Tuesday, December 16, 2014

(Prose) - Oyaji

Oyaji

We called him Oyaji, we always have. None of us knew why, but our mothers always told us to call him that, so one one questioned.

 Here, in this cluster of blue and orange HDB flats, there's nothing much to see and do besides all the games we play, and that was when Oyaji helped to occupy our time. We loved to mimic his peculiar mannerisms: the bowing, the squinted eyes, the light laughter, and best of all, his weird hobble.

Oyaji, though, doesn't seem to mind. In fact, whenever he saw us, he'd beckon for us, snacks ready in his hand. The food that he gave us, though strange-looking and nothing like we have ever seen, always tasted great. The aunties constantly coming to him for recipes and cooking advice lent testimony to his formidable cooking skills.

One night, a small festival was held in our void deck in celebration of the Mooncake festival. The whole neighbourhood had gathered for a time of fun and games. As our mothers were busy with the preparation of the festival, my friends and I were at our usual game of 'catching' as we weaved in between makeshift booths and people.

It wasn't long before we spotted that one booth at the corner, curiously covered with rattan shades that hid whatever was inside from the outside world. Only a sign hanging outside announcing ''Story telling'' in red spray-painted letters gave any indication of what was inside.  Peeking in, we were surprised to find none other than Oyaji himself, sitting patiently on a stool. When he saw us, Oyaji's face brightens up in happiness.

''Come, come, sit. I have been waiting for all of you.''

Excited that there was at last something made specially for us, and curious at what Oyaji was going to do, we all quickly sat down on the rattan mats laid out on the floor, waiting for him to begin.

''The tale that I am about to tell you happened many, many years ago, before any of you were even born.'' began Oyaji. His deep, raspy voice captured our attention, and the outside world suddenly seemed to quieten down, as if also waiting to hear what Oyaji had to say.

''In an ancient land long ago, there lived great, ferocious dragons that constantly terrorised the land. Raining fire and brimstone wherever they went, the dragons had destroyed many villages and took countless lives. The people of the land lived in constant fear, being powerless against the dragons.

''It was not long after, that a village decided to set up defenses against the dragons. Arming themselves with bamboo spears tipped with fire, stone slings and formidable will, the villagers successfully dove dragon after dragon away from their village.

''One day,  a young dragon saw this very same village and decided to terrorise it. He was very aware of the village's strong defenses, but he, being the young, proud dragon he was, decided that he would lay waste to the village and prove his worth to the others. Of course, the dragon was swiftly and soundly overwhelmed by the villages attacks and was eventually critically injured. Fleeing from the village, the young dragon was never seen again.

''One day, a young maiden was making her way back home from a neighbouring village. Along the way, a magnificent sight greeted her eyes.  Lying across the road was the magnificent body of a dragon, its magnificent scales glistening bright green under the sun. The dragon was clearly dead, but the young maiden nonetheless moved cautiously towards it.

'' The dragon's body was marred with numerous injuries, some of which, the maiden saw, were very serious. Its wings had mostly been burnt off, the smoke on which still rose slowly to the sky. Very soon, the maiden had gone around the dragon's back and came face to face with its front, where another peculiar sight greeted her eyes.

''There, lying at the foot of the dragon's open mouth, was an unconscious young man who was also equally injured. The maiden, however, saw that the man was still alive, though on the brink of death, and called her fellow villagers who helped to carry the man back to their village.

''The man was eventually nursed back to health by the villagers. They, however, came to realise that he was indeed a rather strange man. He not only had a ferocious temper, but also spoke with a tongue similar to the growls and snarls of the dragon. The villagers, fearing this unknown man, stayed far away from him, and even gathered to banish him from the village.

''The banishment of the 'dragon man', as the villagers came to call him, seemed imminent. However, one person stood up for him: the young maiden. She believed that there was good in every being, and that this 'dragon man' was no exception. She pleaded with the villagers to let her take him under her care, to which the villager hesitantly agreed.

''As the maiden tended to the 'dragon man' day after day, he  was soon touched by the kindness the maiden showed to him. Slowly, this kindness changed him, and he became friendlier and more easy-going. The 'dragon man' soon became friends with everyone in the village, as they saw that he had changed. The 'dragon man' eventually fell in love with the young maiden. They married, and lived happily ever after. The end.''

Everyone, including me, clapped our hands and cheered. The story a good one. Oyaji's face brightened up even more when he saw that we liked the story, and he too joined in the cheering with his light laughter. As we left the booth for another game of 'catching', something caught my eye and I turned back to glance at Oyaji. There he was, a small, tanned man with a slight bent in his back, his small round glasses magnifying his eyes. Sitting silently on his stool as he saw us leave, he almost seemed sad and lonely.

***********************************************

The funeral came and went. Oyaji had no known relatives, so the whole neighbourhood came together to organise his funeral. Many of the aunties and uncles gave tearful testimonies of his great food and generous help, while my friends and I presented a song for him to the crowd. The whole neighbourhood went into a week of silent mourning then. We had just lost a really dear friend.

One day, as I was making my way back home from school, I walked past the flat which Oyaji stayed in before he died, and noticed that the gates were haphazardly left unlocked. I was curious to find out what Oyaji's house would look like, so I pried aside the rusty gates and creaky door, and went in.

Most of the furniture in the living room were covered with big pieces of cloth, but it seemed like nothing much had been done to the flat, even when Oyaji was still alive. The tiles on the floor looked like it had been around since the 80's, while the television and radio seemed to be even older. Many posters were pasted on the white walls of the living room, but it was impossible to know what they showed as most were badly tattered, while the pictures on others have already faded beyond recognition.

There was an object in the living room, though, that caught my eye. There was a lack of dust around it. A large photo frame stood on the living room's table, a happy young couple contained within it. There on the back of the frame, I saw the words written neatly:


"To my dear Mei Xiang, thank you for loving and believing in me, when no one else did. May we meet again in the life after death. With love, the 'dragon man'. 
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Oyaji was an attempt to tell a story through another story; if you didn't get it, Oyaji was a Japanese Zero Fighter Pilot who crashed onto Singapore during the Japanese Occupation of World War 2. :P

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