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: 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: Island

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

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I had no choice, I really didn’t, so in the end, I called him.

I had been sleeping in fits and starts for the past week.  When I was fortunate enough to stumble into sleep, fueled by sheer exhaustion from heaving and wailing the entire day, I’d wake with a jolt, trying to remember what day it was and where I was.  Those few seconds of disorientation were bliss.  The corners of my lips would start to lift to greet the morning, then, my brain would catch up, and everything from the day before and the prospect of the days ahead would crash around me.

I could’ve called my best friend again but she was so far away.  The phone calls were expensive for the both of us.  Our last conversation, she spoke to me in hushed tones, as if to raise her voice any louder than a whisper would break what was still left unbroken in me.  She needn’t have worried; there were no whole pieces left.  I told her I was feeling a little bit better. She believed me.  She could never tell when I lied.

Even as I pressed the numbers on my phone, I knew I was making a mistake, and that the likelihood this phone call would end well, was zero. I went ahead anyway. Sometimes I think, I hurt myself more than anyone else could.

I let the phone ring.  Once, twice, five times.  Finally, he picked up.

“Mia,” he said, his tone exasperated. I didn’t even warrant a hello. “Why are you calling?” No preamble.

His words a punch to my chest. I took a deep breath. “I don’t know who else to call.”  I didn’t want to sound lame, weak, but I was all of that.

“What do you want?” His question, sharp.

You, I wanted to reply.  Instead I said, “Can we work this out?  Can we find a way to get back together? I’m lost.”  This wasn’t why I called.  I didn’t want to beg but my mouth had other intentions.

Silence.

“No.  I’ve made up my mind.”  Before I could interject, he continued “Do you want to know how I know that this was the right decision to make? Because I don’t feel anything. I don’t feel sad, happy, relieved.  Nothing.”

I don’t know how many times one person can die, but I think I died a million deaths in those few seconds.  Hang up; I told myself, hang up, for goodness sake!

Through the phone, I could hear the rushing of wind, as if he was in a car with the top down, driving down a coastal highway.  “Where exactly are you?” I asked.  I heard a harsh intake of breath.

“No.” he bit out.  No? I felt the hairs at the back of my neck rise and so I brazened it out.  “Where. Are. You?” I spat the words out. I knew was going to regret asking. My regrets were already piling up, what’s one more.

“Maldives.” He answered.

Maldives?

Maldives?

Maldives?

My body started to shake and my grip on the phone grew tighter. I stammered, “Ma-Ma-Maldives?”

“Hey,” he said, as he grabbed my hand and pulled me beside him, the lines of our bodies flushed against one another.  “Let’s make a reservation at the Kuda Huraa Reef Resort in the Maldives!” “The Kuda Hu-what-a Resort?” I asked.  Silly boy, I thought, but my cheeks were aching from the hours we’d spent laughing. “The Kuda Huraa Reef Resort.  You should see their website.  There are chalets surrounded by crystal clear water and they’re far enough apart that it’s totally private. It’s so cool!”  “Okay.” I replied. I was caught up in his enthusiasm.  “What dates should we give them?” my hands hovered above the keyboard, playing along.  I looked at his profile, and my heart melted a little.  He looked off into the distance, scrunching his forehead then he turned to look at me “What about 10 years from now?” Errr…okay? Why 10 years?” I asked casually as I typed in the dates.  His voice was steady and matter of fact as he replied, “Well, we’ll be done with uni in 3 years. Then we’ll start working. Of course, we’ll be living together by then. In 10 years, we’ll both be 32 and ready to start a family so that’s when we’ll get married and I’ll whisk you off to the Maldives just in time for our pre-booked vacation!” His gaze bore into me.  I’d stopped typing by then, my mouth wide open.  My eyes round like saucers. “Um…” I didn’t know what to think.  It seemed he’d thought about this a whole lot and this was only our first date!  I was beginning to freak out.  Then, he leaned towards me and pressed his mouth to mine and said, “I can’t wait for our honeymoon, babe.” And before you knew it, we had a booking in the Kuda Huraa Reef Resort, Maldives for the summer of 2013. 

That memory that was one of my most cherished ones felt so bitter now. “Mia? You still there? Mia?” I heard his voice as if through a long tunnel.

I’d moved to my bed, lying on my side, cradling the phone.  I tasted salt water on my lips.  “Yeah…” I felt hollow. The space inside me a canyon, so cavernous that nothing could possibly fill it up.

Then I heard other voices in the background around him.  Is that her? A female voice asked.  I heard my once-beloved said “Shhhh…”

“Mia? I’ll talk to you when I get back, yeah?”

He was in the Maldives. With another woman. We’d had so many conversations about Maldives since the night we made the reservations. “Do you think the resort has diving classes?” “Do you think 2 weeks would be enough?” When right that moment, as he was speaking to me, he was there, the place that was a beautiful promise, with someone else.

This is a dream, this is a dream, I chanted to myself.  “Mia? We’ll talk when I get back, all right? Mia? Mia?”

I quietly placed the phone back in its cradle. From my bed, I gazed out the window, staring at empty branches. He was on an island.  Right that very moment, so was I.

Weekly Discover Challenge: Practice Makes Perfect

In response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Discover Challenge: Opening Line.

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It was the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Liza wanted it to be perfect. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone to guide her so she had to rely on information gleaned from movies she watched and books she read. She hoped it would be enough.

She combed her fingers through her long black hair, making sure it hung straight down. If only she could check if the middle parting in her hair was straight. In the movies she watched, the girl’s hair always had a perfect middle parting and their hair hung all the way to their waist. The bottom of Liza’s hair ended mid-way down her back. The girls in the movies she watched also always wore white, she looked down at what she had on and thought that the nightdress was perfect – white and shapeless.

Liza thought that perhaps for her first time, she could make the experience intimate so she hid in the closet in the upstairs bedroom and waited.

She heard the front door creak open and steps going up the stairs. Anytime now, Liza thought to herself. She was beyond excited. The door to the bedroom opened and she could hear the occupant in the room open and close the dresser drawers. Just a while more. From the gap underneath the closet, she saw that the light on the nightstand was switched on. Perfect, she’d forgotten about the importance of lighting but this was how it should be. There shouldn’t be too much light, just enough to cast shadows. Liza heard the bed covers being thrown back and the sound of a body sliding in between the sheets. She counted down Three, Two, One…

Liza crawled out of the closet, making sure her nails scrapped on the floorboards. CREEAAAK…CREEAAKK…She let out a guttural moan and approached the bed. CREEAAAK…CREEAAKK…Liza smelled the fear emanating from the occupant in the bed. Cool, she thought. And when her head cleared the top of the bed, she made eye contact with the occupant and crawled towards the woman. Perfect, Liza thought, a woman’s easy. The woman screamed and started crying and tried to get away from Liza.

“GET AWAY! GET AWAY!” The woman shouted at her. “GET AWAY FROM ME!” Liza was quick though and held on to the woman’s ankles until the woman fainted dead away. It all took less than 2 minutes.

Huh, thought Liza, how anti-climatic. Liza let go of the woman’s ankles and made herself comfortable beside the woman. Maybe the second time around would be better but all in all, Liza thought that her first haunting went almost perfect!

#BEDM Day 16: Staying when I want to leave

Day 16: Something difficult about your “lot in life” and how you’re working to overcome it.

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There’s several things about my current work situation that makes me want to throw a tantrum and storm out of the office:

  • A boss who insists on running the research centre like a training provider thereby focusing on profit instead of the mission of the centre which is to promote awareness of the purpose of the research centre
  • Colleagues who specifically express that they’re not interested in what I do because it’s not part of their job scope when all I ask is just to help answer the phone when I’m away from my desk and give basic information to the person who calls instead of answering “Call back later when she’s (me) back.”
  • Being asked to design website banners and workshop brochures even though we have a graphic designer who has been doing that because the boss wants to save money and doing this takes me away from what I’m supposed to do since graphic designing is not my main responsibility.
  • Et cetera, et cetera…

So, why not just up and go? Well, money for one. I don’t have as much as I’d like in terms of savings so I don’t want to leave without a safety net. And fear of the unknown.

Though there’s a lot of things I’m unhappy with about my current job, the abundance of my annual leave, minimal work load and long Friday lunches (1230noon till 245pm) pacifies me momentarily. So basically, this job that frustrates me allows me the time and freedom to build up my freelance work and once that’s up and running, I’m handing in my notice.

So, this is my something difficult right now, being at a job that is slowly but surely sucking my soul. Blogging keeps me sane 🙂 And also this mantra which I repeat a million times each day:

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My ‘Something Difficult‘ from 2013, which is still my something difficult now too…

The (U)ncircumcision Revelation

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Today, at work…’.

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Today, at work, during a steamboat dinner with the clients, I accidentally found out that one of them was uncircumcised.

I was in Si Racha, Thailand. The clients brought me to one of their favourite restaurants, Zab Restaurant, which was famous for serving Northeastern Thai cuisine, a type of steamboat/ spicy sukiyaki cuisine where you were given the broth and raw meat/ seafood on a platter and you’d cook them yourself.

Two of the managers I was with decided to do the ‘cooking’ which consisted of mixing a raw egg with the raw meat and then dropping it into the boiling spicy broth. Two men cooking for lil’ ol me. It felt surreal.

Of course, what came next went way, WAY beyond surreal.

The managers were regaling me with stories about their family. One manager was asking the other if he’d get his son circumcised. The other manager was expecting their first baby boy. He said he wasn’t sure whether it was necessary or not since he himself wasn’t circumcised and everything was working fine.

I almost spit out my beer but didn’t. Too. Much. Information. How in the heck did I get into situations like these?

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What did you accidentally find out about your clients/ associates that you wish you didn’t?

(O)n Board an (O)ffshore Facility

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Today, at work…’.

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Today, at work, I’m on board a Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessel, also known as an FPSO.

There were 72 of us on this converted supertanker: 68 men and 4 women.

For the men, it was a red-letter day as it’s unusual for there to be this many females in the space of a weekend. One female visiting was getting more common, two females visiting made it interesting but three or four called for washed and pressed coveralls and extra hair gel.

I remember when we arrived (by helicopter!), we were immediately led to our sleeping quarters which were on the Captain’s Deck, next to the Captain’s office. It was my first time ever on an FPSO and I walked around wide-eyed taking everything in. With each step, I mumbled to myself I’m on a ship, I’m on a ship…

Our quarters had single beds and it was four to a room with one en-suite bathroom. The years I spent in a hostel at school came flooding back.

The men were not shy. They were curious and most extremely straightforward. I recalled once, after concluding my interview sessions with them, we had tea and they took the opportunity to turn the tables on me – What did you study before? Where are you from originally? Are you married or single? Why?

I smiled and deflected each and every one of their questions. Next day, the little bit of information that I had accidentally blurted out had spread to most everyone on board. Lesson learnt? Men gossip too.

The amazing thing about being on that ship was that in my capacity on board, I had access to all areas from the turret to the engine room down below to the laboratory, which to me was such fun. As I went about I was just struck by the newness of this experience This is the engine room? Cool! Pretty warm, huh? Stairs very steep also yeah? Where am I now? Starboard? That’s right, right? Port is left? Okie dokie. You mean I can have juice 24-hours a day? Ice cream too? Heaven! 

That first night, as I lay in my bed on board a vessel floating almost 200km from shore on the South China Sea, all I could think of was Wow. 

It was a red letter day for me too.

'Actually, I don't think any safety program would have caught this one,'
This is actually one of my fears when I had offshore trips. EEEEK!

What were some of YOUR red letter days at work?

The (I)nterview

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Today, at work…’.

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Today, at work, The Interviewee brought her mother to her job interview. Sigh.

At first, we thought they were lost because we’d expected only one person but no, it was The Interviewee. And her mother.

We also thought that her mother would leave shortly after but nope, she made herself comfortable in the waiting area.

While The Interviewee was in with The Boss, The Interviewee’s mother “interviewed” us, her daughter’s potential workmates. Sigh again.

The Mother walked around the office, commented on how busy we looked and asked if we had to work late. “Depends,” my colleague replied. I was hiding behind my PC trying to avoid eye contact.

We also had new chairs being delivered that day and when the delivery guys brought the chairs into the office, The Mother immediately went to one of the new chairs, sat down, adjusted the chair height and made herself comfortable! She even remarked that it wasn’t quite comfortable and maybe we should’ve chosen another design! I made sure to mark the chair she’d sat on so that I wouldn’t be the unlucky recipient later.

By then I was sincerely hoping that her daughter did badly in the interview and that we’d never be workmates. And why was the interview taking so long? Not a good sign.

When The Interviewee finally left with her mother, we breathed a sigh of relief. Later we learnt that The Interviewee didn’t even schedule the interview, it was her mother. Also, The Interviewee wasn’t the one who sent in her resume for the position. Yes, it was her mother. Surprising that The Mother wasn’t in the interview with her daughter.

Yup, strangest interview ever. And thank goodness, The Interviewee didn’t become The Workmate.

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 What is your strange interview-related story?

My April A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal 2016

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I thought long and hard about my theme for the A to Z Challenge this year. Last year, I thought I had a fun theme – Soundtracks to my Life but it turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated to come up with a song and a memory/ story associated with that song for each day of the challenge. I gave up early. It was no longer fun.

So, this year, to entertain myself and to entertain fellow A to Z-ers who’ll come visit (I hope), I’ve decided to write with the theme (drumroll, please…)

Today, At Work…

I’ve had so many hilarious, exasperating, stressful, bewildering, rewarding experiences throughout my career that I think it’ll be fun to write about them and to discover if anyone else has had similar experiences. Naturally, I also plan to write about the strange antics of the bosses I’ve worked for. I can’t wait to get started. 10 MORE DAYS TO GO, WOO HOO!

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