To Daphne

Shouts and screams echoed in the National Intel Organization – TOOTHBRUSH SKIMS ULCER. DON’T PUSH ME.

Johnny walked to and fro across his office with heavy footsteps, his eyebrow strained as his mind was cluttered. He snapped his fingers silently as he pondered upon that phrase.

“Toothbrush skims ulcer. Toothbrush skims ulcer. Toothbrush... What could it possibly mean?”

Agent M was shot dead while working on an important case. With his last bit of strength, he spoke through the mike on his lapel those six mind-boggling words: Toothbrush skims ulcer. Don’t push me. The officers working on the case burst out through the doors of the communications room, shouting and screaming as they demanded that every agent in the building gave them the most suitable interpretation of that phrase as it could provide the only breakthrough for the case they have been working on for months.


crossing of two paths 6

To dance along to the tune that was being played, to put on a mask and be part of a masquerade ball, it was all too easy an act to play. He stumbled his way into his car, and silently departed from the scene. No one knew who he was; no one knew his pain... no one...



crossing of two paths 5

He walked out from the masquerade ball panting. Sweat dripped from his forehead and streamed down, wetting his collar. His back was all wet. Blood starting gushing out from his thigh’s wound, but the black-coloured pants covered it up pretty well. There were a few droplets all over the dance floor, but too insignificant for anyone to realize. He stretched out his hand towards the park bench outside to support his own weight. Foam started to gather in his mouth.

Who was that guy?
He danced so well...
That was a breathtaking smile!!
Does anyone know who that was?

And so he walked out into the night, without anyone knowing who he was. He took off his mask, and lifted it over the trash can, ready to throw it away. He hesitated, and let out a sigh as he stared at the mask.


crossing of two paths 4

The whole room was illuminated as the dazzling chandeliers that hung from the ceiling came to life. The patterns on the walls and the paintings on the ceilings of the hall were just breathtaking. The whole building was conceptualized by a famous Arabian architect and intricately constructed by some of the best in the world. One of the students’ parents owned the building, and so the class of 08 seniors had one of the most magnificent places to hold their annual school prom.

As time passed, cars filled the parking lots and students filled the ballroom. Hundreds of students began to gather in cliques and indulge in idle talk. Some commented on others as though they were fashion students, others gossiped about the latest celebrity scandal or the school’s happenings. Giggles, whistling, chattering and loud-obnoxious laughs could be heard from outside the lobby. Glasses clanged with each other as they blissfully celebrated their graduation from school. Guys started hitting on girls, hoping to be lucky; and the females willingly and flirtatiously entertained the guys. Some were unlucky, and received a nice, red hand mark on their faces; others were able to go out together in the night to make out.

You could see that all of them really put a lot of effort in ensuring that they looked perfect for the night. For the guys, suits were dry-cleaned and ironed out, shirts were creaseless, and ties were repeated adjusted to the “perfect” length and position. For the girls, hours were spent in front of the mirror, dressing up and putting on make-up. Hairdos were done by the most expensive hair-dressers in the district. Every girl was dressed to kill, and their clothes demanded the attention of every guy in the room.


it's still the same #2

I froze.

No, it wasn't a gun pointed at the back of my head. A smile grew slowly and spreaded right across my face. An amazing aroma drifted right by me. I know that smell! Peanut butter cookies! Chocolate chip cookies! And not just any sort of cookies that you can get. It was Madam Courtney's family secret, one passed down and perfected since the days of her great-grandaunt. Oh yes! I know that aroma very well.

As kids, we used to run about the neighbourhood wasting our childhood years away. Everytime we passed by Madame Courtney's house, all of us would stop if she was baking her famous cookies. The smell of it would cause everything inside of you to hunger for it. It would cause you to stop in your tracks if you were rushing anywhere else. It was a "magical" cookie to me. Being kids, we would run up to her, begging for a bite of those gastronomical delights. It always came with a condition: the bunch of us would have to clean up her house, sweep her lawn etc. But it was all worth every sweat as the cookies were amazingly good.

Yes. Those were the good ol' days. I stood there and just enjoyed the moment. My nose was enjoying what it was smelling. Ah... Now I can finally say...


it's still the same

The year was 1991. The cold war had just ended. Troops everwhere were dispersed one by one back to their hometowns. Smiles beamed on the faces of everyone as it had been umpteen years since anyone last saw their family. Rifles and helmets were thrown back into the stores as each of us boarded the truck. Although we missed our families, one would say we have been out here so long that we were attached to the bunkers and trenches we stayed in, with the brothers that we served with.

Big, muscular, tough men from my company wept as they said their goodbyes to each other. Brotherly bonds had been formed throughout these years. Blood, sweat and tears were shed together on the battlefield, fearlessly defending the country from any threat.

It was a long ride home. I had lost all my family members, and had nothing to look forward to as the house I was returning to was empty and lifeless. No hugs, laughter, a warm meal nor screams of joy awaited me at home. It was hard to say if I was actually happy to return or not. But, the war's over. That's some news to celebrate about. I'll probably hit the pubs nearby and get drunk real bad. I was 16 when I drafted into the army, having no family and no future to look forward to. After all those years of army training, I would say it has made me, if not a good man, a tough man.

Finally, we reached the targeted destination - HOME. I bade farewell to the dudes and walked forlornly up the pathway heading towards my house. It's been a while , a really long while. Everything seemed so foreign. The windows were filled with dust, and cobwebs were everywhere.

I ignored the call for cleaning up and changed into a singlet and a pair of cargo shorts. Time for a good walk. I headed out to take a stroll around the neighbourhood. Houses looked the same, yet different. It was as though I was at an alien land. The streets were clear, every so often a car would crawl past with its loud engine disturbing the just obtained peace. Kids ran around in the parks with screams and giggles, enjoying the fun that they were deprived of during the war. Yes, it was a time for celebration.

As I walked, I felt a slight sense of peace. The war was still disturbing me at the back of my head, subtly calling out to me. But now, I was able to put it all behind and release a sigh of relief. It was no longer dusty backlanes which I crawled on with dust and sand blowing against my face, but a cool, calm and clear breeze on a well-paved walkway. No sounds of bullets nor tanks, no screams of blood-thirsty lunatics, just the sweet chirpings of birds.

-to be continued.


crossing of two paths 3

And so he got ready for the night. He went to the bathroom and took a shower. A hot one, then a cold one, then a hot one again. He winced in pain as he cleaned the wound. The pain from the stab earlier was still fresh in his mind. He felt refreshed. His eyes were still slightly swollen and red, but it didn't really matter. He took some powder and rubbed it on his face.

He walked to the kitchen and grabbed the first aid kit. He wiped dry his wound and applied some antiseptic cream on his thigh. Then he began to bandage his thigh. It hurt badly, but again, it didn't really matter to him. He made up his mind not to regret anymore.

Limping, he went back to his room to get dressed. It was a 800 dollar suit that he had bought not too long ago. Just for this night. A black coat, black slacks to match, black socks and shiny leather shoes. He put on his white shirt, slowly doing up the buttons. As he did each button, he wondered whether he should go for it or forget about it and stay at home. He paused to look out of the window. The sun was setting. The birds were flying back to their nests. It was a classic painting of evening life, where roads were jammed up as people rushed back home for dinner with their families, others would head towards bars, some just drove with no direction in life, while some, headed back to enjoy the comfort of their bed alone. The sky was painted beautifully with orange, red, yellow, purple and pink. He stood there, staring blankly out of his window.

"Why does life seem to move on so normally even though everything's going wrong for me?"

He got fully dressed and put on his bow-tie. Just not too far back in the past, he stood looking at the mirror in the shop with one of the widest smiles anyone could give as he stared proudly in the mirror at the suit he had just purchased. Now, it was a face that lacked any form of emotions. More like a statue that stood lifeless in the park. He began to brush his hair. He had a forlorn look as he repeatedly combed his hair. Again, and again. Machine-like.

"Boy! Don't you have something on tonight?"
"Coming, Mother!"

He slowly walked down the stairs, feeling pain with every step. He gave his mom a kiss before heading to the car.

"Have fun tonight boy! Don't be late!"

The shout of his mother was drowned out by the engine of the car roaring into action.


grooving to the unknown beat

he felt it. he heard it. he bobbed his head to the beat. his body started grooving to the music. he snapped his fingers and did random hip hop steps with his feet. each part of his body moved to the beat. he smiled. he liked it.

no one else heard anything. but he heard it all. he enjoyed the music as he walked. everything didn't matter anymore. everything around him, ceased to exist. it was just him, his dancing, and the beat.

he grooved to the beat unknown by the world. he grooved to the unknown beat. he grooved. to the beat of silence.


crossing of two paths 2

He wiped the tears away.

"I don't have to trust anyone anymore. If they bothered a single bit of what went on, they wouldn't have done the things that they did. But the damage is already done. How can you fix up a vase that has been intentionally smashed against the wall, and its broken pieces stepped on until it turns to dust? It is but swept away. It doesn't matter anymore. I've already been swept aside by all of them. They said they care. But it didn't show. The saying goes, 'Actions speaks louder than words', but no one took heed. Their actions said nothing but hurtful things. They thought they were helping, but they were actually making things worse."

He took out a knife from the cupboard and stabbed his thigh. Blood splattered everywhere. It was painful. It was messy. But he didn't care.

"With this pain in my head, I vow to myself: I will shed a tear no more for this world. Purposeless tears would never roll down ever again."



He looked at the mirror for one last time before proceeding towards the door of his dressing room. He slowly inspected his face.

“Looks good,” he thought. “The perfect smile.”

He ran out to the centre of the ring. The crowd went wild, giving him the biggest round of applause that they had given all night. He took of his big hat and took a bow, acknowledging the crowd. Then suddenly, he pulled a rabbit out from his hat. The crowd cheered in amazement. He smiled, pausing to wipe the sweat that dripped down his brow. He did it carefully to avoid smearing the make-up that was on his face.

He ran around the ring, doing much foolish stuff that was practiced for years. He made a complete fool out of himself, much to the delight of the crowd. It was probably tricks and stunts that were familiar and overused, but somehow, the crowd still took it in and was greatly entertained.

He juggled, cycled on the unicycle, and messed around with his counterparts until his time was up. Then he took another bow before cart wheeling his way out. The crowd loved him and gave him a thunderous applause.

He walked to his dressing room slowly while taking off the gloves on his hand. He reached his dressing table and took of his hat and wig, then let his backside drop to the chair with a loud sigh.

“What would they know?”

He wiped of the face paint that covered his face, revealing a sad, wrinkled and long face. He grabbed a cigar from a tin can and lighted it. Forlornly, he walked with heavy steps outside. Smoking his cigar, he reflected on reality. There was no real smile, no real happiness. There was no applause for the stuff that he did and had done before.

It was all but a show. Nothing was real. Nothing at all.


emotions in the physical realm

He scrambled across the room, trying to run, but the room was dark and he stumbled over the objects that were laid across the room. He fell, and she was right behind him. He screamed as she touched his back with his hands. She called out, "Honey, is that you?"

Just days ago, they were the happiest couple in the world, just about to get married. She was blind, but he didn't mind. He loved her for who she was. It didn't matter that she had that physical defect; she was the most beautiful woman with the most amazing character. She stood strong and never once gave up during hardships. She was the strength behind him. And he was just about to propose. Suddenly he woke up in this dark unknown space.

He screamed her name in the dark, desperate to get her attention. She couldn't hear him anymore. Her ears were deaf as a set of noise-cancelling earplugs were stuffed into her ears. She walked around, stumbling and fumbling, unaware that this wasn't her room. Her body was wrapped with spikes, and she had gloves that had blades jutting over everywhere. Warm, fresh blood flowed from his back as he screamed in pain. He tried to avoid her, but it was almost impossible. He did a quick calculation and came up with a conclusion. They were trapped in a square room measuring 8x8 feet. There were random objects placed along the floor to make life difficult for them. His palms ached from the amount of times he tried to cushion his fall. The right side of his face was bruised, and his elbows were sore. His knees were full of cuts and scratches. Now, there was a deep cut in his back. He bit his teeth together in agony as he made his way around the room, desperately seeking for a switch, or an exit.

"Are you there? I'm scared. There's something on me that's making me really uncomfortable. Did you do it?"
"Don't come near me!! Stop moving!!"

Another blade slashed his forehead, barely missing his eye. He quickly figured they must have deafened her. Fatigue and pain slowly overcame him. He felt lightheaded from the blood lost. Another blade into his left calf and she fell over. He tried to pull out the broken blade. She called out to him again and again, but he couldn't approach her. He limped his way around the room.

"This isn't funny at all." he thought to himself. "Two deep cuts, a gash on my forehead, cuts and bruises everywhere... My fingers are beginning to feel cold and numb. Doesn't help that my head feels dizzy."

Finally, he found the light switch and managed to brighten up the room. He saw her condition and saw the earplugs in her ears. He walked towards her, attempting to "enlighten" her on the situation. But exhausted and due to the lack of blood, he collapsed.


crossing of two paths

His eyes looked swollen as it rested on the palms of his hands. His face had a lost look. His cheeks were still damp from the crying earlier. His throat was sore from the screaming he did last night. His pillow was still wet from his tears, mucus and saliva. The whites of his eyeballs were now red.

Life went on as usual. The sky looked bright and blue, just like any other days. The morning sun shone just enough to dry the clothes that hung on their racks after washing. There were a few clouds in the sky, one that looked similar to the face of a lion, the other of a deer. A flock of swallows circled the air, looking for trees to rest on. On a tree nearby, a crow perched on the branch, cawing away. Every now and then, a car would crawl past the neighbourhood. The breeze was perfect for a game of Frisbee or basketball. Not too strong to change the course of the game, but just right to cool down the players. It was a peaceful day, where housewives would take time out from housework to gossip in their neighbours' garden pergola as they sip on their earl grey tea in the most delicate manner.

It was one of those days that he would call a bunch of his friends out to the park or beach and mess around, doing everything any other teenager would do. A soda in one hand, a hotdog in the other, walking around the beach or park, enjoying the weather while daring each other to do nonsensical stuff, like saying a random line to strangers, or doing a handstand outside public toilets. It was just one of those days. Instead, he sat on the bench in his house porch, silently moaning about how unjust life has treated him.

He looked up at the sky and wanted to scream his lungs out, even though his voice had already gone coarse from the screaming into his pillow yesterday. He cried and wailed the whole night, but no one heard him. His pillow muffled the sound, loud enough only to the residents of the house he was in. But his brother was out on a date, as usual. His dad was too busy with work, and his mom was on a business trip out of state. It was just him, and his near-deaf grandpa in the house. No one heard his sorrow. He opened his mouth to scream, but something else caught his attention.

He saw a spider making its web at the corner of the awning. He looked on with his mouth still slightly open. He knew not what was so fascinating, but something just was. The spider spun her web with much agility and skill, bit by bit overlapping the outline of the web as it worked its way to setting a trap for the next unfortunate victim. Well, food from its point of view.

The wind blew, and the web was broken. The poor spider hung by the end of its thread, nothing else supporting it as it dangled in mid-air. It slowly made its way back up to the web and started all over again. The web was almost completed as the wind blew again. Again, the supporting lines gave way and the spider had to start all over again. Again and again this happened. For eight times, the poor spider had to start all over again. Then as it crawled across the outline of the ninth web, it wind blew and the spider fell from the ceiling as the web broke. Underneath, there was a bucket of water, and the spider fell into it. He got up from his seat and looked into the water. He started crying again.

Inside the bucket of water, he didn't just see a drowned spider. He saw himself. Not just a reflection, but the sad state he was in. He could relate to the spider.

He worked so hard in building the circle of friends he had. He thought he finally had a solid web of trust, but that joy ended in an instant as one of his friends told him that the rest never really treated him as a friend and that everything that he went through was all on the note of pretence. He moved on, and went on to find more and more friends. But time and time again, his trust was broken. People backstabbed him, they couldn't keep his secrets, they cheated on him, and they had used him. He had given up. Never would he trust anyone again.


of exams (part 18)

The playing of the piano stopped instantly. The music echoed in the music room as they gradually faded away. Fear gripped John’s heart. He feared he would be kicked out from the house for simply touching stuff. He slowly turned his head. Every inch he turned, the faster his heart beat. Cold sweat beaded down the sides of his face. Tears sprouted out from his tear duct. For that moment, everything seemed to be running in slow motion. John turned and saw his uncle standing right next to the door, leaning against the wall behind him.

“Absolutely brilliant. But wait, I thought you never learnt music? Wow, that was fantastic. How long have you been learning? What’s the title of that marvellous piece you just played?”

John wiped the tears from his face. He saw a smile on his uncle’s face for the first time. His uncle walked towards him and patted his back.

“You okay, lad?”

Trembling, John stuttered as he answered his uncle.

“I don’t know sir. I have never seen this thing or heard of it until a few days back, when Janet was cleaning the house. What I did just now, I have no clue either.”

His uncle was dumbfounded. How is this even possible? A genius of music indeed, to be able play with such technique and skill barely knowing what a piano is. Amazing.

“That’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in my life!!! John, that’s what I call music.”
“Music....” he thought. “Music!”

A smile crept on his face. He felt this overwhelming joy in his heart. All his fears a moment ago were all forgotten.

“I love this thing called music!” he blurted out, without even thinking about what he wanted to say.



of exams (part 17)

John started to play his heart out. His fingers linked with the piano as though they were married. He started to lose awareness of the things around him. For that moment, it was just him, and the music. Nothing else. Nothing at all.

He seemed to float in a space of darkness, with music notes circling him. His face showed the face of serenity. Music was his soul, his shelter, his escape from reality, his place of refreshment. Just weeks ago, this was all foreign to him. He had never touched or seen a piano. Now, he played like an established grandmaster that had 100 years of experience. He played like Usian Bolt on the 100m track, Pele on the football field, Tiger Woods on the golf course, and Rafael Nadal on the tennis court. Every note harmonized beautifully, and every note was delicately sewn together as one.

“Brilliant! Brilliant!”

Those two words echoed through the piano room as the music came to a stop. In the shadows at the door, someone stood there, clapping his hands.


of exams (part 16)

John’s eyes fluttered as it opened.

“Young master... Are you okay?”

John awoke in his room. He tried to sit up with the help of Alfred. John grabbed his head as he sat up straight as a sharp sensation hit his head.

“Where am I?”
“Your room, young master.”

John was still in a blur. He stood up like a guy who is suffering from a hangover. He stumbled and swayed from left to right as he made his way to the sink. Alfred stood, shaking his head at the young boy and went off to do his house chores.

The splash of water on his face was refreshing. It helped him gain back his senses.

“Piano... Piano...”

John ran to the piano room and sat down. His head started the tune that he had heard two days ago.


of exams (part 15)

John took a stroll outside the house early in the morning. Janet told him the fresh air would do him good. He roamed around, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. To any other person, it would be a boring walk. But for John, every step he took, he heard music playing in the air. It was constantly around him, and he smiled as he walked. He had no idea what produced the songs around him, neither did he understand it, but he knew one thing. It was marvellous. He started skipping as he went along the old broken path, and hummed a tune as he went. Suddenly he stopped and looked up. Not too far off, was a church. The bells were ringing, signalling that it was 9 o’ clock. The church choir were practicing for Christmas. It was angelic singing, and John was just stunned. He couldn’t stop himself from going back to the piano. He ran and ran back to Colby’s residence.

As he got to the gates, he panted like crazy and felt weak on his knees. He dragged his feet as he tried to reach the piano room as soon as possible. His face was pale and his arms were shaking, but he pressed on, so determined to reach the piano room as the tune inside his head was going to explode out. Everything around him started to look blurry. John collapsed to the ground.


of exams (part 14)

Maybe it’s all an illusion. Maybe I’m not really in this house. Maybe I’m in paradise. Maybe this is all a dream, a long dream that I will wake up crying cause it’s over. Maybe I’m still sleeping on the road. Maybe I’m dying. This is all too good to be true. This is all going on too fast. Life’s train is running at the speed of light. I can’t stop this train. I can’t make it go my way. I feel so hopeless.

Should I have started this journey? Maybe I should have just stayed where I was in the beginning. Maybe I should have just stayed at that lonely point. Maybe...