They ate the cake while I kept the candle

by Chua Han Au


Humble Abode I
If grandfather was here, everything will be different. Perhaps, more make-believe and a greater satisfaction for food. If cancer was kind to my uncle, everything will be different. Perhaps, less situations to worry about and a greater satisfaction for food. There were conversations needed to be censored, of fury that needed immediate quelling. There was happiness to be found, of joy buried.

Humble Abode II
Dover Road. A homespun aroma of fresh wood and glazed floors. Of displaced books all around. Each apportioned a dying moment of joy, a phase of torture, all to an eternal growth. Curtains that cue privacy, a quasi-hermitage of sorts: for times that impel an imperative stroke of paint on canvas, mixing dark colours with bright ones, reflecting the deliberate mess of what we witness, of what we so unwillingly want. People of the arts! How detestable! Be real! Why can’t they be normal? In the house, there was a visual arts student, a student adept in design, a history graduate soon-to-be, but all men, in the army. I was observing more than I should. What manners! Everyone glistened with impure talent. He talked about admiration for Kerry Hill, how his masterpieces made us—both pundits and greenhorns—sway in reverential wonder. It was above all, a climate best for detachments. I will set foot there again, with certainty.

Humble Abode III
Imbibe! We drank Pu Er with over-sweetened pineapple tarts from Johor Bahru, conferring with a mom and daughter about inter-racial marriage, about politics, about relations that are brittle and fading soon, about you and I, about those that made us sigh. She was wise, an archetype of post-suffering. A growth out of grief and utmost torture. 2 years ago, back in Literature classes, I couldn’t quite fathom a notion about death. But now I understand: “death is nothing but a great leveller”. We end up in coffins built in uniform dimensions, of space largely similar. Every man becomes equal. Nothing follows, nothing can be followed. And then we left—with a sweet aftertaste on our tongues, tranquillity ruled yet again.

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