Whose song is it anyway?
By Heng Siok Tian
Why should I feel worried? Would he recognise me? Do I want him to recognise me? No. Surely not. I have changed so much. I am old. He can't recognise me. He cannot. If he does, I will just have to deal with it. I have to prepare myself mentally. He might recognise me. It's not the end of the world. Why should I worry?
We were young. We were rash and we were idealists. Correction: I was the idealist. He woke up. He was the one who let me leave. What did we share? A couple of tea dances and a few movies. And a song, one he liked which somehow became a song we like. So silly to think of it now. And to think I thought it funny or even cute that he mistook April as Apple and then called me Apple.
It was a good thing too that I left. Or did we leave each other? What would have become of me ? Not likely to become any fund raiser. Not likely to have finished my studies, not likely to have married K, not likely to have my children. Children: they make you forget your dreams, or more likely hold back your dreams till later; much later. Sometimes so late, they no longer matter. But they also make you forgive, forgive life for taking away your youth, forgive yourself for not choosing a path you thought you would. And they teach you forgiveness. More like practised forgiveness. The things they do to break your heart, as if it is their right. Do I have a choice?
I have a choice here: to either visit the hospice and in all likelihood come face to face with him or to think up a legitimate excuse to postpone the visit. And to what end? How changed might he be? I would recognise his name. How would he look? How a man can change. K looks very changed these days so different from when we first met. So why shouldn't he? Why shouldn't he?
If my heart is still beating, it is beating for you, goes the lyrics. He understands those words. He understands. He stares at the ceiling. There seems to be a sepia-toned streak of something across some sections of the ceiling. Are his eyes yellowing? Is the ceiling turning yellowish? He spends minutes looking at the ceiling, minutes that become hours, hours that become days; days, months; months, years. How many years has it been? He is no longer sure. Possibly only a year. It feels like more. When one stares long enough, hard enough at something white, like a ceiling, does it yellow? Might it be a year only that he has lain on this bed? It feels longer and shorter. It no longer matters. His heart is still beating and his back is sore; even after the nurse has just turned him around and given him a new angle.
He listens to the radio. The nurse (what's her name again, damn drugs that the doctors are feeding me) leaves it on for him. He understands. Other voices comfort him. What do the doctors know about drugs? He was the specialist once upon a time. He studies the ceiling and shuts his eyes imagining he is dead. It's good to prepare for that. He always prepared himself when he went for a gang-fight it's necessary. The victory in the mind is already a half-won fight. His martial arts teacher whipped that into him. To prepare. Even for death. What did his mother tell him? Damn drugs, he cannot recall. To let go of everything? But his heart is still beating, and he cannot let go of the one that got away. Did she get away? Did he let her get away? Damn drugs, he cannot recall. The one who might have been here now, sitting close by; maybe turning him around to avoid bedsore. Is that possible? The one brothers say will be hard to catch; siao to think it is possible to hook.
How did they know? How right. How did they know even before the beginning? Bloody drugs, they said something. He stares at the ceiling:
They quarrelled over a woman. He thinks it is silly. No men should ever quarrel over a woman. What brothers would do that?
He cursed then walked away. "Ah Di", "Ah Di". He ignored his brothers' calls. He did not turn back. Sometimes, there is no turning back. He hears the voices: "Ah Di", "Ah Di". His favourite song about her hums in his head:
So did she run away, did he let her? His brothers were right after all. His world were 08, 34, famous gangs. Protection money, pickpockets, pushing and shoving, spitting and fist fights these were the days. What's hers? Brushing teeth, brushing hair, pretty dresses, reading. What did she tell him? Did she tell him her world? They shared tea dances and Pat Boone's movie, so? That does not a marriage make; that does not a love show. He was so young, his love so young. Damn drugs.
He lies there on the bed. He called her Apple Love like an apple he had as a child a very rare treat for they were too poor to buy fruits. It could be a relative who won the lottery and bought them fruits, or a neighbour who gave them one out of their three or four. An apple sliced into as many thin slices as possible or into cubes. That way every child felt happy because he got two, or three cubes! And the apple was always sweet. The only food was rice and chye sim that were planted in his parents' vegetable farm; the leftovers whose leaves did not look fresh enough or had been bitten off by bugs. Those that did not look good enough to be sold. But for their meals, they were good enough.
These are slow days for him. The 1960s were fast days for him. He was a leader of his pack. He missed those days, he was a real man. Who does he tell these to now? Why haven't the kids come by this month to see me? Isn't it time now? What day is it? Damn drugs. What they are feeding me?
He lies on his bed. April love in his head the one who got away, the one who could never be. She lies there on the ceiling. He lies on his deathbed, facing her, worlds apart. Heaven and Hell. She is a Forever Song in him. He smiles strangely; at least it was, as the song goes, a sudden shower. Fate is like that. Damn drugs.QLRS Vol. 10 No. 4 Oct 2011