Friday, 3 October 2014

A Game Well-Played

When I tell you
That I'll be all yours,
I warn you, I'm wicked; I'll be lying (of course).
And yet for this fib, there'll be no trace of remorse,
You'd have known the Game's rules
before you walked through my doors.
This is a game you know well
(I think you've played it before)
It's fun (till it's not); it's love (till we're bored)
We'll both put up walls, we'll both keep score
Though you'll feel like you're winning,
you won't know for sure.
By the end of it all (when you think that there's more)
There'll be a buzzer, a handshake, an awarding (of sorts)
We'll each get the medals
that we've been playing hard for.
Yours will say WILLING VICTIM.
Mine will say HEARTLESS WHORE.

October 3 | 3:15PM

Friday, 19 September 2014

Things You Can Relate To If You're Dating a Foodie

You’re starving and ready to eat anything. Anything. And he’s still taking pictures of the food on your plate. First from your angle, and then from above, and then with macro, with the flash, without the some point he asks you to tilt the plate a little bit. Around the time he's finished, you've passed out.

When you’re traveling, tourist spots and landmarks just won’t do. Your itinerary’s filled with restaurants, food stalls, marketplaces and little specialty shops or delis. Two weeks later, his Facebook album is filled with delectable shots of dumplings, plates of authentic Italian pizzas, heaps of fresh fruits, towers of delicate desserts, and a single boysenberry (yes, even that, whatever it is). If you're lucky, maybe you're in that album...somewhere...maybe holding the bowl of ramen. 

Google Maps has the Satellite, Street, and Traffic views. He has Where-The-Good-Things-Are and it works like so: You’re both lost somewhere, it’s been three hours, and all he can say is, “I know where we are. The place with great Hainanese chicken rice is just around here, somewhere.” Strangely enough, he does find his way through any foreign city like this.

It’s eleven o'clock at night and he found a new recipe for beef stew. He’s got the meat, he’s got the spices, and he’s got the time. The most logical thing to do now (duh!) is to cook until three o’clock in the morning. And you're a nice girl/guy, you offer to help chop the onions and whatnot (but really you just want to get this over with as SOON. AS. POSSIBLE) Then the slow-cooked stew is done and the only thing holding you back from tearing into it with your bare hands is *ehem* poise and breeding. But he has to take photos for Instragram first (sigh...see #1)

You need to go on a diet to get your beach body ready for Boracay. But you just can’t get it started because everytime releases a new “Best [insert food category here] Places” list, you can bet where your next several dates are going to be. 

You (by some sorcery, or maybe you asked for some "space") got your abs ready in time for your teeny-weeny polka-dot bikini. Congratulations! When you get there—see #2. And you return to the city with a fabulous tan, and a flabulous tiyan. 

- H.Taotjo, September 2014

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Day of the Dead

I died yesterday.

I was in my own room, in my own bed. I was alone, it was noon of the third Sunday of the month. I was sick for a long, long time. I was sick for half my life. I remember feeling very hot, not uncommon with our tropical summer. But I was breathing very fast, like I was running and like I was chasing something unseen. I did not think I could breathe any faster. And then, not quite so suddenly, I felt a change come over me, my breathing slowed and I felt better. It slowed and it slowed until I was cured, and I needed no doctor.

The maid came in an hour later to bring chilled water. I watched her approach with boredom at first, then noticing that my chest neither rose nor fell, she was curious. Then aghast. Then she ran out of the room to fetch my father. I did not follow her, but I imagine that my father ran up the stairs, two steps at a time. He sat on the side of my bed and he wept. I have never seen my father weep—except the day the golden-haired foreigners left our country for good, and it had been joyful weeping then. I have never seen my father weep, and then I feared that I would have to watch him weep for a long time to come. But now I know that I feared for naught.

My funeral was no different from anyone else’s in our town. I had a polished coffin, made from wood of the asana tree. It was lined on the inside with clean white silk and cotton. The dress they buried me in was not something I would have chosen myself. There were flowers— a flood of white chrysanthemums, bright red anthuriums, and a shower of baby’s breath.

Wakes are not held in our town.

As soon as the undertaker was finished with me; as soon as I was dressed; as soon as the mourners were ready and my Guard chosen—as soon as all of these were done, they loaded my coffin onto a horse-drawn cart. My father, my friends, some townsfolk and the gravediggers walked behind it. The silent procession went past the town gate. There was no music.

Wakes are not held in our town. The dead are taken to the sacred place, the burial grounds near the old fort. It was where the holy man from the Vatican sprinkled blessed water on a large plot of land. The holy man left with the foreigners—I think he was the only one of their kind that my father missed.

The men of the town dug a hole in the ground, next to my mother’s tombstone. I thought that I’d see her somewhere, but perhaps she has moved on. 

I watched them drive their shovels into the dirt, again and again. It was hard work, and I felt grateful that they would do this for me. When they were finished, they lowered my coffin into the ground. The flowers, they placed around the opening of the hole. Then they said a prayer together—

Merciful Father, grant this child a night of peace.
May You grant her entrance to Your kingdom;
May You grant her the Joy that would never cease;
May You grant her the Eternity of true freedom.

And then they left. First the gravediggers, then the townsfolk I did not know, then the friends of my childhood, and finally my broken-hearted father. I blew them a kiss, and I wished a happy life for them all, and prayed that they not be too afraid of dying when their turn came.

The young man they chose to be my Guard was the only one who remained. He stood next to the open grave and gave a long sigh. A Guard’s duty is to keep the dead company on the first night of their death, a vigil of sorts.

He sat on the ground next to my open grave.

“Are you alright?” he asked me. Or he asked my coffin. Or the girl inside the coffin that has been lifeless for half a day.

“I’m uncertain.” I said.

“I wonder where you are right now.” he said.

“Right next to you.”

“I wonder if you know where to go?”

“I was hoping to stay here for a little while longer. I am uncertain if I am allowed. But I don’t know where to go, so I'll stay here with you.”

Then my Guard was silent, then he started to whistle.

Evening came upon us like a veil of pitch black. A Guard is allowed a small fire, and this he built from dried wood and grass that the townspeople left him. Then he came back to his place beside my open grave. He stretched out and lay on his back.

“Isn't that the most beautiful sky you've seen?” he asked as he stared up at the dome of stars. “That’s a proper summer night sky, that is.”

I took a long deep breath and confessed “It’s the only night sky I've really looked at.” In all my nineteen years, I have never gone outside after sunset, one of the doctor’s many orders. All I had to look up to at night was the bedroom ceiling.

But it really was beautiful. How can something so breathtaking not tire to exist night after night? Why was I not allowed to see this when I was alive to praise it?

I stretched out beside him and stared up, too. He just kept on speaking, naming the constellations out loud while pointing them out. I followed as best as I could, but I couldn't see how anyone could think that a patch of stars looked like a bear cub or a pair of scales or a sheep.

“Do you know that I volunteered to be your Guard?”

“No. I thought lots were drawn.” This confused me. To be a Guard of the Dead is a chore, not an honor that one would proudly step up for.

A Guard has to stay with the dead through the night, in the middle of the burial grounds, and fend off any wild animals. Or grave robbers. Or armed rebels. Or other things that hide in the dark. Members of the family were not allowed to be Guards; they held on too tightly.

“This afternoon, when I heard that you passed on, I ran to your father. When he would not have me, I ran to my father, who went to your father, who changed his mind and said yes.”

“Who are you?” I asked. I did not know him. He looked to be older than me, but not by much. He did not seem to be insane, or dangerous. I was praying that he would not violate my corpse.

“Then when my father told me I was to be your Guard, I dressed in my best suit and went to your house. I entered your room for the first time, and it wasn't what I expected it would be.”

“What did you expect it to be?”

“I thought there would be drawings on the walls, or a piano by the corner. Old dolls. A record player. But there were only books and books and paper littered everywhere. It looked more like a library with a bed.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That was better than I expected.”

“Thank you. Who are you?” I asked again.

“This was—is—my only chance to be with you, and ask you the questions that have piled up in my mind.”

Strange. When you are dead, and you know you are dead, you do not ask questions like "Why" any longer. You just understand, as I understood. I did not know him, but I understood him and all he is.

I lay there next to him, and I turned my head to face his. He volunteered to be with me and I did not even know his name.

“What kind of music did you like?” he asked.

“The kind that I could dance to. One with a fast rhythm and a melody I could hum afterwards, for days and days.”

“I like the music that I make with my guitar,” he said, “the kind with a quick beat that will make you jump from your seat.” He chuckled at his own rhyme. I chuckled with him.

“The pages of scribbles all over your room, what were they? They looked like poetry to me.”

“They were. I was a dreamer. When you are locked up in your room, that’s all you tend to do.”

"Tell me a story." he said.

"There was a king and his jester. The king said to the jester...tell me a story. So the jester said 'There was a king and his jester'"

“How did you get sick? Why did you barely come out of your house? Who was that man who took you to the park last summer? Did you see the fire that started across the street during the riot?”

And so it went, one question after another, all through the night.

The sky started to brighten. 

He knew that the sunrise meant the end of his vigil. I knew that it meant the end of my stay.

“Are you still there?” he asked.

“Right beside you.”

“I once dreamt that you died,” he said.

“This was a long time ago, before I knew you were ill. I dreamt that you died, and that everyone mourned for you. In my dream, I was not your Guard. But I stayed beside your tombstone anyway. I sat next to you and that was where I stayed until the end of time.” He was choking on his words, sobbing them out rather than saying them.

The pink glow of the new sun was behind the walls of the old fort, and I got up to leave. I felt heavy and burdened, and I knew that if I wanted to feel better, I would have to walk towards the sun.

He was still lying on the ground, crying. I wanted to stay, if only to watch him weep. But the heaviness was getting worse. It was almost time to go.

“Have you gone?” he asked.

“Still beside you.”

“I wish you could hear me.” he said.

“I wish the same thing. I feel like I met you when we were children” I said. I bent down and kissed him on the mouth. He did not move.

The grass was still wet with dew as I walked towards the old fort’s gate. I could still feel the damp ground, I could still smell the sweet morning, I could still hear his sobs. Then I could hear a spade slashing through loose dirt, I could hear loose dirt falling on the coffin’s lid. Thu-thud. Thu-thud.

His vigil has ended and he was covering my grave, a Guard’s last act. I was gone before he finished.

I died yesterday, and it was the happiest day of my life.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

My Answering Rhyme

Clean out the closet, box up my clothes. Fold them neatly, stack them high.

Make the most out of your new space. The drawers are now empty, too.

No more us or we or you-and-I

Or together or jointly or me-and-you

Burn the bridges, block all roads. You can look but don’t go back.

Take out the trash of years and years. The treasures, too, should go.

No more faults to point out or track

Or fix or figure out or know.

We had our parties, we had our laughs.

We had our run, we had our time.

You were my whole and my better half

My voice of reason, my answering rhyme.

We had our fights, we shed our tears.

Now wipe them dry and walk away.

We had our Renaissance, our Golden Age

We had our eternity of bliss.

Now comes our own Apocalypse.

Turn the key and set the lock. Never visit, never come back.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Overthinking It, You Are

He says something dorky or upsets a glass of water
And I think…
These are the things that will make us so good together
But you’re thinking so far far far ahead into the future.
Can you please just turn around and take a few steps
Back to reality
Back to me

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Thinking of Self Worth

We are more than the sum of our disappointments

More than the buckets of our tears through the decades

More than the lists of mistakes we made

Or the memories we took for granted, we set aside, we forgot, we relived.

We are more than the unnecessary lies we told.

More than just the casual smiles and glances in the hallways.

More than the sleepless nights, the sweaty trysts.

And definitely, more than the regrets that make up the mountains, hills and fields of our lives.

We are patches of light that brighten the centuries, you and I.

We are someone’s hope, we are someone’s last one percent that makes the day.

We are someone’s Could Be.

We are someone’s Paradise. Someone’s best form of deliverance.

Somewhere out there, there is someone to whom we are more than just

A tangle to be unraveled.

A riddle to be answered.

                A problem to be solved.

                                A child to be taught.

---by H.Taotjo, May 2014