that he would just drink a little more instead. He didn’t even bother showing them the chiselled portion, just wanted to forget he ever saw the damn thing.

Just as he was about to leave, the bartender grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him over to a quiet corner of the bar.

I’ve heard about your rock before. You’d want to have nothing to do with it. Many travellers have come and gone through my bar. The ones that talk about the rock; they never return. 

At this point the man was dead drunk, and so the bartender’s words hardly registered. His friends pulled him back to supposed safety, and they left together, singing rowdily into the Arabian night.

Nothing happened over the next three days, and the man began to feel better about himself and his encounter with the rock. His friends were right, perhaps. It was just an illusion. At night his wife approached him with something in her hand.

I found this in your pocket as I was doing the laundry.

The man looked at her palm, and on it sat a small chipped off portion of the red rock. His heart sank. Yes, he had seen the red rock after all! He took it unsteadily from her hand, and placed it in his drawer.

It’s nothing, he told his wife.

Then you better have a damn good explanation for keeping it, she replied.

I’ll do the laundry next week, was all he could manage. They kissed each other goodnight and blew out the candles.

On the next morning he woke up to an empty bed. His wife was nowhere to be found. He thought that perhaps she had gone off early to the market, but by three in the afternoon she had not returned home. By dinnertime he finally made a report to the authorities, who mounted a citywide search. Through the outskirts of town to every last drain cover they searched. But by last light they had found nothing. She was gone, just like that.

The man was distraught. Wait no, he was worst than distraught. He was unsettled. He grieved without closure. It was the worst kind of grief. He didn’t know what to make of his wife’s disappearance. He had been a good husband to her, and nothing ever came between them. He had no explanations to give the search teams, and as a token of appreciation could only serve them copious amounts of chai every time they came to deliver news.

Three days passed and he began to fear the worst. He was unable to sleep properly, and his appetite decreased tremendously. He lost an indecent amount of weight and began to pray before he went to bed, though he was never the religious type.

It was in the most desperate hour before the sun rose that he suddenly remembered an admonition issued by the bartender. The ones that talk about the rock, they never return. 

He went over to the bar before it opened for that night, and asked the bartender what he meant. I’m not sure if I should tell you, said the Bartender. One of my customers told me; that the red rock only shows itself to people who are truly in love. It acts as a curse, for those that see it will lose the one they love; and subsequently be driven mad themselves, living out their lives in misery. The customers who have seen the rock have all met a similar fate as you. They have lost their loved ones in one way or another. 

But I don’t know if she’s dead or alive, remarked the man.

Ah, see. That’s the strange thing. The bartender was now deep in thought. Yours is the first of its case. Your wife merely disappeared without a trace. I’m not saying she’s still alive, but the rock usually doesn’t leave any space for ambiguities. Either you’re not in love and don’t see the rock, or you see the rock and your loved one dies. Having your wife disappear puts her in a precarious limbo. 

A precarious limbo indeed. The man did not know what to expect, but the bartender was right. Day by day he could feel himself going crazy. He needed to do something, even if it meant he might lose everything. He rode his camel back again, to the site where he saw the red rock.

Sure enough, it sat in the sand, clear as day. He thought of his missing wife, and his heart ached. He unmounted his donkey and walked. The rock glistened a brighter red than ever, much brighter than he last remembered.

the inscription was different this time.

You have injured me, and I need my piece back. Give that to me, and I will give you back your wife. 

The man chuckled in disbelief. The rock was trying to communicate with him.

Worst of all, he was paying attention. This was all he had to go by. He really missed her, everything about her. This he knew. She was someone that he couldn’t afford to lose, not in this life, not in the lives that followed. Walking back to his camel with his eyes full of tears, he understood what he had to do.

He came back on the next day, small red rock in hand. He had spent the entire night deliberating on what to do, and his steps were tired and draggy. His stomach growled from his self-willed hunger as he presented the small red rock to the larger red rock as he neared. So it has come to this; me offering something to a rock. He placed the rock on the portion that was chipped off. It should have been resolved.

But then something strange happened. The inscriptions of the red rock began to change.

What are you doing? It read. This is not what I want. 

Then is this what you want? Thought the man.

From behind his back he produced a sledgehammer that he tucked into his pants, and began hammering at the rock. It was wild and purposeless swings at first, but the strikes became more accurate, more purposeful. A huge storm cloud began to envelop him and the rock, tossing dust and sand all over the place, into his eyes, his clothes. The wind was so strong that it even started to meddle with his posture. He soon found it difficult to stand, and having to strike the rock became all the harder. His hammer merely made contact with the rock, not ever causing a dent. The sand then started producing shapes in the air. He saw an image of his wife appear in front of him, beautiful in youth, then suddenly turning older. Her eyes sank into their sockets in a matter of seconds and her skin sagged in huge wrinkly flaps. She began to defacate uncontrollably as she squatted on the ground. The sand made him see all this. She looked like a mess. He stopped hammering, and stared at the apparition. The skin started falling off his wife, and she motioned to him, pointing an accusing finger. Soon all that was left was a skeleton, frail and trembling before that, too, crumbled to the ground, blown away by the prevailing wind.

It was at that moment that he felt an ineffable warmth well up within, overflowing with an intensity that matched the sound of the wind. Despite all that he saw, he still wanted her to be safe and by his side, he decided. I still love her he said to himself. But he didn’t need to say this to know. To love is to believe, to stop hope from turning cruel. He felt this hope as he gripped the hammer tightly, and with a newfound strength went at the rock, screaming and hacking away at it.

He realised later that the rock was testing him, and he had passed the test. But then he knew that this was never about him. In the distance he could hear the sound of his camel screaming, calling out to be released but still he kept swinging, feeling larger pieces of the rock chipping off.

The storm ended as quickly as it started. The rock was completely destroyed by then. It laid crumbled and broken, beaten silly into the ground. The man was covered in dust, and almost completely floored. He was gasping for breath, and longed for a sip of water. But he was alive. And a part of him knew that she was, too. His love had outlasted the rock.

He took the camel back, and noticed that the town, too, was ravaged by the sandstorm. Some of the flimsier roofs had collapsed and the outdoor market was forced to close down. But other than that, everyone was safe. His house looked to be in good shape, and as he got home he heard a voice.

I just came from the market and you wouldn’t believe the size of the sandstorm that hit us.

He went up to his wife and held her lightly in his arms, as if making sure he wouldn’t be hugging thin air if he squeezed any harder.

What’s with this? She asked, kissing him on the cheek. what happened to you? You seem so much…skinnier. I don’t remember you like this.

Nothing, I’m just… glad. Glad you didn’t get swept away by the sandstorm. 

She laughed at him. Don’t be silly, no one gets swept away by a sandstorm. Oh my, will you stop fussing?

The man wiped his eyes and held her tight this time. We just don’t want to take things for granted, do we? 

I guess not, said the wife. By the way I’ve been meaning to ask since morning; where did you go, and what’s with that bucket of red paint you left in the room? 

Nothing much, he replied. Just had some errands to run. 

He felt his pocket for the real red rock, the one he had chipped off on that fateful day. He held it out to look at it against the sunlight spilling in from the windows. It glowed brighter than ever, a stark reminder of the love that had overcome.