Friday, March 20, 2009


The mother bear saw the backpackers trudging up the mountain slope looking weary, stiff-cold and lost. She stood in her hiding-place for many moments observing them, contemplating, before she made a decision.

“Hello there!” She called out, revealing herself. Startled, the two backpackers stayed rooted at their spots, eyeing the bear as she lumbered towards them. They were bewildered a bear just greeted them.

“W-well h-hello t-there,” one of them stammered.

“I mean you no harm,” the bear said. She stood on her hind legs and was only slightly taller than the taller of them.

“N-neither do w-we.” There was a pause as they looked at each other, and the cold wind whistled around their ears. The terrain was a blanket of snow and there was nothing else in sight.

The mother bear mulled over them. Both were covered in thick winter clothing and had on cumbersome mountain boots. Their heads were covered in parkas but she could still tell they had been exposed to the cold for a long time by their frosted eyebrows and pale blue faces. The one who had been stammering shifted on his feet nervously while the other looked at the ground between them.

“I would like to invite you guys back to my place. It’s safe, warm and there’s more than enough food to go around.” The mountaineers glanced at each other. The mother bear sensed their hesitation and repeated, “It is safe, warm and there’s more than enough food to go around.”
“It is s-safe warm and there’s more than enough food to go a-around?”

“Yes it is safe, warm and there’s food.” They looked at each other again.

“Are you all alone there?” The other guy spoke up for the first time.

“Erm well, I’ve got two cubs there. But it’s safe, warm and there’s plenty of food to go around.”
“W-what if it is a t-trap?”

The mother bear laughed, that is, she went haw-haw-haw in a rasping way. “Bears don’t eat humans.”

“Bears don’t invite back humans back to their dens either.”

“Well it’s up to you to trust me. My place is safe, warm and there’s food.” She turned her back and lumbered away and the two humans, exhausted after days lost in the mountains, followed her back.

The den was a cave nestled on the snowy slope and as they approached two clubs clambered out to their mother. “Mama mama is back!” They hugged her hind legs and she patted them on their heads.

“W-why can we hear bears t-talk?”

“I’m not so sure. Half of me is thinking this is a figment of our imagination.”

“A-and the other h-half?”

“The other half is thinking of food and a place to rest.”


They settled down in the middle of the cave where it was dark where the light from the opening could not reach. The mother bear laid on the ground some berries and mountain trout. Her eyes glowed dimly in the partial darkness. Her cubs were poking about the humans’ backpacks. Her guests, whether they aware of it themselves, were staring intently at the food.

“The food and this cave is yours if you agree to one condition,” she said. They looked at her.


“Yes, and the condition is that you must stay here till my cubs grow big.”

“But why?”

“Because I would like my cubs to have some playmates.” The words reverberated in the humans’ heads. They could not decide whether to laugh at the strangeness of it all or to feel despair at the gravity of the situation.

“And if we refuse?”

“Then you will have to leave this place immediately.” They flinched slightly. The exhaustion on their faces, the mother bear realised, was visible despite the darkness.

“We’ll need time to think this over.” The mother bear said, “Sure,” and packed the food away and brought her cubs outside.

“W-what n-now?”

“There’s no way I’m going to spend the next few years as a caveman.”

“W-what t-then?”

“Ok here’s what I think.” He lowered his voice. “They have the food and shelter that we need. We would probably not survive if we go outside again. But we don’t want to agree to her condition. So we kill her and take this place over by force.”


“We have our machetes. We can do it.”

“Yes, but isn’t that kind of c-cruel?"

“It’s survival of the fittest my friend. Plus if we kill her we have extra food.”

“Haven’t the thought of a-agreeing crossed your mind? L-look at it this way. A year or so in the mountains away from civilization, food and accommodation provided f-free. A year isn’t a l-long time..”

“I’m not going to do that.”

“Or h-how about promising her, taking the food and regain our strength, then r-run away one day?”

“It’d be impossible to escape with her keen senses. And if she finds out we won’t have an easy time. Right now we have the element of surprise. Either you’re with me or against me.” The two humans stood in the cave contemplating for moments before they made a decision. They drew out their machetes and hid them behind their backs.

When the mother bear entered her den she sensed something was wrong but could not quite place it. As she approached the humans one of them lunged for her with a sharp object and she dodged reflexively.

Her instincts took over. She growled and lunged for the aggressor, swiping him with her strong paws. She delivered a glancing blow and there was a cry of pain but before she could do anything else she felt a sharp pain in her back. She let out a mighty roar before the one whom she had injured stabbed her in the front. She used her paws to fend off the front attacker but her mobility was restricted by the blade buried deep in her back.

At this point the cubs tried and protect their mother. They went for the legs of the humans but their thick trousers and mountain boots reduced any damage they might inflict. The humans kicked the cubs away and continued pressing on the mother bear. They got in another stab, and another, and when she was weak enough they pulled out the blade from her back and stabbed her repeatedly, front and back, as she went down.

The cubs watched terrified as their mother struggled feebly on the ground. They knew she was in pain but there was nothing they could do. Her cries grew softer, softer, until they were no more, and the cubs had no choice but to run out from the cave their hearts wailing and their eyes in tears. They were rendered motherless and homeless by two savages and they would now have to wander in the bitter cold mountains weary, stiff-cold and lost.

Monday, November 3, 2008

8 characters in 4 vignettes

Conversation between a solid bench in the park and a smoker who sat on him

Ah, another one coming. Steady up now!

The person took a seat, then took a cigarette. A couple of kids were still screaming in the playground in the late hour. Damn bloody noisy.

Those kids must be enjoying themselves.

Damn bloody noisy.

The sun has set and it’s very dark. I wish they would repair some of the lightings in the park. Or maybe they should install more. The kids, they should be going home soon. Are you alone or waiting for someone?

Come to park also so noisy. Everywhere so damn bloody noisy. Can’t have a peaceful smoke anywhere.

Seems a loner. Poor thing.

Very sian, work again tomorrow. Boss always nag nag nag. Wife always nag nag nag nag. Sometimes I wish I could be all alone.

Many lonely people come to the park. I wonder why. Ouch! What are you doing?

The person took out another cigarette, lit it, and smoked.

This is painful, get the thing off me!

Stupid bench, so ugly.

Grrr. Why do they always have to hurt me? The bin with the ashtray is only a few steps away.

The person flicked the first cigarette off the bench. So many mosquitoes about.

I wish you would go away.

But don’t want to go home leh. Wife nag nag nag nag.

A few moments passed as the smoker smoked and smoked and the kids, still playing at the playground, screamed and screamed. The bench, not very happy with the treatment he got, but somehow used to it, sulked and sulked.

I wish you would go away.

The smoker lit a third cigarette.

Ouch. Why must you put the burnt cigarette on me?

Don’t want to go home leh.

I wish you would go home soon.

Go home wife nag nag nag nag. Go home sleep then it’s another day’s work. Boss nag nag nag. I wish I can stay here forever. Stay here and smoke cigarettes forever.



On the quiet girl

The quiet girl, in her attempt to shrug off her pursuers after school, went to a restaurant to have her lunch before going home, in the hopes that the high price of the restaurant would deter those boys who have nothing much better to do than disturb her solitude. She knew too that there would be another bunch of boys waiting around her house, and if she is to obtain a quiet time by herself she cannot seek recourse to the one place that knows her better than anyone else.

Now, the restaurant she picked was somewhat out of way, and usually she would be able to enjoy her sashimi and do her homework in peace. Halfway between her third and fourth piece of sashimi though, came a male and a female who did not wait for the waiter to direct them to their seats. They settled down in a table beside her and the male was saying: “Why shouldn’t it matter? A judgement of one person usually entails a holistic overlook of that person, and while we like to think we can evaluate the person on a particular issue only, we give ourselves more credit to our sense of impartiality than is realistically the case.”

“Well I think you shouldn’t smear others with the faults that you possess. Not everyone is as flawed as you, and just because you are unable to divorce an evaluation of an artiste’s artistry from his or her personal life does not mean that others are susceptible to such a weakness,” replied the female.

“Yes, but-“ The waiter interrupted the male by handing them their menus. “Your menus madam and sir. We are having a set for two tuna belly set for promotion price today.”

“Alright thanks,” the male said, before replying to his partner:”But very often our subconscious perception of the person influences our conscious evaluation in ways that we are not immediately aware of.”

“Why don’t we order first then continue quarrelling?”

A silence of a few minutes ensued, which gave the little girl a breath of respite. She suspected the pair beside her would be a formidable obstacle to her afternoon solitude, the mere thought of which caused her to emit a small sigh, which resonated through the room like a teardrop making a ripple in an ocean.

“Did you hear that small sigh?”

“Yes, I did.” The couple turned their attention to the small girl beside them, and the male asked: “Hello, did you just sigh?” The little girl shook her head.

“Hm, I thought I did hear a sigh.”

“I thought so too, but it couldn’t be from her. So maybe we heard wrongly.”

“What makes you think she is giving us the truth?”

“Well we have no reason to believe she is lying.”

“That doesn’t rule out the possibility that she did lie.”

“She needs a motive to lie doesn’t she. Why don’t you suggest a motive then?”

“But my failure to do so doesn’t mean she is not lying. I am not completely astute to why people lie.”

And the pair started a dispute afresh, in the midst of which the girl gave another sigh which was not picked up by them. She finished her last sashimi, packed her stuff and left the table, only to stop in her tracks at the entranceway when, to the sinking of her heart, she saw her pursuers at the entrance wearing smiles that reminded her of a pack of wolves. She wanted to cry out loud there and then but reminded herself that one of great solitude is also one of great fortitude, and that there must also be another exit from the restaurant through the kitchen.

On the noisy general

The mist always has people running from it in apprehension, and was therefore not so pleased when he found that a certain crazed person was running towards it. Now this certain crazed person was dressed in military garb and carried a pistol in one hand and a sword in another. His voice – for he was shouting in a gruff tone – rose above the general chaos in the battlefield, and contained only a number of words: “Killings! I want more killings!”

The mist, by this time, had already caused many to flee the battlefield (some rather hysterically), but this man, this man was different.

“Go away you damn thing! My men have to do more killings!” This man roared. They were within paces of each other, but the distance remained as neither made a move. The mist, which occupied the entire horizon, glared at him. The man, who seemed a single speck on the horizon from afar, glared back. “Well? Are you leaving or not?”

The mist decided that he cannot allow this man to ruin his reputation, and so lumbered forward and engulfed the man.

“What are you trying to do?” Yelled him, while firing his pistol and waving his sword. “Go away!” He was engulfed in a sea of misty green, and his clothes absorbed some of it and soon glowed darkly. “My men need to do more killings and you are disrupting their tempo you beast!”

And though the mist remained unhurt by the man’s sword and pistol rounds, he felt a feeling of worthlessness he had never felt before, because he was incapable of driving this man to insanity, or fear, or paralysis, whichever is worse. Soon this feeling of worthlessness overcame him, and he could take it no longer and started to retreat back to his humble home, which is anywhere else but this place. The general’s men, seeing the mist retreating and the general’s figure waving maniacally, threatening the mist to never come back, broke out into smiles and resumed their killings.

Conversation between a dying whale and someone who wants to save him

It is after evening, and it is getting dark, but a few people are still on the beach trying to help the whale. The construction worker, on his way back home, decides to help out. As he approaches the whale he can hear it muttering something.

You can talk? He asks.

You can listen to me talk? The whale replies.


That’s strange.

Yes. I want to help you. What can I do?

Why do you want to help me?

I want to help you.

There’s probably not much you can do.

I want to help you.

The whale seems slightly amused. There’s nothing much you can do. These people pouring water onto me. They’re actually not helping much.

What can I do then?

Nothing much.

Surely there’s something. The construction worker looks around. A few persons pouring buckets of water onto the whale. A few others standing around taking photos. One guy is scribbling something on paper. The construction worker puts down his bag and rolls up his long sleeves. Surely there’s something.

I don’t think so, the whale tells him.

Hmm. Maybe I could call the town authorities.

It’s too late.

The construction worker approaches a nearby person and asks: Did someone call anyone?

The person replies: It’s too late. The authorities probably won’t do anything anyway. They will say they can’t do anything. They probably can’t.

Did no one try?

The authorities can’t do anything.

The whale gives off a small laugh. I told you so. There’s nothing to be done.

I’ll call the nearest city officials. The whale gives off a small laugh. It’s too late. Cough cough.

The construction worker is already calling the relevant people. He hangs up shortly. They’re coming soon, he tells the whale. Help is coming soon.

It’s too late.

It’s not too late. Don’t give up. Are you all alone? What about your family?

I have no family, replies the whale. I’m all alone in this world.

Don’t give up. Help is on the way.

Heheh. It doesn’t matter. I’m all alone in this world. The whale closes his eyes. He feels tired.

The construction worker thinks about this for a while. Then he says: Don’t give up, you’ve got me.

The whale opens his eyes, thinks about this for a while, and closes them again. Cough cough. Cough cough.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

8 Characters

The solid bench in the park

The solid bench in the park has been a witness to a great number of happenings in this world. He has seen the likes of couples quarrelling, plants growing, plants being plucked by mischievous teenagers, couples kissing and making love on top of him, people littering when the bins were a feet away, a couple of organised protests and even a car accident when it managed –somehow– to spin out of control into the park. Since he was conceived by construction workers a decade ago he had weathered considerably. His frame has been carved off by punks who had nothing better to do and no home to return to, his back has absorbed bucket loads of sweat and was becoming soft, dogs had desecrated his legs by doing their business on them, and so on. But he still stands strong and firm in his spot in the park, which is near a children’s corner which usually gets very crowded and noisy in the evenings. He stands strong and firm and where other compatriots have collapsed he continues his silent servitude to the public and hope the people would appreciate him one day.

The beached whale

A large grey mass lies on the beach against a backdrop of orange sunset. The mass is heaving up and down gently, and it is emitting a fishy, stale odour. Some people are turned off by the smell and stand at a distance pointing and watching; others are pouring buckets of seawater onto it. A few kids are scampering around, with their parents trying to bring them under control. One kid tries to climb up the mass, but it’s too slippery. Another is kicking sand at it. Two eyes are watching all these happenings with a detached interest. They are small compared to the rest of the body they belong to, like peas on a table. The eyes focus on one thing for a moment, then another. The whale knows they’re trying to help him, those pouring the buckets of seawater at least, but he knows it’s no use. He wants to thank them, to show his gratitude, but he doesn’t know how to and he can feel his energy leaving him slowly and gently as the sun sets behind him.

The smoker

When I asked the smoker how his life is now, he replied, with a lit cigarette in his hand, “Prices now so expensive! Electricity going up, so I don’t turn on heater before bathing, so I eat in the dark, just to save money. No choice lah, need to save.” So I asked him why doesn’t he quit smoking then, since cigarettes are so expensive.
He took a puff and said: “Some things can’t be helped one lah. I need cigarettes to enjoy, if not work whole day will die one.” He looked at his cigarette, took another puff, threw it on the ground and lit a new one. I bid him goodbye and as I left him I saw him squat against a wall, a tired look on his face as he tried to open a new cigarette pack.

The quarrelling couple

The quarrelling couple quarrel day in day out over almost everything: the unfairness of China dominating the Olympics, whether to eat in a food court or a kopitiam for dinner, whether Singapore is a decent place to live in, what kind of dog they should adopt. Whenever one of them makes a thesis, it is highly likely the other would disagree and come up with an antithesis. One of the evenings they were dining at a restaurant, they disagreed so badly on whether the government’s efforts to encourage people having more babies are effective, that another couple next to them thought to themselves: wow these people must be rather patriotic citizens to be discussing national policies with so much passion. Thus they weren’t too surprised when they saw the couple embracing and holding hands as they left the restaurant, despite such a heated quarrel.

The quiet kid

She likes to have her lunch at school alone, even when her classmates press on her to join them. Unfortunately for her, the school canteen is always crowded, so she usually packs a lunch box and finds a quiet spot to eat all by herself. Usually it would be by the small pond, but sometimes she would be at the backstage of the school hall when that got too noisy. On occasion males would try to find her, probably because they want to know more about this mysterious girl. They try stationing themselves outside her class right before the bell went, and tailing her discretely. Some groups would place lookouts at strategic places throughout the school; others would try camping at her commonly seen spots. Some groups would even join hands with other groups, forming a big network of alliances such that a visitor during the school’s lunch break would wonder if there is a particular game of manhunt going on. Even then those boys usually have a hard time because the girl, the quiet kid, disappears so easily into the world of things.

The mist

The mist always has people running away from it in apprehension. When it seeped into the living room of the Tongs, they hurried to close all windows. When that still didn’t help they panicked and went into their rooms and locked their doors. But still they found themselves surrounded by the mist and panicked even further. They huddled into a corner and muttered prayers of salvation but still the mist didn’t go away, most likely because she didn’t understand English. Little Tong asked tearfully if the mist was going to eat them up, but Mr Tong said that if it wanted to it would have done so already. They then realised that there really is nothing deadly about this mist, and went about their daily lives as usual. They couldn’t help but notice, though, that the mist clung onto all objects, from the pages between books to the toilet seats to the undergarments they were wearing, and left a faint, corporeal taint on them which no amount of washing could remove.

The army general

“Sir, what are we to do now?”
“Kill them!” roared General Tasymachus.
“But, sir, our forces are being pushed back on all fronts..”
“Are you saying we are losing...colonel?” roared General Tasymachus.
The colonel hesitated at this point. “Well get to the killing then colonel!” roared General Tasymachus. The colonel saluted and left the quarters.
The general, weighed down by his bright-coloured uniform, its many medals and his grizzly white beard, walked heavily to his guard at the door. He glared at the steadfast soldier and roared, “We are going to win this war! We will prevail!” The soldier stared unblinkingly ahead.
General Tasymachus walked to his desk and pored over his maps. Another colonel came in, saluted, but before he could say anything General Tasymachus looked at him and roared, “Doing your killings colonel?” The colonel gave a negative answer.
“What? No killings?”
“No sir our enemy are doing the killings,” the colonel stated. The General pounded his fist against his palm and said, “Confound it! How can this be? We are the ones who should be doing the killing!” He looked at the colonel and said, “Colonel, I want killings now!”

The construction worker

Having gone through the suffocating boat ride to the island, having gone through a few unanticipated troubles with his documents, the tough-skinned labourer looked forward to a steady, predictable life of menial work at a construction site. He worked hard, but never too hard, knowing that in this line of work health is as important as diligence. While other workers spent their dinners on hearty food and enjoyed themselves he would only eat the bare minimum required for the next day’s work, and where they went to places in the city during the weekend he would spend his time at the living quarters where no one else was around. He keeps his weekly income in a small cloth bag, underneath the only possessions he has left in this world, and ties it securely to him every night when he sleeps, knowing that the world is a harsh place especially when all he has is himself.