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Pillar

Constellations, Issue 3

R Karmene Amanda

May 21, 2019 | Creative Writing

Another cigarette lit, my mother greedily inhaling even the smoke that was emitted from the little killing machine. No matter how much she wanted to erase the images, with every stick that followed, it failed to extinguish the anguish that her heart carried.

… we shall face difficulties and tribulations. The tasks ahead of us are not easy to accomplish…” was the words said by the newly elected Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on the radio. I breathe out a sigh.

“Ma, I’ll be going now!” I cheerily called out. I am the man of the house now, I am the pillar. My mother, jolted to her senses, quickly got to her feet and saw me out with a smile on her face and a kiss on the cheek. At 18, I was still her baby. She too wanted to put up a brave front for her son. As I left, images of her forlorn silhouette which seem to flicker by the window of our little attap house crossed my mind. I very much wanted to skip my language class and stay with her, but we needed to move forward. I needed to learn and get a better paying job as a patriotic citizen. 

As I took the usual detour, the humidity clung on tight with every step I took, suffocating. Who would have thought I would start reminiscing about the heat? When there was nothing else to care about but mundane problems such as this. It was already the middle of the monsoon season, pneumonia was on the rise again. As I made my way to Mei Li’s house, I saw a familiar figure being carried out in a stretcher towards the ambulance park out front. Mei Li spotted me in the distance and before I could react, wetness could be felt on my shirt.

“It got her” was all I needed to hear. Auntie Ann was Mei Li’s caretaker. Since I played with her often, Auntie Ann saw me grow up too. She was a grandmother figure to both of us. I lied through my teeth to reassured Mei Li that the doctors would be able to cure her in time. “She promised us to live till a 100 remember? There’s still 29 years to go.” Once again, I stifled my tears from falling. I needed to be strong, I am the pillar. Diseases never seemed to stray far from people close to me. First tuberculosis and now this. Yet, I still counted my blessings at night before I sleep to make it through to the next day.

When you lose someone you love, it’s always the same pattern, same motion. Things slow down, time seem to crawl or even pause momentarily. You seem to teleport from one place to another, not knowing how. Magically, I was in Auntie Ann’s room. Familiar clothes and a comforting scent engulfed the room. At the corner of the closet was a pile of handkerchief. Mental images pop into my head, I as a kid running into her arms, crying that I lost to Mei Li in a game of hopscotch. An intricately designed red butterfly was on the handkerchief she used to wipe my tears. I picked up the same handkerchief and seem to have teleported again to the front steps of my language class building. I walked down the steps into the basement, where a makeshift classroom was created by Mr Ali, our National Language Class teacher.

During class, I was called out repeatedly. I should have skipped today after all. Jane, a robust ethnic Chinese girl with a short bob who enjoys the misery of others, kept smiling whenever I was called out to read in class. Time once again thunder bolted to the end. It was 6.30 in the evening and lessons had come to an end. As we all made our way out of the basement, strong winds could be felt blowing under the gap of the door. Rain had fallen. One by one the students sprinted back to their homes whereas I trudge along the now muddy path home. As rain trickled down from the heavens. I look up into the sky, clutching on to the red butterfly handkerchief, tears finally escaping.

The year 1959 was full of hope and promise towards a greater future for Singapore. Then why? Why does mine seem so bleak?

This flash fiction was written for Asst Prof Scott Anthony’s module on Public History