Thursday, April 29, 2010


Screens of bamboos stood on guard on one side of the dirt road. Rice grasses swayed like sheets of green silk fluffed by a gentle and invisible hand on the other side of the road. I turned and looked at the other end of the road, only to find the same country scene. Panic, not serenity, hit me in an afternoon filled with pre-storm damp heat.

The seed of decades of nightmare had just been planted. It was the worst kind any kid could have--I was lost.

The singing rehearsal at the radio station had gone well, and we were told to come back the next day. A group of my classmates chosen by the teacher walked together toward the little village settlement while chatting, laughing and teasing. The head of the class was among us, and I was the target of his constant teasing. It must have been puppy love they so lovingly named it. I didn't feel much of the loving to be frank; but then, I was only in second grade.

I made the turn and walked away from the group. He yelled at me over and over: "No, Sarah. This is the way home! Not that one!" I refused to listen, thinking he was teasing me again, and I wasn't going to fall for that.

Now I desperately wanted to reverse that bad decision.

There was not a soul in sight. I had traversed the roads forever and no matter which way I turned, they all seemed familiar at first, and turned into another wrong direction shortly. I was both tired and anxious. My parents would think I was stupid not to follow the group. Worse yet, it was getting dark.

A small house sitting a few yards off the dirt road with a window that glowed warm amber light drew me closer to it. Either my pacing up and down or my sobbing, although I don't remember crying, caught the attention of a man and he walked out of the house. It wasn't difficult to see that I was miserably lost. He invited me into his house.

He had a wife and a little girl close to my age. We might have been going to the same school, but I didn't know her. I didn't refuse the dinner, but I couldn't eat much either. The reaction from my parents worried me the most. I asked them to take me home after dinner, but it started to pour and didn't want to stop. Finally they said I should spend the night there and they would take me home in the morning. There were no streetlights in country side, and nobody owned a car.

I was going to share the bed with their daughter. Just when I was getting ready for bed I heard the faint shouting of my name outside. I jumped up and said: "That's my dad!"

They opened the door and called out to him. There was my father, drenched with water but relieved to see me. He thanked the kind family after scolding me for getting lost, and then we were on our way home.

The dirt road outside had turned into an endless mud path. I was riding on his back, holding on to his neck with both of my arms. It was a surreal feeling forever etched in my memory, as my father seldom held me. I saw the water drops beading down his neck, not sure if they were rain or sweat. I felt guilty for causing so much trouble. I was ashamed for being dumb enough to get lost. However, beneath all those feelings I was also a little happy. It was one of the rare moments I felt loved by him.

My parents complained to the teacher and promptly ended my singing career next day. It made me feel like the biggest idiot in the world. It was many years later that I finally could relate to the anger my parents must have felt. I still blame the boy for my inability to sing karaoke today.

Perhaps I should thank the boy instead. Perhaps, just for a moment, panic also hit my father--thinking I was forever lost. Perhaps he held me a little closer to his heart because of it.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010


"Hi sweetie. I miss you...”

He touches the glass cover gently. She smiles at him with her warm eyes that are forever frozen on the glossy paper. He took the picture in their last trip together. Her silver mane glows softly against the blue Tuscany sky.

The golden rays of the setting sun make her eyes glisten, as if saying to him, "I miss you, too, darling. Are you taking care of yourself? Have you eaten yet?"

Eaten? He tries to remember, but nothing comes to mind. He doesn't remember much these days. Days and nights seem to roll into one long silent movie, in it him the only actor. He doesn't feel hungry either. Food tastes bland and feels pointless nowadays. He lives for one goal: To be with his sweetie.

She continues from inside the frame and with the tone of a silver bell, “The time is almost here. Did you take care of the business like I reminded you last time, darling?”

“I did, sweetie. I can’t wait for the time to come. We will never be apart again.” He answers gently. His crinkled fingers trace her face like feathers. His eyes twinkle for a second over the thought of holding her once again.

The phone rings bluntly. He thinks it sounds like Jack, their son, so he decides not to get up from the couch.

"Dad? Are you there?" It's Julie, their daughter.

"It's time for dinner, dad, and don't forget your medication." She continues. So he hasn't had dinner. There’s a note in the kitchen somewhere telling him what medication to take after what meal. He’s tired of all the medications he has to take everyday.

"I'll call you later, dad." Julie hangs up with a little worry in her voice.

Julie comes by once a month to sort things out for him, and calls everyday to make sure he’s okay. She has a husband and three kids and her plate is really full.

Jack used to be a good kid. After his fall lately though, Jack and his wife Kate have been pushing him to move to the senior home. He knows what they want—the house, and the ease of their conscience. He doesn’t blame them. He doesn’t want to be a burden if he could help it. Jack calls once a week and each time he asks for a decision.

He doesn’t have one. Not one that Jack wanted to hear anyway.

He doesn’t want to tell him that the house goes to Julie, who has recently lost her job. Jack and Kate will just have to be understanding and make do with their two incomes. Hopefully his small savings will make them less resentful after he's gone.

He always had the mental image of growing old with his wife, but fate has a different plan for him.

“It’s better this way, sweetie. I know now.” He says lovingly to the smile in the picture frame. “It’s not much fun growing old alone. I hate to think this would be what you had to go through if I went first.”

All affairs are in order. He checks his letter to the kids and feels completely calm. I’m ready, sweetie. It’s been long enough. I want to be with you and it’s time. I have waited so long. I don’t want to spend another day without you.

*  *  *

The woman opens the door and yells, “Mr. Stafford , are you home? It’s Wednesday—the cleaning day.”

The house feels hollow and cold. She looks around and sees the framed picture on the couch. She picks it up and puts it back on the coffee table.

“Strange. I always thought the picture had only Mrs. Stafford in it…“ She shrugs to herself and proceeds to the kitchen, calling “Mr. Stafford?”

The elderly couple in the picture smiles silently and happily, their silhouette forever frozen in the frame.

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(Artwork done by Emily Tai)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In Her Shoe

The leaves on the ash trees outside the window rustle gently in the morning breeze. It’s too early for the ocean on the horizon to show off its turquoise shimmers, but you know it’s there. The cool, damp air and the waves of salty sea kelp smell constantly remind her of it.

It’s still new and strange to her. She grew up on a tropical island where the beach and the sea water were always warm and welcoming. Here, you can barely put your feet in the edge of the water before you have to hastily retreat and wipe the beads off of them. Frigid water does not spell welcome to her since her first attempt.

Tara’s unhappy and disapproving face comes back to her. She gets up to refill her tea mug, trying unsuccessfully to fill her head with a different image. She tells herself it's only a dream.

Tara--always the sentimental and considerate girl of the two who was the carbon copy of her own image. They are completely identical in looks and yet opposite in every other way. Tara loved small animals, while she thinks they are too much of a bother. Tara loved poems and sunset, while she couldn’t understand why.

A walk on the beach with Matt the third day after she arrived changed her mind. With Matt’s big and warm hand holding hers, the sunset at the end of the ocean looked mesmerizing in spite of the cold wind. That must have been what Tara meant, she thought to herself. Love changes everything to the brighter, better, and prettier perception. For the first time romance didn’t feel like a laughable idea.

She didn’t come here to fall in love--she argues with herself. She came with a promise to Tara. Matt was so happy to see her that words were lost in his embrace. She smiled and didn’t deny when he called out, “Tara!” and the masquerade was on. It’s too late to go back now. Tara’s tearful and fervor words still ring in her ears: Promise you will go there and tell him in person. Promise you will make sure he’s all right. I’m all he has, Darla. Don’t let his heart break.

Tara died the day they took her to the hospital. They never found out who hit her with what kind of car. She was exhausted after comforting her parents and taking care of the funeral. All she could remember was Tara’s last words when life was rapidly pulling out from her, so she made the journey. She knew Matt before she met him. Tara loved him with all she had, and it showed in the letters she wrote to Darla. Matt is not perfect, she wrote, but he is perfect for me. Darla remembered thinking to herself “I’ll give it six months” in her usual lighthearted and sarcastic way.

The sixth month never came. Tara’s vacation in her hometown turned into a bottomless nightmare, with renewed grief greeting her everyday. Darla grieved for Tara’s death, and for the happiness Tara lost. Falling in love with Matt was completely unexpected.

Did you hear that, Tara? I didn’t do this on purpose. I just couldn’t hurt him with your death. I didn’t have a choice. I see what you saw in him. He loves you without reservation. He nurses me patiently so I could gain the weight back, of which I blamed on the heat and the long journey. He made it so easy to love him. The only thing to do was to kill Darla, and that’s what I did.

“Morning.” Matt kisses her from behind and wraps his arms around her. He buries his face in the dip of her collarbone and whispers, “Did I tell you I love you?”

She closes her eyes and says, “I love you, too, Matt.”

(Happy Easter Everyone!)


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