How to Get Noticed by (nosy) Relatives at a Wake

We entered my Uncle’s house. The Uncle who’d just passed away the previous evening. My father’s sister-in-law saw us and immediately went to my father, clutched his shoulders and wailed. My mother and I excused ourselves as we walked pass the relatives who were already there, sitting cross-legged, on the kasah that was scattered on the floor of the living room.  We sat in a corner of the room furthest away from my Uncle’s body.

I’d gone back to Kuching that weekend to spend time with Auntie Jenny and Uncle Steve, who’d come all the way from England. The possibility that I’d be on the way to Simunjan, a 2.5 hour drive away, that hot and sultry Saturday morning with my parents, was unplanned for. Truthfully, I was reluctant to go. I didn’t know my father’s relatives and the customs. I was afraid that I’d accidentally say or do something inappropriate. After mulling it a bit, I decided not to worry about it though because surely everyone would be busy planning for the funeral and I’d just be another face in the crowd.

Unfortunately, despite trying my hardest to be unobtrusive, relatives descended upon me mainly because

…of my tattoos. You would think that coming from an ethnic group that prides itself on its tattoos that having them would be commonplace. Apparently not among this group of Ibans. Except for me, no one else had visible tattoos. I kept catching the older relatives glance not too discreetly at my tattoo-adorned wrists and ankles. The younger relatives were just outright staring as they sat on the wooden benches chain-smoking.

…I barely speak the language. Growing up, I learnt the native language my mother spoke, not my father’s. The only thing I knew how to say in my father’s native language is makai (eat), ngirup (drink), jalai (walk) and aku enda mereti (I don’t understand).  Thankfully, Iban and Bahasa Malaysia have similar words so when one of the relatives spoke to me in Iban, I tried to catch any Bahasa Malaysia-sounding words and extrapolate the conversation from there. Even then, the relatives tended to speak to me three or four at a time and this made following any conversation difficult. In the end, I smiled and replied au (yes). I had some weird looks when I kept repeating au, but I was overwhelmed.

…I am still unmarried. My relatives (and even strangers, unfortunately) love asking about my marital status. I didn’t think this question would even come up though since it was a wake and the last thing anyone should be talking about is who is married and who isn’t. I was wrong. Again. A grandaunt asked my father how many children he has and was I the oldest, youngest or middle child. She then asked him if I was married and when he replied that I was bujang (single), that’s when my ears perked up. She followed up with asking if my younger siblings were married and when he responded in the affirmative, her eyes widened with surprise (I suppose). This discussion between the grandaunt and my father attracted the attention of the other relatives and the word bujang kept coming up. I inched away from them as stealthily as possible and went outside where no one was talking about my state of singlehood (I hope).

Maybe next time, at another gathering of relatives, I’ll cover up my tattoos and get a quickie marriage so that the relatives will notice someone else instead.

Daily Prompt: Ghost

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Ghost

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Source: Getty Images

You find yourself outside, in the rain but you can’t remember how you got there. Did you walk along the broken sidewalk which had weeds erupting from the cracks? Or did you come out of the warmly lit building behind you? You feel cold seep through your wet garments. You glance down and see you’re wearing a pale yellow dress. You think it’s pretty.

Oh yes, you’re standing in the rain.

Somehow, you know that you should look for shelter before you catch a cold. Did your mother tell you that? You try to remember but all you encounter is wool and pain irradiates from deep within your skull. You stop trying to remember and the pain recedes.

You hear a noise to your left and turn. A large man is coming your way. He’s looking down at the phone he has in his right hand, his left hand is carrying a briefcase. If he doesn’t look up soon, he’ll barrel into you. You try to move out of his path but your movement is sluggish. Your feet feels like lead when you try to lift them off the pavement. You shout out but no sound emerges from your lips so you hold out your right arm to ward him off. He still doesn’t look up. You close your eyes and brace yourself.

Nothing.

He didn’t bump into you. Maybe he stopped. You open your eyes to look. Just in time to see his left foot leave the outline of your body.

Daily Prompt: Maybe

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Maybe

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Maybe this time, he’ll be the one who arrives early and has to wait patiently, making uncomfortable small talk with the wait staff before she arrives. Hopefully this time, he’ll remember her name when he asks her for her number.

Maybe this time, during dinner, he’ll be able to stifle his yawns and not confess that the reason he’s tired was because he played Dance Revolution the entire day before their date. Maybe this time, she won’t forget his name when they say their goodbyes.

Maybe this time, he won’t spend the entire dinner talking about his obsession with protein shakes and the number of hours he spends at the gym. Perhaps he’ll also allow her to share a little about what she likes to do for fun. After all, she’s been told that she’s interesting and would like the opportunity to have her date think so too.

Maybe this time, her date won’t snigger at nothing in particular and mumble under his breath as he peruses the menu and suddenly exclaiming “This menu is different from the one I found online!” snigger snigger “Now, I don’t know what to order!” snigger snigger

Maybe this time, there’ll be sparks and a potentially happy ever after.

“Oh my God, this restaurant looks SO Japanese! I love it!” Her date says, waving his hands around.

“That’s because we’re in a Japanese restaurant,” she replies, counting the minutes till the end.

Or, maybe not.

 

#CBF16: Of Basketry and Babai

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Rattan hand-woven baskets made by Babai

It was Christmas 2014 when my mother finally decided to go through the attic in Babai’s house. She’d enlisted me to help and before I knew it, I was holding the ladder steady while she climbed up to the attic.

Among the many treasures she discovered were these rattan hand-woven baskets Babai made. We were pleasantly surprised to find them in fairly good condition despite the fact that they must’ve been left up in the attic since he passed away 7 years ago.

Most of my grandparents passed when I was very young and Babai, my mother’s father, was my sole grandparent for many years and because of that, he was the closest grandparent to me.

I didn’t know that much about him and it was only several years before he died that my late uncle revealed that Babai was a champion poet among the villages in the area. I remember thinking then Oh, that’s where our creative streak comes from. 

I have memories of Babai membalas pantun (sing song reply in poetry form) with other village folk but didn’t realise that he was considered as one of the best. That night when we found out his status as a champion poet, he was singing in poetry form with a friend and I assumed then that it was merely a hobby.

“He was very sharp and quick with his rhymes in his younger days”, said my uncle.

Oh, I thought and looked over at Babai as he sat in his chair with a plate of sticky rice balanced on his lap, exchanging rhymes with his friend while waving his hand in the air to emphasise his point.

Though he suffered a stroke when he was younger which left the right side of his body semi-paralysed, Babai still managed to keep busy by weaving rattan baskets. Most of the baskets were used daily while some were given away. As far as I knew, none were sold. In fact, he was also one of the last in the village that possessed the skills and knowledge to do this. I remember asking my mother several months ago if there was anyone in the village who could teach me to basket weave and she told me that Babai was likely the last to know how. That knowledge made me regret not asking him to teach me while he was still alive.

So, when several of his baskets were unearthed from the attic, some of them not quite finished, I asked my mother if I could keep one. I chose a small basket or reked, and it hangs on the wall of the corridor that leads from my bedroom to the main living area of the house. Every time I walk along that corridor, I look at it and remember Babai as he sat on a small wooden stool, on the patio of his house in the village, weaving the rattan strips, creating cherished objects.

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cherished-badge16This post is written for the Cherished Blogfest 2016

 

Weekly Discover Challenge: Night on the Island

In response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Discover Challenge: Shared Journeys, and also inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Night on the Island.

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Source: Island Night 

“Walk with me?”

She startled and turned to look at him. When did he sneak up behind her? She looked back at her friends who were milling on the beach around the barbeque pit. Someone had a guitar out, strumming the chords to Extreme’s More Than Words. Everyone seemed preoccupied, unlikely that she’ll be missed.

She got up from the log she was sitting on and glanced at the hand that he reached for her. “Sure,” she replied. She clasped both her hands behind her back and started walking. He looked at her retreating back, dropped his hand and followed her.

“Where shall we go?”

“Let’s just walk and see where this stretch of the beach leads us.”

Her feet faltered. She was afraid. A little bit.

“Don’t worry, I just want to talk.”

“Okay, just talk.”

They continued in silence, the sounds of raucous guitar playing growing fainter as they moved away from their friends. The wind felt cool and she closed her eyes, letting it caress her face. She stopped, feeling the sand beneath her feet. My feet will be silky smooth with all this walking on the beach, she smiled to herself at the thought.

He’d stopped walking too. She looked at him and he was staring back. Though it was dark, she saw yearning, clear as glass, in his gaze. It made her heart clench. She didn’t know how to respond to yearning. Was she supposed to yearn back? And when both yearned – was that then love?

She resumed walking. So did he. With every step, he moved a thread closer to her until their hands brushed. She refrained from jerking her hand away, trying to feel pleasure in fingers mingling with other fingers. All she felt was anxiety. She adjusted her steps.

Soon, they found themselves at a jetty that was close to one of the more budget-friendly resorts that consisted of wooden houses on stilts, situated among the swaying coconut trees.

“What about sitting at the jetty?” he asked, pointing to the wooden structure that emerged from around the bend.

“Okay, hope there’s no mosquitoes.” Maybe if she made jokes, their talk won’t be serious.

“I’ll chase them away from you. I’ll make sure they won’t bite,” he responded seriously. She gulped. That was not the reply she’d wanted to hear.

She started to kneel down to brush the sand from the jetty but he bent down first and cleared the sand and waited for her to sit. She looked at him and rewarded him with a tremulous smile, “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” he said and brushed sand from the spot he’d chosen to sit, which was too close to her. She scooted a little away.

Normally, she liked silences but not this one. This silence was prickly and she didn’t want to be bloodied by it. “So…,” she started.

“I like you.” No hesitation in his words. “I like you very much.”

She wasn’t surprised at the words, only that he’d chosen a moonlit night on an island to declare this to her. It was romantic but she wasn’t looking for romance. She sighed and looked at him.

“I…I don’t know,” was all she could think of saying.

“Don’t you feel anything for me? I make you laugh. I look out for you. We’re together most of the time. Whenever I enter a room, I immediately search for you and I know you do that too. You must feel something for me,” he pleaded.

“I do feel close to you but I think it’s just as friends. I don’t know if it’s more than that. You make me nervous. If I felt more for you than just friendship, why would I be nervous?”

He smiled. “At least you admit that I make you nervous. That’s a good start. Nervous is good, I can work with nervous.”

She scoffed. “Good for you maybe, but not for me! I don’t like this feeling. It’s uncertain! I don’t know where it’s leading me!” She covered her face with her hands, suddenly feeling tired. The emotions overwhelming her. He was overwhelming her.

“Hey, hey…don’t…don’t cry,” he reached out for her hands.

When their hands touched, she felt a jolt. Her heart twisted. She looked at him and he stared back, his mouth slightly open. It felt as if her hands had found their home.

Daily Prompt: Clock

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Clock

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Banana Trees at Night, Melanie Peter

You look out the window and see her.

You’ve been seeing her everyday for the past 10 days. You pick up your notebook, write today’s date in a hastily designed spreadsheet, mark the next column with an ‘X’, turn to look at the clock on your nightstand and scribble ‘6:57pm’. In a dedicated column for Notes, you add “Standing next to banana tree, head down, clothing the same, hair the same”.

You want to talk to her but you don’t know if you should. Talking is harmless, you try to convince yourself, plus a window pane separates the both of you. Your mother would freak out though if she knew what was going through your mind.

“Stay indoors during sunrise and sunset. Don’t go out. In your state, you’ll attract all the unwanted things.” This was the first thing your mother said to you when you showed up at her house 6-months pregnant with two pieces of luggage, two angry cats and no husband. After that, she’d said “You stay in your old room.” Since then, the both of you hardly spoke.

On your first day, the silence was welcoming. On the second day, loneliness begin to overwhelm you. Your mother’s house is in the village she grew up in, 30 kilometers from Kuching. At the 17th mile mark. The house is surrounded by jungle and on a calm day, the only sounds you hear are the endless rustling of leaves and a cacophony of insect calls. You’re used to the sounds of traffic and the television, these are sounds you’re comfortable with. The sounds of nature feels completely alien.

It was the evening of the second day when you first saw her. Your old room is on the second floor and two of its four walls have windows, one facing the front of the house and the other to the right, overlooking the road that leads into the village. Next to that road, the plants and trees grow wild, the land not belonging to anyone from the village. Wild ferns propagate like grass and you’ve seen children from the village pick them, the basket they carry on their backs overflowing. Banana trees grow in abundance on that small tract of land too but the fruit are always left to rot. Even the banana hearts, which are a delicacy, were left undisturbed. You never thought to ask your mother why this was so. Even if you did, you’d probably not get an answer. So, you continue to contemplate the fate of the banana trees.

It was 6:15pm and the sun was setting, you still need to remind yourself that the sun rises and sets earlier here in East Malaysia compared to the West. You were looking out of your bedroom window and caught a flash of white among the banana trees. You focus, forcing yourself not to blink and you see it again. This time, the flash of white grew larger and larger until you can make out its shape – a person. A person with flowing, raven locks, dressed in white. Your heart beats faster and your eyes widen. You want to look away in case the figure looks up and catches you looking at it/ her/ him but you cannot move. You’re rooted at the window, your eyes looking down.

Don’t look up. Don’t look up. Don’t look up.

After 5 minutes (or maybe it was 30 seconds though you read somewhere that when someone is in the grip of fear, 1 second can feel like a minute), you realise that the figure was not doing anything, it/ she/ him did not look up. You feel your pulse slow down and fear recede. You continue looking though, just in case. In the next blink, the whiteness of its clothing, shimmered and shrunk until the person is no longer there. You put your hand to your belly and feel the baby kick. For those few minutes, while you’re transfixed by the figure in white, you’d forgotten that you had another life inside you. Strange. Sad. Relieved.

You want to tell your mother about what you saw but stop yourself. She wouldn’t understand. She wouldn’t understand that what you saw didn’t frighten you, even though it did at first. Instead, it/she/him left you curiously at peace.

Daily Prompt: #Carefree

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Carefree

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She was fearless and carefree. Confidence and worldliness oozed from her pores, drawing all the boys toward her. She’s not like anyone you’ve ever known. She’s the you that you wish you could be. A little push, not quite a shove, as she stood too close to the edge of the roof and now you’re the carefree one.

Daily Prompt: Feast

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Feast

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Beatrice lounged in her private cabana by the hotel pool, her eyes concealed behind vintage Chanel sunglasses. She drank in the sight before her, of young men and women, their bodies firm and lithe, frolicking in the crystal clear water. Their heart beats thundered in her ear, their scent, a mingling of perfume, perspiration, desperation, entranced her olfactory glands. The plethora of stimuli caused her canines to elongate. It had been too long since her last feeding but now before her was a feast of flesh and blood. Beatrice caught the eye of one of the young men, dark-haired, strapping. Perfect. She crooked her finger and he strutted towards her. She was famished.

Daily Prompt: Frail

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Frail.

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She was in the bathroom in her pyjamas, brushing her teeth diligently. She gave another tug on her toothbrush and tasted blood in her mouth.  Sigh.  She gargled, rinsed and spit into the gleaming porcelain bowl. As she wiped her mouth and tried unsuccessfully to smooth down her unruly hair, she heard a knock on the door.

She paused in her ministrations, laid the towel down beside the sink and looked at her reflection in the mirror.  A woman with a slight blemish on her chin, dark circles under her eyes a raccoon would be proud of, and hair standing every which way, peered back. She was nothing special.

The knock sounded again.

She went to the door and looked through the peephole knowing who it would be just from the way the raps sounded.

She lifted the security latch and slid it aside, twisted the lock on the doorknob and turned the handle.  She opened the door only wide enough for her to speak to the person outside.

“James,” she said to her visitor by way of greeting, “we can’t keep doing this. It’s late and you shouldn’t be here.”

He looked at her through the small gap in the doorway, “Can I just come in for a little while?  I don’t want to have this conversation with you out here in the hallway.”

She stared at him, trying to judge his words, his appearance.  Trying to see the future, will this end badly or will it be happy ever after finally.  But no such luck.  Clairvoyance doesn’t run in her blood.

She was frail, he made her so, she recognised this and so she opened the door wider, enough for him to slip in.  When he was inside her room, she closed the door and locked it, taking her time to do both.  She leaned her head against the door, silently asking herself how many times could she go through this again.  Then she felt the warmth from his body at her back and he asked, “Can I at least get a hug, El?  I’ve missed you.”

She sighed, turned and opened her arms. Resignation filled her, it overflowed from her as tears streamed down her cheeks. He walked into her open arms with a smile of relief and victory in his eyes.

She closed her eyes, feeling all her willpower draining and replied “I miss you too.”

Daily Prompt: Storm

In response to Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Storm

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Lightning flashed, illuminating the room she sought refuge in. Thunder followed, roaring, the windows rattled. Her heartbeat sped up, her hairs on end. She leapt and started running along the corridor, ending up in the kitchen. Ahhh…warmth…she was immediately soothed. She clambered onto Lacey’s lap seeking comfort. “Oh, little kitty, were you frightened by the storm?” Her owner caressed her body, long strokes that invited sleep. She looked forward to continuing her dream of chasing birds and butterflies in the garden.