July 31, 2013
I need to take this idea of avoiding women seriously – I am convinced, they can sense something is very wrong with me.
Perhaps I am decaying and releasing invisible vapors like a ball of camphor that only women can pick up. Or maybe it has something to do with touch – just a while a go I attended Ah Pao (tractor man) and WC daughter’s, JJ, “moving into new house do.”
It’s not like back home in Singapore – in a Chinese kampung setting – when a newly married couple moves into their new home – they go the full Monty, red banners, lion dance, getting the local medium to chase out malevolent spirits and of course – everyone expects me to be there.
I am after all, the man who is responsible for bringing together the tractor man and WC’s daughter – JJ. I realize tractor man isn’t exactly Andy Lau or Aaron Kwok. I even realize that he may not be even be anything near averagely appealing to a woman.
But as I said to JJ when she asked me one year ago,
“Do you wish me to marry this man?”
I told JJ. Ah Pao is a good man. I even mentioned, I am willing to vouch for him – he’s a very good man. Not a handsome or for that matter exciting or even intelligent man – but nonetheless a good man.
Good to even take on the responsibility of raising your son as his own – I intimated to JJ, this was something that Ah Pao had given his word on, “I will treat her son like one of my own.” That was what he had said to me – I told JJ her beauty was a waning candle – it will not last forever. Time is not on your side.
Good enough to even settle your husband’s debt with a substantial dowry – which I mentioned to JJ would take her forever with the helium interest rates the triads usually extracted from gambling loans.
I intimated to JJ, Ah Pao sold his 3 acre land to me – with part of the money he’s willing to pay off your debts and the rest he’s going to go into business by hiring out his tractor.
JJ did not express anything – she’s always demure, unreadable even – she never looks at me. Not when I look at her. She only looks at me when I am looking elsewhere as I often do.
JJ I could sense wasn’t very keen on Ah Pao – I told her love will come later. I remember the conversation well – we were having soup in her father’s backyard. I was wearing my bush jacket. The night was closing in and somewhere in this conversation – I must have been thinking aloud – I mentioned, “You will make me so happy, if you marry him.”
I was slightly startled as I had expected her to be quiet as usual. but when she asked in a clear and deliberate tone, “if I marry Ah Pao will that make you happy master?” She looked directly at me for the very first time – she asked again only this time she was not afraid to look and even peer deep into my eyes – I said yes, that was when JJ made the commitment there and then to take Ah Pao as her husband.
Now you understand why I don’t have a choice but to go this evening – tradition plays a big role in village life. It’s as if everyone has a part to play in a highly choreographed show – don’t for one moment be lulled into the pretentious belief this bush jacketed man who struts around in mirror polished shoes, swept back hair, sunglasses and briar pipe is me – it isn’t. Next time when you decide to wander off the featureless plus highway and decide to take the snakey kampung roads for a change of scenery – look carefully at the many technicolored figurines in the many Indian temples you past by – look closer and you will probably make out a figure of a man standing in a bush jacket wearing polished lacked shoes and holding a pipe – ask the Brahmin priest who is this man and he will say, “the keeper of the great wheel of life.”
The role of this man is written in stone, it’s as old as the hills – he’s been here for so long that in the psyche of kampung folk it’s inconceivable to ever believe for one moment that life could ever be any different.
Through the ages, this man has seeped into the groundwater of the kampung way of life to become a set piece of village life – in a funeral, birth, wedding, temple festival, crisis – this man has always been there – as to be a landowner one must be able to step into this role in the way an actor speaks only the lines written for him by the stage manager – as the mere sight of this man is very comforting to kampung folk – in a funeral. This man prevents fat aunties from fainting – during the annual school races, if he doesn’t sit with the headmistress, it will rain. Good to banish away high blood pressure – as the sight of the man in the bush jacket palliates anxieties and fears – in the way he appears before young Malay boys before the sunnat – Good to go even when two groups are facing off with parangs in an oil palm estate – when this man appears, it all simmers down.
To be a landowner. I have to play this role.
That could why I went despite the risk – I made it a point to be brief with JJ. To even keep a distance. I sat away from the main table as I didn’t want JJ to pick whatever I was broadcasting subconsciously. Even made sure I was wearing freshly laundered underwear this time, just not make certain, my essence would not betray me.
I realize all this sounds rather ridiculous – but that’s just how it is to me – don’t even know what these women are picking up on – except to say it can’t be so different from a crie de couer or some distressed signal that wounded fish beams out to attract predators.
I stayed away.
And all went well. Till she came over to the table to offer me some red bean pork knuckles (I am very fond of them)- her arm brushed against mine when she leaned over the table to put down the heavy earthen pot – I even steadied her by holding her waist (how stupid when one considers my last entry specifically emphasized the need to be careful) – I didn’t think anything about it at the time – as things were going so well that I had even decided to have a few drinks and was genuinely starting to enjoy the party – but at that moment, my bubble of consciousness bursted – it was the way JJ turned and looked at me.
It was her singularity of action when she snapped her head and turned to look at me – as if she was suddenly struck by some realization that even surprised her. I could see it in her eyes, the way she looked at me.
She must have sensed it – brushed so close against it in the way one feels the blazing heat from an open fire – something was wrong with me – I’ve been mortally wounded – it was written so clearly in her eyes.
“Do not grieve master. JJ will make you happy again.”
I know I shouldn’t feel this. But at that moment when our eyes locked and I sensed JJ fingering into my desolate soul – I was so happy to see another person in this wasteland.