sentences


I never could remember this rhyme right. Decided to google it one day.

This & That & Those Little Piggies


This little piggy went to the market,
This little piggy stayed at home.
This little piggy had roast beef to eat,
This little piggy had none.
This little piggy went : “Wheewheewhee!”
All the way home.

“Aloysius! How many times must I tell you? If you want to stay in the pen and not carry the smelly muck back from the market, can you please, please, PLEASE for heaven’s sake at least TRY to DO something?I don’t know, take out the dirty straw from our bedding, do some PR with the chickens, build a better brand image for our kind on facebook or… whatever! Just stop LYING there and WALLOWING in the damn mud. It’s because of pigs like you that we get such a bad rep.”

“…………(snort)………(mumble)…….(turns over to sleep some more)….”

“ALOYSIUS ALFRED PYGMALION THE SECOND!!!!!”

“Aw, shut it Bartie, I’m trying to eat my roast beef here. Just leave Aloy alone. It’s not like we were born to do anything else. Haven’t you seen those nice colourful charts for the farmer’s kids in their study room? It has a picture of one of our kind. A rather pretty piggy too if I must say..”

“As if I could stop you.”

“….Figure of speech, my dear brother, figure of speech. Anyway, I’d rather fancy her if she wasn’t so… flat. So. It says P-I-G, under her neat little trotters, and it goes on to define us as : Large pinkish mammal; usually found in mud wallows. Traits: lazy, smelly and fat.”

“It’s a pile of rubbish and you know that.”

“I understand my dear broth-”

“Shut up with the ‘dear brother” before I whack your snout in with my groceries here.”

“Fine, my rude brother. It is rubbish, but if that’s what those ignorant two-leggers expect, why should we try to change it? Just live within the expectations and life will just be fine and dandy.”

“Fine and dandy??? Fine and dandy???!! Get too fat and you’re going to be the next one on that dinner table. Have some ambition for God’s sake!”

“Like?”

“That’s not the point.”

“I thought so.”

________________________

An SMU writing competition 2005: Produce any form of literary writing with the theme, “Blue”, interpreted in any manner.

Blue

It’s kind of round, this face of hers – eyelashes sweetly curling up and small mouth. Those days she slept next to my hand, comforting and caressing her with only a skin’s depth separating us. I had named her months before she arrived. Emily Mae, the vowels ringing of prettiness and sunshine. That was how my daughter was to be.

I amused my husband to no end those nights I waddled around in my thick maternity socks, my face creased in concentration as I puffed, carefully navigating around the furniture to complete my daily walk. With my swell and big black headphones playing Bach for Babies, I looked for all the world like a clumsy, confused elephant.

She came out 3.5 pounds. Delicate and tiny. Everything a daughter should be.

Aren’t daughters supposed to be small?

I remember the first time the gynecologist did an ultrasound scan. I felt a shiver of excitement as she neared my daughter. Emily Mae must have felt it too, for at the very moment the scanning tool was directly above her, she gave a visible squirm. As if she was saying hello. The gynecologist laughed, startling George and I from our wonderment at seeing our daughter for the first time. The three of us were still smiling as we said our goodbyes. I remember it raining as we left, but we welcomed it then – the damp pattering cooling the humid, sticky air.

Now I stare out the window as the rain drips down slowly from the eaves. Accumulate, accumulate, fall; accumulate, accumulate, fall. The water presses itself against the pane, desperate clinging as it begins its inevitable descent. In its wake, crooked slashes of tiny droplets give themselves up to the atmosphere almost immediately. As soon as they disappear, another falls to take its place.

I can’t cry.

The nursery at home is ready. Walls painted with foxgloves and lavenders in my favourite shade of cerulean blue, the expanse of floor overlaid with soft  carpeting and the evening glow filters in through the bay window. Her cot is her grandmother’s source of pride – solid oak frame and smooth finish. The hand-darned white lace with its swirls and curlicues cover the tiny pillow sweetly, and the flannel blanket stays neatly folded.

They let me see her. I had to beg George. I heard the doctors whispering the words “ post natal …” and “unwise” to him as they stood at the far end of my ward. I hear but I don’t do anything. It is beyond me. I simply wait.

Until they put her in my arms. There she is, swaddled in pristine white cloth, clean and fresh, looking as perfect as any mother would find her newborn child. I place a finger gently on her nose, trailing it upwards to her little peach fuzz of hair, and then sideways to the fragile shell of her ear. I savour the softness and I touch her tiny lips. They’re cold. I kiss her softly, but still they remain so. I kiss her again, and again, and again and again and again and again. I see my ward nurse hurrying off. Soon, George will come, and they’ll take her away from me for good. But I know that she was perfect for me.

My daughter wasn’t common, she wasn’t peaches and cream. She was my favourite colour. Her lips, her skin, her toes, her nails — they were all my favourite colour when she came out two months too early and the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

She is perfect, she is my daughter, and she is my favourite colour.

________________________

On the way back to my dad’s hometown, Pontian, to visit my grandparents.

Pontian, Malaysia

1. My parents

Walking up and down, they side-step gingerly as their downcast gazes search intently for tiny red seeds. One slow step … and then another… and “ Eh!” with a half-hop to the side and a triumphant sweep of his arm, my father straightens up, pushes back his glasses with one finger and grins at my mother.

It’s the same look little boys have on their snub-nose freckled faces as they proudly show off their collection of marbles, knowing that the girl in the sunshine frock will be impressed.

My mother laughs and holds up the bulging bag she’s collected entirely on her own. My father indulges the unspoken challenge and busies himself, trudging upwards, watching with amusement out of the corner of his eye as my mother hurries to catch up to him.

Under the dappled splotches of shade, the two bent figures stay side by side, continuing their funny little hunt for heart-shaped Angsana seeds

_________
Selected for NLB’s “i remember” collection

2.My grandfather

Dear Grandfather,

I look at you and realise I’ll never know you.

Why is it so hard to talk about this? It’s easier to talk about you, than to you. I’m sorry.

My grandfather was a manager of a trading company by day and an accounts clerk by night. He was never close to his children, but that was the norm of the past. With eight children and a wife from Singapore… the responsibility must have made him work tirelessly. 

My father tells me how they used to be so poor. They’d stare longingly at the durians their neighbours ate – mouths moist with saliva; eyes following the teeth sinking deep into the creamy yellow flesh. 

My dad’s the 2nd eldest son out of 8 children (first on the right)
I didn’t know my grandfather was the manager for the district. I thought he was just a small shop manager. I didn’t know he kept the accounts. I thought he kept simple records. I asked my father why he never told me. He said I never asked. I didn’t know what to say.

I look at my grandfather’s tuft of white hair and almost unbearably childish expression on his face, at odds with the craggy lines trekking across his age-spotted skin. I know I probably love him, but I find it so hard to hug him. Will that be my grandchildren’s reaction to me? The shallowness of my filial piety shames me. 

He still wears the uniform I’ve seen him in ever since I was old enough to remember. The thin singlet that used to fit comfortably now hangs crumpled from his bony frame; the faint blue-stripped cotton pants with its white drawstring droops, and the cheap brown rubber slippers stay perpetually by his wooden bed.

I remember him peering through his black-framed glasses on rare occasions when we were sitting around the old coffee table – my grandfather reading the local Mandarin paper, my father browsing his Straits Times, and I, hunched over my exercise book of blank squares and Chinese characters, laboriously copying word after word twenty times over.

My grandfather glanced across and caught sight of my writing. With a rustle, he set his newspapers down and reached over to demonstrate how to write the characters properly, guiding my hand and despite our language barrier, explaining. My father paused and smiled his encouragement, telling me something I would hear repeatedly for years to come – my grandfather has beautiful handwriting.

Handwriting which he used in his accounts as a shopkeeper, in the telephone book he kept of the family’s contacts, in the notes he jotted down on the bills he sorted, and in showing me how to write my name perfectly.

The same handwriting which he used to write both my grandmother’s and his own name on a slip of white paper for the tombstone engravers he commissioned, long before he could no longer write and could only lay supine and stare blankly up at the mosquito net above him. 

________________________

Came across a website that said, “Write a story that starts with this sentence: “Hell found me.” I tried writing it, but never submitted it.

Straight Lines

Hell found me. He closed his eyes and smiled.

It was only yesterday the sky was grey and dank, raindrops hitting harshly on the uniform canopy of opened umbrellas, crowds of smart suits, hats and skirts hurrying each other, pressing close but stopping short of jostling. After all, what was jostling, but the unruly motions of the uncivilized? Modern education meant self-appointed gentry. One with a piece of creamy paper called a degree should never stoop as low as to jostle. That simply was not done.

Many things should simply not be done. Ian knew that since he was a young boy. What was it Mother always repeated to him as she rocked him on her lap?

Ian, God said many things in the Bible, but the most important of them all were the Ten Commandments, and remember this especially, darling, that “Thou shalt not steal”. It’s so easy to forget that in this world.

Steal what, Mother? He had meant to ask, but a 5-year old’s attention span only lasted till the next “Choo-choo!” of the electrical toy train rounding the track, and he promptly forgot his question.

Quinn had meant no harm, but Ian chose not to know that. Quinn had meant no harm by offering the new intern a cup of coffee one winter morning when the office heater abruptly broke down. Quinn had meant no harm as he brushed Ian’s fallen fringe away from his eyebrows as they partied at the bar, riskily only four streets away from their office. Quinn had meant no harm as he turned and smiled a brilliant smile, in the warm glow of dawning light and rumpled linen sheets. Quinn had meant no harm by existing, but Ian refused to believe that.

Ian thought Quinn made him forget his morality, his values and principles. Some things were wrong. Some things could not be done. Some things should not be done.  So, Ian stopped. And disappeared.

Graduate from college, find a good job, work for half a century, retire to play with your grandchildren -Ian received first-class honors for every successive level in life. His wife didn’t love him, but the relationship was cordial, and society deemed that acceptable. What was love to life? Life was simply to go on breathing.

And Ian was done with breathing. All the so-called right and good and should-do deeds he accomplished would come to naught. He would never get to heaven – a place, as his grandson had delightedly recited to him after Sunday class, where the streets are paved with gold and the angels sing all day. His one long-buried sin ensured that. Was heaven was the place for him? Maybe his heaven wasn’t that particular one. Heaven was…..

Quinn.

He needed Quinn. He would admit that now. Unborn apologies span a lifetime and are not forgotten.

Ian had lain in white linen sheets for two months. A solitary figure of age and regret in this sterile private hospital. He was more than ready to go. He wanted to go. Finally, he would be able to set things right.

The evening sun washed the ward walls gold and illuminated the marigolds in the vase to a surreal brilliance. Ian felt the gold drawing him in…. lighted dust motes spinning in the air, only to settle gently upon his eyelids as they slid heavily to a shut.

Finally, he thought, then struggled drowsily to open them a slit, gazing out of the window to the street below filled with straight lines, rigid tarmac and people. No, he would not miss anything at all.

He would live as he once could have. Return Quinn the life he stole from him, the future they could have had. He would go to where Quinn had gone. The choice of destination sealed that afternoon Ian wordlessly gave his answer as he turned his back to Quinn and walked away.

So Quinn had walked off too. Walked off with leather soles silent on the concrete of the rooftop, then the ledge, then air.

Finally, Ian smiled, finally hell has found me.

________________________

After watching the gassing scene in “Amen.” (2002). Historical facts need to be checked as well as Hebrew/Judaism traditions.

Aviya’s Kaddish

It’s like the sandpaper in Tate’s workshop. Bobeshi’s hand feels like the sandpaper in father’s workshop. It hurts, because she’s squeezing my fingers so tight.

I don’t understand. We look funny. I have no hair. It scares me. Brother once pointed up to a room where he said there was a boy as thin as a stick, with no hair. We were playing with the little stones on the street. He said you must be very sick to have no hair. Does this mean I’m sick?

I don’t want to be sick.

I want Zeyde. I don’t know where he is. I like Bobeshi too, but she doesn’t seem to hear me when I call her. She doesn’t seem to feel my tugs now. Zeyde always felt my tugs. Where is he?

This room smells funny.

Bobeshi said they will be fine. She kept saying that as they pulled and pushed us up the truck. She kept rocking me, like I was a baby, rocking me in her arms and saying, “They’ll be fine, they’ll be fine, they’ll be fine,” over and over again. Like how they make me write “I promise I will be good girl” over and over again on my chalkboard when I’m naughty. I tried to call, “Bobeshi..”, but she was looking back at our house as I felt the truck move forward. The road was very bumpy. I tried to look back too, but Bobeshi kept holding my face pressed tight against her neck. I kept crying and Bobeshi kept crying.

I’m not a baby; I’m seven years old and everyone was crying, not just me.

They took Migda away from me. I want Migda back, even though Brother says she’s dirty and smelly, and that dolls are stupid. I don’t care. Mother made Migda for me. That’s what Tate told me. He said, ” Aviya, you must take care of Migda, yes? See how she looks like you with black shiny hair and dark, dark eyes?”

Migda only has half a dress though, because Mother couldn’t make the other half. Tate said she was very sick. Did she have no hair too? I took very good care of Migda. Migda is my best friend. I have a red dress just like her. It is my favourite dress.

Bobeshi’s pulling me to a corner.

“This is not a bath…” I hear her mumble. I look up at her. There is no water yet, of course it’s not a bath yet. There’s a shower head above us. It looks like the one we have at home. But ours is nicer.

Bobeshi’s eyes are closed, but she keeps crying. I cry too. I don’t know why. Everyone keeps crying the past few days. Luckily Brother isn’t here to see me. He always said I was a baby.

There’s smoke in the room. Is there a fire? Why is there no water coming from the shower head?

I look around, but I don t see any fire; it doesn’t feel hot. But I throw myself to the floor like how Tate said I should if there was ever a fire. I pull Bobeshi to do the same. “Tate says we should, Bobeshi… Bobeshi….”

She doesn’t answer me. I pull her hand, but still she doesn’t move. “Bobeshi……”

“Aviya…. Aviya, come my child..”

” But Bobeshi…”

“Aviya..” her voice trails off. I don’t know what to do. There seems to be more smoke. The smoke is yellow. I’m scared. Tate said it’s safest to lie flat. Like the planks of wood in the workshop. But Bobeshi’s still not lying down.

I don’t want to lie down alone. I crawl slowly into her lap. “Bobeshi..?”

“Aviya… we’re going to pray. Pray, like we do in the synagogue together, ” Her voice is the same as mine when I whisper to Migda things I want only her to know.

We speak slowly and softly together, “Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”

The smoke is making my eyes cry on their own.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”

I struggle to finish my words and repeat the prayer. I can’t seem to remember how many times I’ve said the prayer.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”

Bobeshi has stopped, but something tells me I must go on.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”

Through the thick smoke, I see other girls my age lying down with their mothers and Bobeshis.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”

I lie down too, because my head feels heavy.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”

I move my lips but I can’t hear myself. The prayer runs through my head.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”

Barukh ata Adonai ……………………..”

___________________________________

Translations

Aviya: God is my Father

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam…”: ” Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe…”

Bobeshi (bo∙besh’∙ee): Granny

Migda: Choice thing, gift

Tate (ta’∙teh): Father

Zeyde (zey’∙deh): Grandfather

________________________

2004 VJC Literature Assignment – “Write an essay in the style of Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline & Fall”

Finè: For the Good of the World

The Chief Examiner of the Royal School of Music entered the room, noting instantly with approval that every prerequisites were in place. Years of experience had bestowed on him the unteachable skill of spotting the important requirements in a single glance – the cup of Twining’s, the cream-cushioned chair, the white roses in the crystal vase, positioned exquisitely at the right corner of his desk.

He always did like white roses – they were a pleasant distraction as the hopeful little Mozarts pounded away on the piano keys.

Ah, yes. The piano.

He gave it a cursory glance as he picked up his tea. Not bad. Not bad. It was one of the better examination pianos he had seen. There were few areas where the black paint flaking off, but all the keys seem to be present and in their appropriate places – with some luck, they might even be in their right pitch.

He chuckled to himself as he sat down, satisfied. Good. Good. They had added the right amount of cream to his tea. Half a spoonful of cream, half a spoonful of fresh milk and two cubes of refined sugar. He was by no means a very particular man, but he did fancy certain necessities to be as they should. Tea was simply not tea without the precise amount of milk, cream and sugar.

A low grunt caught his attention.

The first candidate had arrived.

Mr Tondeph observed the boy who now sat at the piano, hunched and slightly unsteady, due to the fact that two legs of the piano chair were missing stoppers.

“It’s only two,” he thought distractedly, continuing his observation of the next generation of bright, young Pianists. Pianists who would bring culture, grace, beauty and elegance to the entire world. Playing the piano was an art, a skill, a refinement that had to be shared for the greater good of mankind, for the benefit of humanity. He paused, touched by the poetic beauty of his thoughts and dabbed the corners of his eyes with the tablecloth in front of him, before honking his nose into it.

He searched for what he knew would be a pair of intelligent eyes beneath the tangled nest of hair. He did so like to make eye contact with the candidates: it reflected the universal bond that people of culture shared. Mr Tondeph peered harder at the head of hair.

After a while, he gave up, deciding that the candidate was a shy tormented soul who liked to keep his thoughts (and eyes) private, barred from public sight.

“Oh, Pianists! Such unique individuals. So different from the rest!” he mused.

“You may begin,” he announced, waving a hand vaguely in the boy’s direction. He turned his attention back to sipping his tea while he admired the roses. Drinking tea required utmost concentration, it should be paid full attention to when done.

One could not drink too fast, in fear of missing the flavour, yet one could not drink too slowly, in fear of diluting the flavour. He paused once more, proud that he had single-handedly thought up that saying. “I really should write a book,” he thought, “it would undoubtedly be a best-seller.”

For the next twenty minutes, Mr Tondeph pondered over plausible titles, faintly conscious of the da-dum-da-dum coming from a corner of the room.

“Now, was ‘The Wise Sayings of Mr Tondeph” better? Or did “Sayings of the Wise Mr Tondeph” sound more creative? Such impossible decisions!” he sighed. What an undertaking it was to convey the poise and elegant wit of his (yet-to-be-written) book.

He was dimly aware of the shuffling approaching his desk. The picture of twin toes poking out from torn sneakers scuffled into his line of vision. He lifted his head slowly, still agonizing over whether “Mr Osow Tondeph” sounded more impressive than the usual “Tondeph”, and nearly hit the hand above his head.

Mr Tondeph smiled congenially at the boy, taking the crumpled ball of dollar notes that was thrust at him. He counted them silently with growing appreciation. He smiled again at the boy.

“Your playing of Hayden was brilliant. A distinction is surely called for!”

The boy gave (what could only be described as) a grunt, and proceeded to shuffle out the door, a tattered Chopin score in his hand.

Mr Tondeph took another precise sip of tea, pleased that he had chosen a vocation in which he could contribute to the good of the world.

________________________

The Elucidations of Mistress Beech: Would You Dump an NS Boy for a Uni Man?


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