#CBF16: Of Basketry and Babai

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.


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.


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


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



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


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.


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



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.

Poem: Walking In My Thoughts


An unearthed poem from 2003.

Walking in My Thoughts

It’s intriguing, when I re-read this poem, I can remember almost precisely the moment it came into being.

I was in Toronto, it’s springtime. No classes that day, so I decided to take a walk from Rafaella’s house to the Benjamin Boake Greenbelt a short distance away. I remember that the sky was clear, the sun teasing but the cold breezes kept me in layers of clothing. I was walking along the pavement, hands in my pocket, mulling when the words came to me. I let the words tumble around in my mind as I sat on a bench in the park, my head leaned back allowing the sun to warm me. Arriving home, I took a notepad and pencil, sat on the patio and the words flowed.

Daily Prompt: Glass

In response to Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Glass


“Linda, I’m going to leave in about 5 minutes, that okay with you?” I ask as I pack files into my work bag. Normally, with this much work left to do, I’d just stay back at the office and get them done but I’d told Linda it wasn’t a problem for me to send her to the train station on my way home. I didn’t want her to take the taxi.

“Ya, okay.” Linda replies.

Ten minutes later, we’re in the lift on our way down. The beats of my heart quicken and I look over at Linda to my left, she’s white as rice.

“I parked around the corner, in front of the biryani restaurant,” I inform Linda so that she’d know where to head immediately after we arrive on the ground level.

The lift stops, we exit silently, and walk briskly to my car. The sounds of my heels click-clacking on the cream tiled floor seems to echo throughout the plaza. Linda and I don’t speak as we walk pass the bustling biryani restaurant. I thought I detected the noxious scent of cigarette smoke but as I glance quickly around me, there’s no one. So far, so good.

Five quick steps away, I press the button on my remote and the car doors unlock. I enter the right side and wait for Linda to get in and shut her door. Faster, faster, faster. Once she’s in, I press the button again and the car doors lock with a SNICK! I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. I turn my key in the ignition, a small smile on my face –


– I jump at the sound and turn towards the source. Outside Linda’s window is her husband. She is still as stone beside me.

RAT-TAT-TAT! He knocks again and follows with trying to open Linda’s door. At that moment, I’m glad that I was quick enough to lock the doors. A second later and – I didn’t want to think about it.

He looks disheveled, thinner than the last time I saw him. I can hear him telling Linda to get out of the car. Linda is still not moving. I am tempted to rev the engine, not caring if his feet are in the way. Actually, I think I much prefer if they were.

“Linda, I’m going to go.” She snaps out of whatever fugue state she is in and tells him that they’ll speak another time, that we are leaving.

I take one last look at them before putting my car in gear. Linda is staring at the man she used to love or never loved at all. He stares at her with longing. At that very moment, less than an inch of tempered glass separates them but that minuscule distance might as well have been a universe.