This is a short story
entitled REFLECTIONS written by Raymond Han in 1999.
All rights reserved: no part
of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise without
the prior written permission of the author.
"Kai Ming! Kai Ming!"
cracked his mother's voice.
"Have you finished pounding the chilli?"
She finally appeared at the doorway to the
kitchen, having given up getting a reply from Kai Ming.
"What are you daydreaming about?" said she.
Kai Ming was lost in his own world, as
usual. His mind was still throwing up the adventures of the Famous Five
in the Enid Blyton book 'Five Go Adventuring Again' which he had read
the night before. How he longed to be in England, having the adventure
of his life. It was such fun, what with George, Anne, Julian, and Dick,
not forgetting of course good old Tim, their pet dog. Kai Ming wasn't
lonely in Singapore when he was with these guys. Their company kept him
occupied most days when he wasn't outside playing. It was the only world
he liked, though it was only make-believe. Fiction. But it didn't matter
to him. He was comfortable. He was satisfied and at peace with himself.
It was only when he had to put away the book he was reading that he
abruptly entered the mundane world again.
A slap on his shoulder put an end to his
daydreaming. He was back in the real world again.
"Daydream! All you know is daydreaming,"
barked his mother.
"I...I..," was all Kai Ming could mutter.
Then his mother stopped her racket.
"My, my. What nice ground chilli you have
done for me."
"I do declare this must be the best you have
pounded so far."
Kai Ming had got used to his mother's
whimsical mannerisms. He washed his hands and darted out of the kitchen
into the living room. Home to him was a two-room HDB flat in Blk 107 in
Queenstown, the earliest public housing estate in the country. There was
only one bedroom, into which crowded the whole family at bedtime. The
kitchen was a narrow short passage, barely two metres in length, leading
into the balcony where a long bamboo blind shielded the occupants from
the direct rays of the sun while they were having their meals. Adjacent
stood the toilet cum bathroom -- a narrow cubicle with a water urn for
bath use and a squatting pan at one end. The floor in the whole flat was
all bare cement screed.
There was no grille gate attached to the
front doorway. A cane chair, a foldable table and four stools dotted the
spartan living room. Of course, there was the ubiquitous altar cabinet
on which stood a statue of the Goddess of Mercy which his mother would
talk to every morning, afternoon and night without fail. He could not
understand how she could connect with the Goddess who was in another
dimension. Day in and day out she would remind him to burn joss-sticks
for the Goddess, and day in and day out he would find ways and means to
avoid doing it.
His mother wanted him to talk to the
Goddess. That wasn't the point. He was afraid she would answer him and
he wasn't prepared for that situation, not yet, anyway. So it was with
great reluctance that he had to burn joss-sticks to ask the Goddess to
bless Father and Mother and Big Sister and him. He had no choice this
time, his mother was standing behind him.
"Oh well, better luck next time," he thought
The family's only means of entertainment was
a Rediffusion set blaring away from the wall where it was perched. The
Rediffusion radio service had kept many a household entertained then.
Mandarin programmes were unheard of at the time. The programmes which
were broadcast were all in dialects. This service was one of the few
"luxuries" the typical Singapore household of the time could afford.
Then, every boy wore singlets. There were no jeans, no T-shirts and no
McDonald's to speak of. The few games played by youngsters were "cuti-cuti",
"five stones", "hop-scotch", "goli" and "trading cards".
This was the Singapore in which Kai Ming
spent his childhood. This boy was very independent. He had no father to
hover over him and control him because his father, being a sailor, was
overseas most of the time. Kai Ming spent much of his free time outside
the flat in the neighbourhood playing with his peers. His elder sister
was a cashier at the Jurong Drive-In Cinema, a novelty at the time,
having opened barely three months back. He had not been there before but
had heard from his sister how big the screen was. Every night cars would
queue all the way from the front gate to the main road several blocks
away and the movies were always sold out.
"Kai Ming! Kai Ming!" his mother bellowed
Her plump figure gave backing to her loud
voice. She had been father and mother to him most of his life as his
father was never around. But still she had carried out her duties quite
well. Kai Ming, though mischievous at times, never committed big sins
like stealing and smoking.
Kai Ming poked his face into the kitchen.
"What is it this time, mother?"
"Kai Ming, tomorrow, we are visiting your
Uncle Chiam. Do be on your best behaviour or I will give you some 'kway
teow' to eat when we get back."
Of course, by now Kai Ming was looking very
squeamish indeed. He had 'eaten' lots of "kway teow" before and never
once liked its taste. His legs still bore the cane marks left behind
during the last 'meal'. He scampered off at once, out through the
corridor, and up to the fifth storey landing where his 'kakees' were
waiting for him.
"Why are you late again?" asked Choon Huat.
"Eh, eh.. I had to help my mother pound the
chilli," came the reply.
"Aiya, don't let's waste time any more, we
have to be on the hill by ten and we're already late," cried Juk.
Choon Huat and Juk were Kai Ming's best
pals. The three of them were neighbours and also attended the same
primary school --
New Town Primary School -- a ten-minute walk away from their block.
But it was the school holidays and the school was closed.
Kai Ming was the tallest of the three. His
lanky legs provided most of the support for his thin frame of a body. He
had well-pressed hair which smelled of the Brylcreem he had applied.
Just above his forehead, his hair trailed off into a neat 'curry puff'
pattern. He wasn't much of a talker as he was reserved and shy. Choon
Huat was the exact opposite. His mouth was like a machine gun -- always
shooting and never stopping. His bubbly, round face seemed to match his
equally bubbly legs. He also had a 'curry puff' hairstyle.
Juk was the shortest of the trio. He had
short straight hair. His cute adorable looks always managed to attract
the attention of the Ah Sohs around the neighbourhood. They would come
up to him and pinch his cheeks as if these were displayed for sale in a
stall. Still, he wasn't ever mad with them.
In those days, in the late sixties, children
did not have much pocket money. Most families were poor and the three
were no different. Between the three of them, they only had fifteen
cents. Still, it could get them some ice balls to cool them down in the
sweltering June heat. The walk to the hill behind the block took half an
hour. They had to meander through a sandy path past an old cemetery and
a temple to the top of the hill. It was already 10.30 am. and the heat
was almost unbearable. The boys stopped under a tall Ficus tree and put
down their things. From there, they had a bird's eye view of the whole
area. The Chip Bee Estate nested just below their block which was built
on the back of a steep slope. There were many 'Ang Mohs' walking around
down there. Some 'Ang Moh' children were playing on the road outside
their terrace houses.
Kai Ming had heard from his mother that
these people were families of the British soldiers stationed in the
country to help protect it. Kai Ming tried to match the children's looks
with the descriptions of British children described in Enid Blyton's
books. How accurate these were. Enid Blyton was really good at what she
"Kai Ming! Kai Ming! Don't dream. We have
lots to do!" exclaimed Juk.
Kai Ming and Juk went off to look for some
sticks while Choon Huat unpacked a long string and broken pieces of
glass. He proceeded to ground the broken glass with a small rock he had
found earlier. They were going to coat the string with ground glass for
the 'layang' they had made yesterday. This "glass" string would help the
boys to cut other people's 'layang' strings and so "kill" other 'layangs'.
Once the 'layang' strings were cut, the 'layangs' would fly off out of
control to the heavens and never come back.
Soon, the two boys returned with some sticks
and stuck them into the ground near the tree but out in the sun. Juk
took an empty tin can, poured some water into it, mixed in some tapioca
flour and placed it over the small fire Choon Huat had started. In went
the ground glass. Soon the mixture was boiling. Juk removed the can from
the fire and set it on the ground. When the mixture had cooled down
somewhat, the boys used some brushes to coat the mixture onto the string
which they had laid out, wrapped repeatedly across four sticks placed
five metres apart. When it was all done, the trio went off to the stream
near by to catch water snakes. Juk was the expert in the team. His
father, Encik Abdullah, had taught him the ropes. It wasn't long before
he managed to bag one, a three-foot long brown beauty. He placed it into
a jute bag he had with him and tied the bag.
"Mother would love to barbecue the meat,"
Juk thought to himself.
Kai Ming could only stare at him. Kai Ming
was afraid of animals- big or small- ever since he was bitten by a
monkey while sitting on a corner stone bench outside a terrace house
down by Chip Bee Road near by. The sun was at its hottest, for it was
noon. The threesome went back to the Ficus and checked the string they
had decked out. The glue had dried and it was time to roll it up. Juk
did the rolling, as usual. He was the one who did most of the work all
the time. Kai Ming liked to dither and bubbly Choon Huat was lazy. But
then, who could blame them that day, for the heat was unbearable. Even
the stray cats in the neighbourhood were too lazy to prowl. These cats
were stretched out along the corridor areas, having their forty winks.
"Arhh!" screamed Juk in pain.
He had accidentally cut himself with the
'glass' string and his right index finger bled. Quickly he put the
finger into his mouth and sucked it repeatedly. Choon Huat took out a
plaster from his pocket and offered it to Juk who gratefully slapped it
on the affected finger. Kai Ming merely stood and watched. He was
afraid of blood and felt faint. Choon Huat took over the packing up and
then the three boys made their way down the hill, past the rows of
terrace houses where the 'Ang Mohs' resided, and through an opening at
Chip Bee Secondary School. On the other side of the school was a path
which led to the hawker centre. By the time the boys had reached the
hawker centre, they were very thirsty and famished indeed. As they did
not have much money between them, they settled for an ice ball each. It
was already past lunch time and their parents would be worried sick.
Though people were poor then, the family was all important and children,
especially the boys were treated as small emperors.
The ice balls quenched the boys' thirst.
They were pure heaven to them. But they melted all too quickly in the
hot weather. In barely a few minutes the ice balls, which the boys had
to use both hands to hold earlier, had been reduced to a trickle of
water. Still, it had the boys lapping it all up as they trod back to
their block across the road. The three boys reached their favourite spot
-- the landing on the fifth storey and hovered there for some time. They
were hungry. Still they hated to go home. It was lonely at home. All
three had no brothers to play with, only elder sisters to nag at them.
It was while they were stretched out with their butts on the floor and
their backs against the wall that Kirpal Singh happened to pass by. He
was almost fourteen whilst the trio were only eleven even. He was also a
bully and they all hated him. Standing at 1.68 metres, he was a head
taller than Kai Ming, the timid one.
"What's in that bag?" Kirpal roared.
"None of your business," retorted Juk.
"This whole block is my territory and
everything that happens here is my business."
"Says this fist of mine."
This story is continued HERE.