Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Prose - The Moon

The Moon

The student woke from a sleep he had unintentionally drifted off to. The shuttle bus had just reached the MRT station, and students and staff were already getting off, weary after a day of work and school. The student silently thanked the driver as he got off, though the uncle seemed not to notice. As the student stepped off the bus onto the street, the smell of unwashed, greasy bodies was replaced by haze and vehicle exhaust. The student glanced at wristwatch. It was already 6 in the evening, and the rush hour crowd affirmed it. Throngs of people bottle-necked the escalator as they shuffled towards it. The student joined the crowd as they filed into two rows going up the escalator. His bag, which had seemed much lighter earlier that day, now weighed down on his aching shoulders. He propped it up from the bottom with his hands, and could feel the sharp edges of the books and files threatening to poke a hole through the cloth. The student soon reached the end of the escalator, and as he trudged along with the others to the barricades, he held his breath to block out the scent of stale oil and greasy chives that wafted from the nearby food stall. Amidst its brightly lit "Nasi Lemak $2.30" sign, commuters were hunched over as they selected fritters to complement their fried noodles.

The student soon reached the barricades. Commuters split themselves into four rows, and against the tide of the outgoing throng, they tap their cards and pass through. The barricades opened and closed with each acknowledgment of a card, slamming carelessly in and out of their sleeves with the ferocity of unhindered punches. As the student passed through the barricades, he noted the television screen which displayed his tired appearance: Frayed cargo pants, messy hair that cluttered in oily clumps, and a five-year-old faded blue polo. He saw his eyes and stared it at, but it failed to look back at him, staring off strangely into the distance. He gave up soon after, even as he was continually pushed along by the flow of commuters towards another set of escalators.

Having reached the train platforms, the student decided that he'd walk to the end, away from the crowd, which would assure him a seat on the train. He trudged along with the commuters who shared the same thought. Above him, the giant fans spun mightily, though with an exhaustion that came with age and a dust-filled environment. The student found no comfort in the wind they generated however, for it was stale and sickly. He soon reached the second last gate on the platform, and joined the three people who had already formed a queue. The train arrived three minutes later. As the train doors opened, all semblance of a line dissolved as commuters rushed to grab a seat. The student managed to secure a corner seat; all regard for whether a seat was 'reserved' was neglected during rush hours. A few seconds later, the train doors wheezed shut, and as the train groaned away from the platform, the student shut his eyes and was soon asleep.

The dream the student dreamed was a queer one. He was at one moment flipping through his lecture notes, though he soon reach out of pages to flip. So he decided he'd flip the table too. It turned out that he was at judo practice and his partner was now on the floor cursing in Russian, or some kind if European tongue; he couldn't tell. His parents arrived onto the mat: it was their turn to fight. It wasn't a judo fight however, for they were flinging furniture and home appliances at one another, all while screaming at the top of their lungs. His younger sister soon arrived to stop them, but a car rammed into her, flinging her across the road with the crushing of bone, the spewing of blood. There he was, reaching out to her, running to her but never reaching. Fractured spine and crushed skull, said the doctor. She never stood a chance. Fractured spine and crush skull. Fractured spine an—

The student jolted awake to a packed carriage.  Some commuters stared at him, but the student ignored them. There was barely any space left and some commuters were pressed against the train doors. The heat and stench of commuters radiated through the cabin, making the student shuffle around uncomfortably in his seat. As soon as the train reached Redhill, the student stood up, squeezed through the blockade of warm, sticky bodies, and got off the train.

It was already 8pm, and the student found himself on a ledge at the back the station. It was a location that few frequented, and he quite enjoyed the solitude. Against his liking, he had purchased a packet of bee hoon for dinner from the food stall at the station, mostly out of convenience. He knew he did not wanted to go home just yet; the lesser time spent facing his parents' quarrels the better. If he could, he'd prefer not going home at all. The student sighed as he taught about home.

Pulling the styrofoam packet out of its red plastic bag, the student separated the chopsticks and began to eat. The fish fillet he had bought, though sweet, was so drench in oil that it made him a little queasy eating it. The student pushed the dry bee hoon down with a few gulps of water from his bottle.

It had only taken the student ten minutes to finish his meal, though he wished it had lasted longer. He decided that he would sit on the ledge for a while longer so that he could enjoy the silence. The ledge faced an old road which was now sealed up from the main road. The student remembered how it used to house a temporary hawker centre before it moved to its new home. Now all that was left were fields of overgrown grass and weeds. Afar off, various condominium showrooms had taken advantage of the now-vacant land to display their new building projects, while a bulldozer sat inactive, done with the day's work of tearing down yet another abandoned building from the vicinity. The crickets sang their night-song amidst the occasional rush from cars on the main road. A faint but cool night breeze blew past, a small deed that lightened his heart.

It was amidst all of these that the student thought back to that night two weeks ago, the night at the bus stop when his sister died. He was just next to her, close enough that he could have pulled her back. But he did not. He did not, and now he regretted it. He had come to hate his body in the days to come, cursing himself for being too slow, too weak. Even now he was helpless in stopping his parents as they quarrelled, blaming each other for not being there. They could not have been there, for they were at work, but he was. They should be blaming him; he knew he did.

The student stared at the gravel below his feet. Amidst the dim orange light, the student picked out several small ants, flies and critters scurrying around in a network and system beknownst only to themselves. It never occurred to him how easy it was to crush them under his foot; how little he needed to do to disrupt their little system that they called their life. Were human beings that fragile too? Did it take nothing to just snuff them out? His sister was always the wacky and energetic one; no one would expect that she'd not live past her twelfth birthday. All it took was a silver Corrolla running at full speed to prove their expectations wrong.

The student was not one to cry; his father told him that crying was something that boys do not do - they were to remain strong no matter what came their way. So even in the wake of his sister's death, no tears came to his eyes; there was only an aching vacuum in his heart that he could not quite grasp nor push away. His relatives and friends had asked him how he was able to handle his sister's death so well, but he had no answer to give; he was grieving in his own way.

The student continued to stare at the ground, but the streetlamp above suddenly flickered and died out, stealing away what little light was left and casting the whole vicinity into darkness. The night took over the remains of the day, overwhelming it completely.

Plunged into darkness, the student's eye caught the one thing that still shone brightly. Far above, no bigger than a fifty-cent coin, was the moon. It was full that night, unhindered by any cloud as it shone in its white ethereal light. It was wrapped in an aura of golden-yellow, serene yet majestic at the same time. It gripped the student's attention, and he could not look away.

And so the student glazed at the moon, looking on it, making out the gray patches on an otherwise smooth surface. There and then, the moon pulled him in, its glow strengthening against the night sky. It was a stranger in its element, a symbol of hope in the darkness.

Bigger and bigger the moon became, drawing the student away from the earth, away from his world of sorrow. Nothing mattered at that moment; it was the moon, just the moon.

And suddenly, there the student was, his feet touching the illuminated powder-ground, making small slow clouds as he landed. A new world greeted him, and the student was excited. He took in his surroundings, a world of just moon-rock and dark sky.

Nothing else existed; it was just him and the moon. There was no hindrance, no gray area, just a world pure and untainted. Yes, he will be an explorer of this world, a world shut up to itself, noiseless and bright. There will be nothing to stop him, there will be nothing else to care for. He will lie on this unfettered ground, and be at peace forever.

And though the student was yet on earth, his soul stayed with the beacon up high. And for the first time in weeks, the student smiled again.

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