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Kamelia and her husband were indeed baffled at the sight of the crowd at their Hari Raya Puasa open house. They had been forewarned regarding this but never in their wildest dreams had they expected their relatives from far and wide and even their neighbours - regardless of colour and creed - to show up by the droves, each bringing a special home-cooked delicacy to share with one and all. Every corner echoed with the drone of their chatter, and also the laughter and shrieks of the excited and happy children among them and the whole house seemed to glow with warmth and love once again, exactly like how it was years ago when Aidil Fitri was around... It used to be a lonely and quiet affair, Hari Raya at her own house when she was growing up. Unlike most children, Kamelia did not look forward to the occasion because she had no siblings to share the excitement with. She was the only child. "When I grow up, Mak, I'm going to have no less than six kids of my own," she had announced one day, and her mother just smiled pensively at her candid remark. At twenty-four, she met Mr. Right and soon tied the knot. However, they did not imagine that they would be plagued by the problem of producing children. They reckoned that it was God's way of testing their patience but as the years rolled by, eventually, they opted for adoption; it was the superstition of some that childless couples would be blessed with their own flesh and blood eventually. It was almost a year before he came, the baby, barely a month old. She named him Aidil Fitri because he had come to her during that joyful season in the Muslim month of Syawal. Then, be it miraculously or by mere coincidence, they had two biological children in succession, and although it was not as many as Kamelia had hoped for, she was thankful enough that at least, it was much better than what it was like for her during her solitary childhood. As he grew up, Aidil Fitri developed a love for cooking and his culinary skills were known far and wide. He even perfected his mother's beef rendang which, already, was reputed to be the best in the neighbourhood. Everyone made it a point to drop by every Hari Raya just to savour the impeccable taste of his cuisine. Each year, without fail, Aidil Fitri, who was no less adept with his hands, would personally make all the ketupat shells in a myriad of colours using ribbons to decorate the house. Tragedy struck on his 28th Hari Raya Puasa when he left his family as

unexpectedly as he had come. He died when a speeding car in the balik kampung rush crashed into his vehicle. At the time, he was on his way home to his dear wife and little daughter after having stopped earlier at his mother's house to decorate it for the festival and also to give the old lady some of the beef rendang that he had painstakingly prepared for the auspicious occasion. Grief-stricken, Kamelia and her husband sold the house where in every nook and cranny, they would be haunted and tormented by memories of Aidil Fitri. They settled in a small house in the country, away from the hustle and bustle and the bright city lights. Their life in this desolate place reminded Kamelia of her lonely childhood and each year, Hari Raya Puasa would pass unnoticed. Kamelia's second son moved to Sabah after he got married and he would carry on the Hari Raya traditions with his own family there. Her third son, a lawyer, seemed fulfilled by his career and was not very much into these traditional festivities. As soon as the holidays arrived each year, he would take off to some posh holiday resort in some inconspicuous corner of the world to laze and idle around until it was time to get back to work. One day, Kamelia was sitting on the verandah of the wooden house, staring into the far distance at nothing in particular. She heard a car approaching and when it screeched to a stop right in front of her house, out stepped her granddaughter. "Nek! Nek! Assalamualaikum!" she shrieked in her chirpy voice while waving her arms hysterically from the distance. Behind her, carrying a huge cardboard box, came her mother. After paying their respects to Kamelia, they swept past her into the house to put up the decorations. In her granddaughter's deep brown eyes and cheeky grin, she saw the reflection of Aidil Fitri and Kamelia recognised the ketupat shells instantly and she felt her warm tears flowing down her cheeks. They were Aidil Fitri's; they had kept them all these years... It was a delightful Hari Raya Puasa that year. Everyone sang praises of the mouth-watering beef rendang prepared by Kamelia's granddaughter who obviously had not only inherited her father's facial features but also his gift at cooking. Some time later that night when everyone had gone home, Kamelia sat alone and a thought flashed through her mind - that a true family would not need to be one's own flesh and blood. No doubt he was adopted but even though he had gone away from them, he had left behind so many things that would remind them of his warmth, his love... The memory of Aidil Fitri would forever stay and be cherished in their hearts. "Thank you, my son," Kamelia whispered, as she wiped away a tear that had trickled down her cheek.

A Lesson

I was to be blamed and now is history going to repeat itself? I looked at my seven-year-old nephew, Kevin standing with a stubborn and determined look, refusing to apologise to his father. I recalled my unpleasant encounter with father twenty years ago . I had the same stance and determination though I knew that I should not have been so stubborn. I could see that Kevin was me all over again. Kevin, can you please come here for a while? I called him gently. He walked obediently to my side, his favourite uncle. Let uncle tell you a story. There was a boy .. It was a dull and hot afternoon. I was concentrating hard in my school assignment. Drops of sweat trickled down my face. In the sitting room, father was chiding my younger brother. His tone was soft and patient at first, slowly turned to loud and angry shouts. The shouting match was disturbing and irritating me. I tolerated it for about five minutes before my temper started to get out of hand. An impulsive and irrational thought came into my mind and in the next minute, I stood up from my chair and strode down the stairs to the sitting room. Shut up, will you? I vented my anger and I let out everything that I was not satisfied with father. I told him to be gentler towards us because he was always a strict father. He treated us as if we, his children were in the army and I did not like it for I felt that I had no freedom. After that, I banged the piano, banged the dining table and then stomped upstairs. Dad was shocked! Totally shocked! He went after me and banged on my door, ordering me to explain my erratic behaviour. After all, I used to be his favourite, obedient son. He used to have high expectations of me and told anyone who would listen that I was a filial son. But now, all of a sudden, I became rebellious and arrogant. My well-built image as a good child had shattered into pieces, which was hurting him so much that I did not take notice of it. Later, I received messages from my elder brother, David and my mother. They gave me advice and urged me to apologise to dad. They wanted me to take my time to think and realize what I had done was wrong. However, I was so stubborn that I still held onto my belief that I did not do anything wrong.

The next day, I had to face the music. I was told to write a thousand lines of I apologise, dad. I know I am wrong and I promise not to shout at you anymore. He said the punishment was for me to have time to think rationally. Without giving it a thought, I refused. I felt humiliated. That afternoon, we had a verbal exchange of words. Father was talking and listening calmly while I became agitated and excited. I said a lot of things that I should not have said. My words were harsh, rude and cruel. I broke my fathers heart as I stepped out of the door, and left the house .. I was in a confrontational attitude with dad for about one week. During the period, I did think it over and over again, and finally I realized that I was wrong. However, my pride did not allow me to approach dad and say the word sorry. As a result, I had a strained relationship with dad .till now.. My immaturity and pride had cost me a price. I should have apologized! I explained to Kevin and advised him not to be too emotional over small matters. I watched Kevin lowered his head and slowly, he turned back to face his father. I could not help smiling as Kevin hugged his father and uttered, Sorry, dad.


BY: Melissa Theodora Wee (Form 5D 2006) SMK St Elizabeth, Sibu

Sweat was trickling down Jons face as the sun blazed mercilessly in the blue cloudless sky. He sighed to himself as he wiped the perspiration off his forehead. However, his sigh was not that of regret but one of pure contentment as he and his friends toiled through the hot, sunny afternoon to lend their helping hands at the Faith, Hope and Charity Childrens Home. With radiant smiles carved on their faces, their laughter filled the air as they helped repair and beautify the area with the help of their newfound little brothers and sisters. According to an age-old adage, more hands make light work but to the contrary, the eager beavers seemed to get in the way more than they were of any assistance. Nevertheless, Jon and the rest allowed them to chip in their two cents worth so as not to dampen their enthusiasm. They watched in amusement at the sight of a mere seven-year-old boy struggling to carry a big pail of water, filled to the brim just to win the affection from his new big sister, Barbara. The members of the Red Crescent Society were engaged in a community service project to help the children less fortunate than they were. Just as Jon had predicted, the children, boys and girls aged seven to twelve were eager to impress. They were tireless, running helter skelter and appeared to be all over the place at any one time. Exhausted from the toil, Jon sat underneath a shady Angsana tree to have a brief rest. Deeply immersed in his own thoughts, he was amazed at the amount of love those unfortunate little ones could give, compared to the many in todays materialistic world where selfishness reigned and the policy of everyman for himself was somewhat predominant. As he scanned around the vicinity, one solitary little boy stood out among all the other little children. He was all alone, keeping to himself and holding on to an old stuffed teddy bear in his arms. As Jon approached him, little did he know the impact that the little boys story was going to have on him. Hello, there. Whats your name? Nice teddy bear youve got there, exclaimed Jon as he knelt down facing the boy, trying to break the ice. The little kid stared at him with big brown eyes as though contemplating on whether to answer or not. My names Jeremy. Im eight years old, the lad answered, his voice,

barely audible. Jon probed further to find out more about his background. Suddenly, Jeremys countenance formed a small frown and he held on even more tightly to soft toy as if for some kind of protection. Jon put his arm around him and touched by that caring gesture, the boy leaned on his shoulder and broke down in tears. In between sobs, Jeremy began his story. Jeremy could only remember his parents vaguely. He has a younger sister, also staying in the same home and promptly, he pointed out a chubby pig-tailed little girl. His father was a hopeless drug-addict and a compulsive gambler who had squandered away whatever money he had and neglected his responsibility towards his family. Left with very little choice, Jeremys mother took it upon herself to support the family by selling homemade cakes and biscuits. He could vividly recall his father beating his mother every day for she refused to hand over to him the hard-earned money she had painstakingly earned to put food on the table. Mummy would always cry late into the night. Daddy just didnt care, mumbled Jeremy as tears welled up in his eyes again. The beatings continued until one day, his mother could take it no longer and left home, abandoning the two helpless kids to the irresponsible father. Jeremys father resorted to the bottle even more in his wifes absence. He started walloping the children to vent his anger when he lost all his money at gambling. Jeremy lifted up his trousers, revealing the scars on his legs where his father had burnt him with cigarettes when he was about five years old. Sometimes my daddy didnt return for two days and we had to starve as there wasnt any food in the house, said Jeremy. One day, Jeremys aunt happened to drop by and noticed the burnt marks on the childrens limbs. She was furious and promptly took Jeremy to a doctor. Later, she lodged a report on the matter to the police as a result of which Jeremys father was arrested for wife-battering and child abuse and was sentenced to prison for ten years. What happened to your mummy? Did she return to see you and your sister? probed Jon. Jeremy shook his head plaintively. I havent seen mummy since she left. I miss her very much, replied Jeremy, his voice quivering with his bottled-up emotions. He folded his arms around his teddy bear again as if searching for solace in his solitude. Jon had to force himself to hold back his own tears as he gazed at the

pitiful little boy in front of him. He glanced around at the other children who seemingly, were nonchalantly running around playing catch or hide and seek. He wondered what tragic story each child had, locked within their hardened hearts. Jon realized there and then fortunate he was to have such caring and supportive parents unlike Jeremy. Jon held Jeremy closely to him to give him a sense of consolation and reassurance. Dont worry, kid. Everythings going to be all right. Your mummy still loves you. Shell come back one day to look for you and your sister, Im sure. When your daddy is released from jail, you can be sure hell not beat you anymore, Jon told Jeremy as he wiped the boys tear-streaked face though he doubted it very much himself. Jeremys face lighted up instantly and he peered into Jons eyes. Will they? he seemed to question. Guess what, Jeremy? From this day onwards, Ill be your big brother, Jon announced and for the first time after a long while, Jeremys face broke into a huge smile. Really? You mean it? Youll visit me as often as you can, wont you? asked Jeremy excitedly. Jon nodded his head and gave the boy his telephone number with instructions to call him whenever he needed anything. Jon watched Jeremy as he ran towards his little sister to break to her the good news and a nice, warm feeling filled his heart. He was grateful that in his own small way, he had reached out a helping hand and touched someone less fortunate than he was.

I was gently aroused from my sleep as my ears were greeted by the gentle pitter-patter of rain against my window pane. It was a lazy Saturday morning and the sky was a gloomy grey hue. I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed, my feet inching slowly across the wooden parquet floor of my bedroom. Whats the date today? I wondered for my mind was still groggy from sleep. Then, it struck me. It was the 6th of September 2007; the anniversary of Pauls death. After a change of clothes, I went downstairs to have my breakfast. Both my parents were at work so basically I had the whole house to myself. The atmosphere was subdued and the air still, though a storm was clearly brewing outside. I could see the dried, withered leaves being blown helterskelter by the wind. The rain would always hold a special significance in my heart. It never failed to soothe my soul; like an endless melody where no words were needed. The sound of rumbling thunder, the flashes of lightning, and the billowing wind followed by the fall of rain to me was Mother Natures symphony at its best. It was also on a rainy day like this when I first met Paul. I was a mere eight-year-old boy when I saw him. It was after school and it was raining cats and dogs. I saw Paul standing under the rain without an umbrella or a rain-coat. I too had noticed that the other children and their mothers shied away from him. Fortunately, I had one. Therefore, I asked him to come and join me. Hello. My names Peter Chang. Whats yours? I asked cheerily. Hi. Im Paul Ratnam. Thanks for letting me share your umbrella, he replied, a small smile forming on his face. Just wondering, but why dont the other kids want to share theirs with you? I asked. Paul hesitated a bit before telling me. Its because of my skin colour, he answered. I looked at him from top to bottom.

Okay, so he is a little darker than me. Whats the big deal? I thought innocently as the both of us walked to the nearest bus stop and waited for the familiar sunset-yellow school bus. In my eyes, he was just another little boy like me, one who needed a friend to play and talk with, one who needed a friend to get through lifes challenges and I happened to be there for him. From that moment, I was certain that he was definitely going to be my best friend. I glanced outside. The heavy downpour had subsided a little. I went to the corner of my living room and there it was, my trusty old umbrella. Sure, the colour had faded after all these years and even a few spokes had been broken and mended more than once. Nevertheless, it had served me well. I trudged outside and was greeted with a light spray of rain but I could not care less. The cool wind brushed across my face, over my hair. I felt somewhat liberated and somehow I could feel Pauls presence. My mind was clueless about where I should go. I decided to go where my memories and the wind would take me. People have said that opposites attract. Paul and I believed it. We had some similarities and yet, a few differences that made us unique. Paul to me, was a master musician. He could play anything on that Wagner piano of his. I often watched in amazement as his fingers danced expertly on the black and white ivories creating enchanting melodies whereas I, on the other hand, was praised as a budding singer as well as a talented song-writer. Together, we would usually bring a little festive cheer to the Old Folks Home by volunteering to entertain them and keep their spirits up. We would do a couple of hits made famous by the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee and Indonesian veteran singer, Broery Marantika. They welcomed our visits and once commented that we were like kopi dan susu (coffee and milk). To us, that was a compliment for it showed that two individuals with different backgrounds, cultures, and traditions were able to come together, putting aside our differences and using our talents to good use. I smiled at the memory when my feet came to a halt. I shifted my gaze to an old make-shift stall. The stall was now bare although still in a good condition despite having been in business for more than twenty years. It belonged to an elderly couple. Encik Jamal was a kindly looking old man while Puan Aishah was a petite old woman with a caring heart. Every time during the fruit season, their orchard would be full of mouth-watering local

fruits. Paul and I were thirteen. We stumbled across Encik Jamal and Puan Aishahs stall on the way back from the library. It was the fruit season and they wanted a few extra helping hands so we obliged for we knew that they had no children of their own to ease their burden. Little did we know that they would reward us with some of their delicious durians and juicy ripe mangoes. They treated us like we were their own sons, fussing over us and treating us to ice-cold coconut drinks during the warm weather. In return, we gave them company and helped run their errands. Paul and I were fifteen. It was Deepavali. I was invited to his house for dinner. I tried to make an impression by wearing something traditional instead. When I reached there, I was deeply impressed by Pauls family. The front of their house was decorated with a kolam made out of coloured rice. Their home seemed to be bursting with warmth and happiness as friends of all races and relatives from afar came to gather and celebrate. The food was excellent for Mrs. Ratnam, Pauls mother, was a superb cook. Whats this? I questioned Paul as he handed me a bowl of Indian dessert. This is what we call gulab jamun . Try it! he said with a glint in his eyes. Wow! Its really sweet. I think I may be high on sugar, I exclaimed as I bit into it. I could feel my taste buds exploding. Ha ha ha! Look at your face, said Paul laughing. I knew my face must have looked silly, judging by the giggles of Keisha, Pauls little cousin. Honk, honk. I snapped from my thoughts again to see a black Mercedes driving past me. The rain had started falling again. Up ahead, a few steps more, was the bus stop. We had so many conversations here. It was the 5th of September 2005. We were seventeen. Paul was in one of his wacky moods again. He would blurt out these questions that one would not even think of and would always appreciate my answers even though sometimes they did not make any sense. Have you ever thought of becoming rich? he asked me. Well, Im already rich though not in the sense of money, I exclaimed.

How so? Paul asked me again, this time his brows arched up in wonder. Im rich in friendship and that, to me, is worth more than all the gold in the world. I have friends who are loyal, kind, and trustworthy, friends who are never too quick to judge others by their outward appearance, I explained, my eyes lighting up. Now its my turn. What do you think about the rain, Paul? I questioned him. The rain to me is like the sky shedding its tears. Whether there are tears of sadness or happiness, that Ill never know. Its up to you to decide, he replied softly. Little did I know, that that would be our last conversation. Paul was killed in a hit-and-run accident the next day; the driver was drunk and he sped away, leaving Pauls nearly lifeless body lying on the road. I was waiting for him at our usual meeting place but he never came. I went to his funeral along with our classmates. The atmosphere was bleak and it was drizzling a little. Pauls parents and relatives were crying. Emotions welled up inside me and I cried my heart out. Then, the rain fell even harder as if trying to cover up my sadness and pain. The skys crying for you, Paul, I whispered through muffled sobs. I opened my eyes. I was back in reality. Surprisingly, the rain had ceased. The sun began to peek out playfully from the clouds. I clutched my weatherbeaten umbrella in my hands one last time. I no longer needed it anymore. I got up and started to walk home. My journey ended here. I left my umbrella on the bench along with my memories of Paul embedded deep inside it. I had decided to let go. Paul, wherever you are, I hope you are happy. You will forever be my best friend, no matter what. (1512 words)

Memories of Us
It is the little things that I miss the most. No more Saturday dates to a movie, tea at some sidewalk cafe or a stroll in the park, no more eating out with the kids on weekends, nobody to pick me up from work, no hugging, no morning kisses whenever I am sleeping in, no looking forward to cooking his favourite dishes, nothing. It all happened that Friday. It was my husband, Chin Kians birthday. Kids, today is your dads birthday. What should you do? I asked. My little son, Kim Hock, gave his father a kiss on his cheek. Good boy, Chin Kian said. What about you, girl? My elder daughter, Lee Lian, meekly gave his father a hug and promised that she would buy him a big mansion when she grew up. They embraced. Their eyes glistened. Chin Kian smiled. What about me? You dont love mummy? I protested in a jealous tone. Lee Lian was dumbstruck. I could see from the expression on her face that she was desperately trying to figure out how she could respond to me. After all, she was only eight years old. Chin Kian and I burst into peals of laughter, leaving Lee Lian looking somewhat embarrassed in her chair. Now, finish your breakfast or else youll be late for school, I said, a necktie in my hand. It was Chin Kians necktie. As his wife, I would help him to get his necktie neatly done each day. It was a ritual we looked forward to as it symbolised the bond between Chin Kian and me. Be home earlier tonight, I whispered. Ill prepare a fabulous meal for you. Drive carefully. I savoured my time in the kitchen, preparing the stuff for dinner after Chin Kian and the kids had left. The dishes were their favourite. I had also gone out of my way to get Chin Kian a watch as a birthday present and little did I know at that point in time that it was a present that he would never have the chance to receive. When evening finally fell, I went outside to wait for Chin Kian, When he did not return by eight oclock and calls to his handphone were left unanswered, alarm bells went off in my head. I had a premonition of distress. Something must have happened. My biggest worry was that Chin Kian might have fainted due to low sugar levels caused by his diabetes. I

was about to leave the apartment when the telephone rang, the shrill tone echoing into the silence that shrouded the entire house. Hello, this is from the Sibu General Hospital. We would like to get in touch with Mr. Lim Chin Kians next of kin, the voice said. Yeyes, hes my husband, I fumbled with my reply. Whats wrong? He has been admitted into the hospital. He has met with an accident and is presently in a critical condition. Youd better come fast, she urged, the tone of urgency clear in her voice. Ill be there right away, I promised. Click. My hand was trembling as I hung up the receiver. Wasting no time at all, I rushed to the hospital. The attendant at the reception counter directed me to Emergency Room 2. Huffing and puffing, I ran all the way until I came to it. Three doctors were walking out of the room. One of them walked in my direction. Hows my husband? Is he all right? You have to save him, I begged hysterically. Shaking his head, he replied in a hushed sympathetic tone, Im sorry. Weve done our best. You can go in now to see him for the last time. I was stunned. I could not believe my ears and I just kept on hoping that somehow there had been a mistake and Chin Kian was still alive. Then I saw it Chin Kians lifeless body on the bed. I leaned over him and buried my face in his chest. All I can remember now is my crying deliriously and the feeling of the coldness of his body. Our whole life together flashed through my mind, our moments of intimacy, fights, laughter, everything. It was not supposed to end like this Chin Kians demise was a bitter pill to swallow. I felt cheated by not being by his side when he died. I did not get to share his final moment or say my last farewell. I would have just curled up and cried to my hearts content. I did not want to care about anyone, anything anymore but I still had my kidsour kids to take care of, for myself and for Chin Kian. Over the years, I have faced all the challenges alone, bringing up the children single-handedly, sorting out the financial problems and somehow or other, I have managed to learn to go through it all on my own. The children are my only reason for living, while waiting for my tome to join Chin Kian. Sometimes, I see time fleeting past extremely fast but sometimes it seems to crawl by so slowly, especially when I have to do things alone like

watching a late night movie. Whatever I do, it just does not seem the same anymore, not like when I did it together with Chin Kian. Life is now going to work, coming home, doing the household chores, spending quality time with the kids, helping them with their homework and discussing the problems they face in their day-to-day lives. As the years pass, I thought I should have got over it all but somehow, even the little things still make me cry. Nevertheless, I realise that I need to be strong; Chin Kian would have wanted me to

Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the shrill ring tone of the mobile phone. Yes? Britney speaking! I cringed in discomfort. Never had I given her that name. But somehow the young people these days would rather be addressed by those peculiar tongue-twisting names than those pretty and meaningful traditional ones like Mei Choo (Beautiful pearl) or Kim Lian (Golden chain). Oh no! Im so sorry, Cheryl, Im afraid cant see you for lunch today. Ive to take the ancient relic to the temple. Ancient relic indeed. Being illiterate, what she had just said might have been Greek to me but I understood perfectly that she was referring to me and not in a very respectful manner. I kept my thoughts to myself and said nothing about it; after all, who would bother to listen to this silly, old woman anyway? That was Tan Sri Talibs daughter. Im supposed to meet her for lunch. Cheryl. I wondered what her actual name was. Siti? Or was it Aminah? I shuddered at the thought of the things they would do these days the horrendous colour of their hair, those tight, skimpy outfits that would leave nothing to the imagination. Sigh! What was the world coming to? I sat tight-lipped in the backseat of the 4-wheel drive, clutching the plastic bag on my lap. We zoomed past the other cars on the road as if we were late for some important meeting. She always drove so fast and I, for one, was not accustomed to such speed. With trembling hands, I pulled the seatbelt tighter but was careful not to touch the patent leather upholstery with my callused fingers. She had specifically warned me about that. Finally, the vehicle cruised smoothly into the temple courtyard. I got out clumsily and made my way to the main hall. My head bowed in utmost respect, I hobbled in, and placing my humble offerings on the altar, I lit a joss stick and knelt down solemnly to offer my prayers to the gods. Thank you, Kwan Yin, O Goddess of Mercy. You have given my daughter everything that I had prayed for. She had sailed through university and is now very successful in her career. She may be rude to me at times but I know deep down inside, she is a filial daughter. Please forgive her, Kwan Yin. It is all my fault for I am such a silly old woman and such a nuisance to her. Tears welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I wiped them away with my hand-embroidered handkerchief, tucked away neatly in the side pocket of my samfoo. Finally, I planted the joss stick in an urn of smouldering ashes. I had been praying to Kwan Yin since the day my daughter was born, and despite my being most unworthy, the goddess had been kind enough to grant my persistent prayers. Sadly, the overwhelming success and the abundant wealth that had been bestowed upon my daughter had buried the girls roots. She seemed to have forgotten all the values that I had painstakingly taught her from young. Like a woman obsessed, she was trapped in the materialistic world of wants, wants and more wants. Tragically, she no longer worshipped the deities, just money. They were both the same, she and Mark, the man she had brought home out of the blue,

and they were not even married, or at least, not in the true sense of the word. I bowed to the east one final time to end the ritual and slowly made my way back to the vehicle. She stood there, waiting. A peculiar look was on her face; I knew something was not right but I just could not put my finger on it. Perhaps I had taken too long in the temple but it did not appear as if her patience was running out nor did it seem like worry nor frustration. An unnerving feeling stirred in me. The two of us sat in silence as the car careened down the highway. Ma, she finally spoke. I dont know how to put this but Mark and I have been talking about it and we have decided to move out. The property market is very good at the moment and we have managed to find a buyer willing to pay five million for that dilapidated shack. Actually they want the land to be developed into an exclusive residential area. But that was the house her grandfather built with his blood, sweat and tears. It was with his own hands that he hammered each and every nail that had hold it together all these years, and it had unfailingly provided shelter and protection from the sun and rain to his generation, my generation and now her generation the 3rd generation. I said nothing. It was not for me to say anything, anyway. After all, she, being highly educated, would know exactly what was best for herand for me, as well. We think it is in your best interest that you move into the St Marys Home. Its a very nice one, very comfortable and run by some Catholic nuns. I have been there, and Ive no doubt whatsoever that youll be happy there. The nuns will take good care of you and youll have lots of friends to talk to, Im sure. You wont be lonely anymore. The decision had been made, my fate sealed. I nodded. Yes, I replied, my tone clearly pathetic, if it will make you happy I sank deep into the leather seat, letting my shoulders sag in resignation. She never noticed the tears that trickled down the corner of my eyes.

I look at how they dress today and I shake my head in despair. Why on earth do they go around dressed up in rags, you may ask. But in actual fact, those discoloured T-shirts that seem to have undergone at least a thousand washings cost over a hundred ringgit, you can bet your bottom dollar on that, and that is at a year-end clearance sale. Believe you me, on ordinary days, just buying one will scorch an enormous hole through your pocket, you will not have one left. Or does that explain why they have holes all over their totally worn-out faded blue jeans? And never in my dear life, can I understand why the boys must wear their pants hanging gingerly on the edge of their hips looking as if they would just drop off at any time, exposing more than half of their briefs. There is a perfectly logical explanation for this, they will declare. After having spent a fortune on their designer underwear, it makes no sense if no one can get to see them at all. Sigh! Gone are the days when our mothers used to make those boxer shorts for us with a choice between rubber waistbands or the tie-it-yourself variety. And have you noticed lately that these days, more often than not, it is near impossible to tell the difference between the masculine and the feminine genders? Masculine? That is the last word I would use to describe those skinny, punitive species, so pale from the sheer lack of sun and so scrawny for want of some vigorous exercise. I wish they would take up a sport or something to build up some impressive muscles so that they will not look like some undernourished refugee from a war-torn country. And have you taken a look at their hair lately? They come in all colours, the more popular ones being blonde or brunette and I am referring to the boys, by the way. If they want to look English, they should at least put in some effort to learn the language and make sure they can speak like one, but horror of horrors! The moment they open their mouths, all the English you can hear, if at all, is the miserably mangled mess of the Malaysian variety, otherwise aptly known as Manglish. I suspect the dye that they use must have seeped through their heads, rendering them quite brainless. How else can anyone explain all those ridiculous things that they do. Try walking a little closer and you can catch a whiff of expensive fragrance, Calvin Klien no less, that may cost an arm or a leg. A 100 ml. bottle may cost almost RM200, mind you! Do not ask me how much they have to spend of the gel, mousse or hairspray which definitely do not

come a dime a dozen because I do not have the slightest idea I never use the stuff. Besides, I bet they would need a truckload of all those things to make their hair stand on end as if they had been electrocuted or something. But just when you think you have seen or smelled it all, you hear the tone of a cellular phone. No, you do not have one yourself; they are much too expensive for a miserable salary-earner like you and despite working your fingers to the bone from dawn to dusk, there is no way you can fork out enough dough to pay for it plus the bill, access fee and all. Nevertheless, right before your very eyes, there is this young upstart flashing the latest palm-size model one that most definitely comes with a four-figure price tag. How can they afford it, you wonder, when you are at your wits end trying to make ends meet? Day in, day out, you see them loitering around the shopping malls in the city centre, sitting at sidewalk cafes and sipping branded coffee. And hanging out at one of those sidewalk cafes is not cheap either, albeit the senselessness in the whole indulgence. In countries in Europe, it is understandable that this kind of thing should be a preference, considering their cooler climate, the fresh air and the milder sunlight in the region. But who in their right minds would want to do such a thing along Bintang Walk where the vehicles zoom past non-stop at neck-breaking speed, leaving them to inhale all the poisonous fumes and oozing sweat from every pore? I strongly suspect that other than the aforementioned hair dye, the carbon monoxide must have gone straight up to their brains for that would explain their obvious lack of intelligence. Furthermore, the prices for those so-called branded coffee are so exorbitant one will have to keep it in the mouth for hours until the flavour is completely gone before swallowing to get the moneys worth. For the prices they have to pay, I would think that to the very least, they should serve the beverage in something more sophisticated or classier than the paper or plastic cups they use, or at best, some clumsy stone mugs. Surely they can afford those exquisite imported fine china that they use in high-class restaurants in five-star hotels, complete with a silver spoon that you can twiddle with, for want of something better to do at mundane places like these. The internet is the tool of knowledge and communication, so I have been told. Thus, my faith and hope in the future of mankind was restored when cyber-cafes started sprouting all over the towns and cities like mushrooms after the rain. Attracting the young unsuspecting teenagers like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, it is obvious that they enjoy a roaring business. Yet, I have this uncanny suspicion that as far as what the teenagers do at those joints, knowledge and communication are the last things on their minds. Once, I decided to find out for myself and ventured to one of them in the neighbourhood. Horror of horrors! Even before I could open the door, my

delicate eardrums were blasted with sounds of gunfire and explosions as if the two world wars were raging inside, with a third one thrown in for good measure. Instantly, I took to my heels for fear that they might fire a guided missile in my direction and send my poor miserable soul to kingdom come. Indeed, as the old adage goes, curiosity kills the cat! Our parents were aghast when we listened to Elvis the Pelvis and his rock and roll, or the mop-topped Beatles and their yeahyeah.yeah but all that is mere childs play compared to what they listen to today. I would not insult my knowledge of music, limited though it may be, and call them songs for the simple reason that there is no melody all you get to hear are some drum beats and a booming bass while the singer chants like a deliriously hysterical Chinese medium in a trance. Do not, under any circumstance, try to make out what the lyrics are all about, for heavens sake. For one thing, it is a near impossible task and for another, when I tried doing that once, I blushed in embarrassment at what I could hear - obscenities, obscenities and more obscenities making me wonder about the artistes home upbringing and education, as well as those who listen to their songs. Teenagers! Sometimes I cast one look at them and I sigh. These are our generation of today. These are going to be the leaders of our tomorrow.