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

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Happy Mothers Day

White frangipani trees were always planted above graves in the island where I grew up. Catholic missionaries some four hundred years ago would plant them near churches and graveyards; nothing says "I mourn your passing, brother" more than the year-round shower of blossoms on a final resting place. Frangipanis would be known as pansalmal in Sri Lanka, jepun in Indonesia, kalachuchi in the Philippines. The temple flower in the English tongue. You probably know it-- the tree's pale bark looks like crumpled paper; flowers have thick white petals that gradually turn yellow as it nears the center. If you scratch the flawless white petal with your fingernail, the scratch turns into a brown scar. You can write your name in flower petal scars.

We had these trees around the Catholic school that I went to, when I was a kid. They weren't very tall, these trees, they only grew around ten feet high. The campus walks were lined with them, and the deep stone ditches too. It was all very pretty and would have looked good on a postcard if only someone took a good shot during the right time of day. The flowers would fall onto the dark green ditch-water and float around and waltz around with butterscotch wrappers. There were a lot of other picturesque walks in that campus--acacias and coconut trees, a grotto here, a pond, an old wooden building, statues with swords and missing arms. You know, old and beautiful stuff that would make you believe in magic and fairy tales and whatnot.

I was six years old, and very often bullied. Understand that you grow up with bullies the same way you grow up with friends. In small towns, this is most painfully true.

I was six years old when this one girl started bullying me. She had dark skin and her hair stuck out in all directions. It started with this one silly prank, which I shall tell you about shortly, and progressed to darker and more painful deeds as we grew older. It didn't stop until five years later, when her family moved out of town. Today, she has two daughters, six and four. I wonder if they know what a horrible girl their mother was. I wonder if they're being bullied too. A sick, twisted part of me wishes that they are--then I go out and eat some pizza and take back the wish.

I stayed late one afternoon, because I was waiting for my mom to come and pick me up. This girl came along, her uniform was crumpled and her necktie was off. She'd been running around and she turned to me and she said "Do you want to play Cinderella? You can be Cinderella."

Have you ever had to ask a six-year-old girl twice to be Cinderella?


So I gave her my right shoe, all shiny and clean, from its black leather tip to its little steel buckle to its heel. And she ran away with it, saying she's going to look for my Prince Charming so he can give it back. He can rescue me from my incompleteness and we'll live happily ever after.

Well, an eternity later (or maybe it was only ten minutes, which is quite like eternity for little girls who are waiting for their Prince Charming), she has not yet come back and I got really worried. I did not want my mom to see me with only half the number of shoes she left me with that morning. So I started limping, hopping, towards the direction where she ran off. I checked the chapel. No sign of her. I checked the classrooms. No sign of her. I checked backstage, but everybody knew only ghosts lived there. All the while, I was missing a shoe. I hopped along the school fence and on the other side, I saw a familiar head of unruly hair disappear into a cab. She was going home.

I went back to the spot where I was waiting for my mom. I started crying. I lost a shoe, the world henceforth is a dark place.

Mom came along and she was limping too.

When my mother was a toddler, there was a polio outbreak in the city. She was luckier than most--she got out of it alive and the disease only slightly thinned and weakened her right leg. But still, she walked with a limp, and she would forever take advantage of her condition. She's probably the only person I know who's happy about her disability. Her parking spots are always the best and she's always a priority in the endless lines in government offices. She's a slow walker, yes, but she compensates once she's behind the wheel. When we finally got a car, and she drove me to school, I did not need coffee for my heart to go from baa-duum-baa-duum to badumbadumbadum.

Mom came along and she saw me with one shoe missing. She sighed, asked me what happened and told her.

"I'm Cinderella."

So Mom carried me, thin as she was, with her limp and all. She carried me, my schoolbag and my lunchbox. She carried me to the school gate. From the school gate, and across the street to the bus stop. From off the bus to subdivision entrance. She carried me home.

Thinking about this now, I don't remember if I thanked her.

I don't remember children of that age thanking their parents for things like patching them up when they scrape their knees, or cooking them a full, delicious meal, or packing their bags when there's a camping trip, or getting them ice cream after the very bad visit to the dentist. Or coming to the rescue when there was no Prince Charming.

The next day, Mom dropped me off and walked along the stone ditch, on the way to the school's only exit gate. She looked up at the nearest kalachuchi tree. Among the white blossoms and green, green leaves was something black and shiny.

She laughed out loud, and proceeded to climb the tree.

Author's note: this is a work of fiction and any similarities to real events, people and places are purely coincidental. That's right.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Windows and White Cedars

Imagine that he is standing along a dark street, somewhere tropical. Maybe a village near the beach. Maybe a neighbourhood that can’t quite make up its mind between being a jungle or a bird sanctuary or a middle-class subdivision. For the sake of setting the stage, let’s pretend that he’s in the latter. He is standing by a dark street in a neighbourhood that can’t quite make up its mind if it is a jungle or a bird sanctuary or middle-class subdivision.

There is a good-sized house right in front of him and it is night time. And he looks up, his eyes are carefully making out where a certain window is. In the dark, he cannot tell where the window is for all the trees along the house’s fence.

A light is turned on behind the window facing southwest. He thought, It is her window and she has the most wonderful views in the afternoon. But now those views must be obscured by the branches and the leaves of this tall pomelo tree. It is taller than the house. It was merely a sapling since the last time he was here. Her father planted it. She never ate a single fruit from this tree. How do I know these things?

She may still be able to see him through the leaves, he thinks. And she does. She does.

How do you usually smile when your day goes just as you expect it to? Give this man your smile. Imagine that he is smiling like that now. (And if you’re wondering what he’s wearing—just imagine he’s wearing whatever it is you’re wearing right now. But not those shoes, those are too nice.)

There are moments of great importance in our lives wherein all we have to do is take a deep breath and our mind is wiped clean of all the rubbish and selfishness of our natures. For him, this is not the case (whether it is a moment of great importance is also debatable).

His mind not only retains all its resident worries, irrational fears and doubts, but acquires new tenants like worrying about how his breath smells and the vague feeling that this is a night he will regret for the foreseeable future. 

She has left the window now and is on her way down to meet him. 

A lock unlocking.
A door opening.
A door closing.

And then The End Of The World. And The End Of The World smiles and says hello.
“Hello! What are you doing here? Have you been ringing the doorbell? We didn’t hear anything.”

He stares quietly, slowly for what seems to be an age, because all he’s doing, really, is stalling while the more intelligent part of his brain was asking the retarded part of his brain What are you doing here?

“Nothing, I just—I was just in the neighbourhood and I remembered this was your house.” He isn’t stammering as much as he feared he would, that surely was a good sign. “Do you still live here?” 

“Er—“ she ponders this question, “I just came from inside, and I’m dressed like this, so I suppose it’s safe to say that I do.” She is wearing a pair of mint-green cotton pyjamas that look very, very comfortable. If he rubbed his cheek against her shoulder, he would most definitely fall asleep. But she looks tired and older, and he quietly wonders how he looks like to her.

He sighed a short sigh. "There was a party here—your brother’s party, I think. He was dating my sister. He was a jerk.”

Shit. You idiot.

“But a nice jerk.”

“Yes that’s what we call my brother, Jerk But Nice Jerk Jacob. But he never took it with him to the seminary, a bit too flashy I suppose.” He forgot her flair for sarcasm and it took him a while to remind himself to not take this seriously.

“Hey, listen, I’m really glad you stopped by and all. But I really have to go to bed.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, sure no problem go ahead.” He said all this in one breathless word.

She turns to leave.

“Actually, no, wait. Can we go for a walk?”

A heartbeat. Then two.

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” she says gravely.

“I see. Well, can we stay here and talk a little? Just a little while to justify my coming all the way here.”

“I thought you said you just happened to be in the neighborhood?”

“Well—that too. I—I happen to be here because—you know—you’re here.”

Not so long ago she would probably have said yes. But not so long ago, the more intelligent part of her brain tied up the retarded part of her brain and banished it into the broom closet. And now she only says—“Sounds really nice, it’s a nice night for a walk but I don’t think that’s not a good idea. Thanks for stopping by. Goodnight.”

She turns and walks to the gate.

“Your trees are taller.” he calls out with a desperate air of someone who needed to be on the next plane to Sydney because his Aunt Mildred died and unless he was there for the reading of the will, he’ll lose his share in the hefty inheritance but sadly the airport runways were flooded as it was the monsoon season.


“This tree in particular,” he points to the pomelo tree that has been robbing her of the magnificent sunset views, “it was barely a foot high when I came here that one time.”

“Well, trees are known to grow.” She rests her back on a tall post by the gate, and she is looking at him with an odd smile.

“Yes they are. How long do you reckon it takes for a tree to grow this tall?”

“Probably as long as it takes for friends to become strangers, give or take a decade.”

“And for friends to become more than that?”

“Ah, well. That case isn’t a pomelo tree, it’s a white cedar.”

She gives him a little look, a little nod, that was like saying—this is our world as we made it, and we must live in it.

“I’m sorry for bothering you. Didn’t know what I was thinking.”

“It’s alright. Would you like me to call you a cab?”

“I’ll walk, thanks.”

And he waited for her to get safely inside the house—because really, the two meters from the gate to the front door are laden with sinister forces—before he started to walk away slowly.

If you pull back a little way, you will see a house lit up with a warm white glow from the inside. What you cannot see is a silhouette of a woman watching a man dragging his feet along the street below. Her outline, her shape, fuses with the clusters of leaves and thick branches of the pomelo tree outside her window.