Thursday, June 22, 2006



It was October again… Nothing changed and yet, nothing remained. How ironic… After all these time, I never thought I’ll be back here. The kopitiam was still there but Uncle Chan was not. The big, old tree with a tire swing was still standing but no more barefooted children playing gasing anymore. The old “jambatan” still served faithfully, getting people across but no longer were there any naughty boys waiting by the side, whistling at girls.

I felt my fingers wrapped tightly around my bag straps as I saw an old wooden house coming into sight. A rush of nostalgia hit me. It’s empty now… Nobody that I know of remained… Yes. I left one October, years ago. I took short feeble steps toward the dilapidated building that I once called home. I traced my fingers along the wall. Pieces of old paint came off, falling gently like snowflakes. I never did understand why Ah Boy painted the outside wall white. He wanted it and so I let him.

I ascended the aged patio stairs with extreme gentleness. Each step was accompanied with an awful creak. I entered the living area, lighted only by a hint of sunlight stole in through the holes in the curtains. I pulled the curtains aside, letting the sun flood the whole room with her light. I soaked myself in the light for a moment. Relishing the childhood moments when we were still so carefree… so young… so happy… so different. The sun was hurting my eyes… it made cry. I turned away and shifted my attention to a tiny room across the hall.

Ah Boy’s room… Ah Boy’s sanctuary…

I walked hastily into this well lighted room, thanks to the veranda that linked with the room. It was Ah Boy’s favorite place in the world. Ah Boy loved planting. Ah Boy loved animals. I ran my fingers on the table, leaving trails of clean lines on the dusty surface. I climbed up Ah Boy’s so called bed which was actually just a plank with a worn mat on it. Dirty it may be but I sat on it. Using the side of my balled fist, I rubbed the dust off the wall. With black charcoal, I saw Ah Boy’s drawing on it… A happy family…

“Kor… Ah Boy draw this… This..” Ah Boy with slight difficulties tried to convey the meaning of his drawing to me. His hand pointed at a figure with thin mustache shakily.
“ T-This… Ah Boy draw Papa… Mama t-this. M-Mama beau… beautiful…” He shifted the position to a figure in a dress. Ah Boy took a deep breath before he continued. Pointing at a stick figure, holding another tiny figure’s hand, Ah Boy said to me… “ Ah Boy… Kor… You h-hold Ah Boy… Bring Ah Boy go… go school… Teach Ah Boy h-how to c-catch f-f-fish… Ah Boy s-sayang Ah Kor…”I stroked his head. I wanted to say something but my heart was at my throat. Before I could say anything, Ah Boy tightened his grip on my hand. “ Ah Boy want stay with Ah Kor…” A single tear rolled down my cheek.

I recalled that conversation with Ah Boy without any difficulties because I left him the very next day. I left him in school like I always did every morning. Ah Boy trusted me. Ah Boy loved me. I loved Ah Boy. He was a very different kid in the village. Ah Boy grew in size but never in mind. He will always remain as a seven year old to himself, all villagers and myself. I had to leave. I felt compelled to leave but Ah Boy had nobody else but me. Papa and Mama were gone. I needed to see the world. I was confined in the village for too long. I had to leave. And I did… I left Ah Boy.

I went out to the veranda. I had to breathe. I hated the past. I hated what I did. I know I need to find Ah Boy back. The outside world is a bad place… a terrible place to live when you know you have done something terrible like leaving your mentally incapable brother alone. Seven years… Where to start? But I was still very…very… Hopeful.

I was still dwelling in my own guilty past when a potted plant at the corner of the veranda caught my eyes. I touched the soil. It was still wet. I looked up the sky. The sun was shining brightly. Somebody was here. Ah Boy!

It was as if something came upon me. I went around the house frantically calling for Ah Boy. I felt a deep desperation in me. I was screaming inside for just a hint of Ah Boy’s whereabouts.

“Kor… Ah B-Boy p-play hide seek… Ah Boy w-will hide in cupboard… Ah Kor m-must find A-Ah Boy…”I chuckled at Ah Boy’s ignorant foolishness. The cupboard was the biggest furniture we had. It did not worry me when Ah Boy decided to stay there. There was plenty of room and openings for air circulation. Once, I found Ah Boy sleeping in it. He was always in hiding if I was away without informing him. It was as if my absences meant just another hide and seek game for my brother. I always told Ah Boy that my absence was not just a simple game of hide and seek. It meant that Ah Kor had something important to do but Ah Boy never did understand.

My heart thumped wildly against my chest. I had to put pressure on my chest with my palm to lower the speed. I was shaking so violently by the time I was standing in front of the cupboard that I collapsed on the floor. I pulled myself together… I could not be frail at moments like this.

“Ah Boy… You in there?”

I waited for an answer. I was hopeful for an answer. I was yearning for an answer. I needed an answer. But nothing came.

“Ah Boy… Ah Kor… Ah Kor’s back…”


I reached out for the cupboard’s door. I halted just when my fingers touched the solid wood. I was really afraid of what I would find inside. Yet, I mustered all my courage and opened the door. It was as if the door longed to be opened. I looked inside and I wanted to die. A mixture of emotion overwhelmed me… Hatred… Regrets… Sorrow…

“Ah Boy… Ah Kor will teach you to write… Now listen to me carefully, alright?”
Ah Boy shifted his position a couple of times, feeling restless about venturing into something that he had not done before. He was really nervous but he needed to learn the basics before going to school. Before long, Ah Boy managed a few words… Though slow, Ah Boy began to learn how to communicate through writings… Not well… not perfect but enough.

The truth was just too hard for me to handle. Afraid as I may be, I was hoping to see Ah Boy inside. Hoping that everyday he would come by and wait for me inside. Instead, I saw a cupboard of Ah Boy’s feeling. Written with charcoal, Ah Boy started writing to me when I did not come for him.

Ah Kor… Why you never come?
Ah Kor… Ah Boy wait very long….
Ah Kor…. Ah Boy lonely…
Ah Kor… Ah Boy scared dark…
Ah Kor… Ah Boy wait some more…
Where is Ah Kor?
Ah Kor… Where Ah Boy dinner…
Ah Kor… Ah Boy hot…
Why a lot sweat, Ah Kor?
Head very pain… Where you Kor?
Boy tired to write…. Kor must find Ah Boy….
Kor late find Ah Boy but I still sayang Kor…
Kor… Ah Boy write last… Ah Boy going sleep… See Mama Papa…

I found drawings on the cupboard. A happy family…. Ah Kor holds Ah Boy’s hand… They said men don’t cry… But that evening, I did… What is it that made me so heartless that I left my brother alone? It was apparent to me that he stayed in the cupboard until somebody found him lifeless and brought him away. Have you heard of a heart that was so broken that it could hardly feel anything else but pain? It was that very day when I found Ah Boy’s writings that my heart and feelings snapped. My abilities to smile and to be happy perished with Ah Boy.

I sat at the patio stairs, staring blankly at the sky. I was drowning in my emotions when a young lad stopped in front of me. I thought he was just a passerby until he took a seat beside me. I turned to look at him. He smiled.

“Don’t say a thing. I really don’t know what happened here seven years ago but I was charged to give this to the person that enters this house…”

He handed me a worn envelope, unopened… I tried to control my hands from shivering as I opened the envelope. A chain slipped out of the envelope.

Ah Boy’s identity chain…

I recognized that chain the moment I laid my eyes on it. I gave it to him so that he would not be lost without any identification on him. I checked the envelope for more. A letter was inside. The paper yellowed over the years.

Ming Han…
We tried to find you but we failed. We do not know why you left our kampong and
we do not understand why you left Ah Boy behind. When we found Ah Boy, it was too
late… We did not know you left. We did not know Ah Boy was in that house alone. But
we know someday you will be back… By then, I believe most of the kampong people
would have chosen to leave. Ah Boy’s absence sent a sort of emptiness that we could
not explain. But Ming Han… just know that we forgive you…

Uncle Chan

I buried my face in my palms. The pain… the guilt… They were unbearable. I turned to the stranger for some comfort.

“I watered the plant on the veranda… I felt an urge to… I don’t know why… But it never dies… So, stranger… Even though I do not know what happened… I believe the owner of that plant want you to know he was never gone…”

He reached for my hand, gave it a tight squeeze and took his leave. I closed my eyes for a while… Trying to just capture the very last time Ah Boy squeeze my hand the same way that stranger just did.

I crossed the old “jambatan”, carrying the pot of plant with me. As I walked along that stretch of wooden planks, I knew that Ah Boy have already forgiven me. The searching was done. The hide and seek was finally over.

No comments: