One Less Story to Tell

 

1 hour passed by as Chee Beng stared out into the open: a concoction of trees, mortars and a tiny bit of the sky. There was a skid mark on his face, carved out in a patient, careful stroke, a deep neat gash under his chin as he rested his head idly by the window. His stern father did not show his face, his eyes only on the road. His mother laid her head gently by the headrest beside him, snoring away her fatigue from her overtimes. The tiny kampong road grew smaller as they progressed. Rambutan trees, durian trees, and later some coconut trees greeted him as he sped through the motions. Soon there was a cow, staying adamant in front of the road, claiming it as if it was his all along. The honking annoyed the lethargic boy.

 

Soon there wasn’t even a road anymore.

 

Oh silly me. How I could I forget to mention this? The high point of a story. A deciding factor of an outcome. An impenetrable tide of fate destined to change an object from A to B? Silly, old me.

 

Listen, Chee Beng is an introverted boy, in which an empty notebook becomes his best friend. All he held was an empty notebook. He loved them. A lot. He could stare into a blank page for hours, imagining endless possibilities that could emerge out of it. He sees himself as a magician; a conjurer who takes pride in whatever that was conjured out of the blank pages. And he wasn’t even good at drawing.

 

Besides the empty book, he loved his scrap of a laptop, an electronic notebook passed on by his father as soon as he got enough money from his job promotion to get a new, better one. He loved it ever since, though the scrap of a laptop fits well to a modern adage, “You could fry eggs on its keyboard.”

 

Never heard of it? Me neither.

 

Chee Beng rarely gets out of home, only doodling on his blank pages or staring into his laptop screen. His parents regretted the fact that he was even born. No good of a son. They had better get a piece of bacon from the emergency room than Chee Beng.

 

The boy had never shared his doodles, nor he ever wanted to or will. His stories belonged to his own.

 

He doesn’t speak much, but he does write a lot. Too much, perhaps. People can never understand him. He is too deep in his own world, too deep into his self-made belief, swarming with beings of his creations and strings of fates woven on his whim. He had full control of his mind, but never a little scrap of it in the real world.

 

And so he stared out into the open.

 

You could see little movies playing in his eyeballs, his creations were conversing with their creator, laughing, smiling and dancing. He arranged them like a playful kid playing with toy soldiers, choosing who lives and who dies. He fiddled them around with his fingers, when all his siblings could see in the backseat was a crazy boy poking the windows. They were so small, so fragile…

 

The remains of the road dissipated, as Chee Beng dreamed of the moment he gets to break out of this steel prison of his and embrace his bag of treasures. His rucksack of books, empty books, black pen, blue pen, and his scrap of a laptop. He usually puts everything into one trusty sack for easy transport, whenever he was being hauled away from home by his family.

 

The entrance of a wooden shabby house appeared in front of him. His Grandma sat on a rattan chair by the door, smiling as she lowered her Nanyang Siang Pau with its headlines scribbled with political folly of his fellow countrymen.

He loved his Grandma, he really does.

 

She told him stories even his parents wouldn’t believe. Stories of dead people who couldn’t accept their death and cried in the coffin as they were being carried away. Stories of people dying and experiencing the feeling of getting ‘turned off’, like stoves in her kitchen and TV in her living room. It still baffles Chee Beng of how zero-consciousness would feel like. Perhaps he needs to die to find out. Perhaps he will make up his own facts in the form of scribbles in his notebook. Grandma told him stories. Stories that qualified to be called as “bullcrap” for those without imagination.

 

Chee Beng ran to the door and hugged his old Grandma, noticing one new wrinkle or two appearing her forehead. Oh, how he kissed her.

 

He turned around soon after and said, “Father, shall we get those stuffs out?”

 

Without saying anything, his father tossed his car keys into Chee Beng’s palms as he pulled down his socks at the entrance. His younger brother and sister ran around the front porch and out into the front yard, playing endless rounds of tagging games. His mother rested herself on the cracked leather sofa as she resumed her nap.

 

Chee Beng rushed to the bonnet of the car to offload his treasure. To offload the imagination pent up in his mind from the car ride that morning before he forgets.

 

The anticipation to put friction into the pages made his blood boil, as he flipped open the bonnet and scanned the interiors for only one thing. And that one thing wasn’t there.

 

“Mom! Dad!”

 

His mother was jolted up from her sleep with that scream she could almost bang the ceiling with her head! His father turned his head and ran to the door, fearing that snakes might have got to Chee Beng.

 

But their boy wasn’t hurt at all.

 

“Mom, Dad. Where’s my rucksack?” Chee Beng asked, arms extended toward the bonnet, full of his sibling’s clothes and his parents’ documents and paperwork.

 

His mother looked at his father and asked, “Didn’t you put it into the car?”

 

His father looked at his mother and said, “I was about to ask you the same thing!”

 

The truth is, the rucksack was erected firmly behind the wooden door of Chee Beng’s house, a product of abandonment left out by his family as they tugged in the bags.

 

“How could you! What am I supposed to do now?”

 

Chee Beng was angry!

 

His mother’s expression turned from a sleepy slob into an angry witch.

 

“Listen, young man. If I could live without that rucksack of yours, so can you!”

 

He kept mum and looked for things to do to pass time without his empty books. He walked around the house several times until his siblings had grown tired of playing the endless tagging game.

 

“Brother, are you not gonna sit?” They asked, sipping orange juice made by their mother in the front porch.

 

“Quiet.”

 

It wasn’t long before Grandma came over and tapped the boy’s shoulder as he walked back and forth.

 

“Beng, even the grass had grown tired of your feet.” She said.

 

“But Grandma, you know I can’t live without my books!”

 

Grandma smiled.

 

“Here, help me with some chores, will you?”

 

So they walked into the kitchen, frying nian gao. “But Grandma, it wasn’t even Chinese New Year yet!” Chee Beng would say.

 

“It doesn’t stop us from enjoying the sweet texture of this delicacy, does it?”

 

Grandma smiled again.

 

Chee Beng helped stirring the frozen nian gao as he groaned at how hard it is. He knew if he did not help her, they would never enjoy this delicacy. His Grandma wasn’t as strong as the yesteryears, not anymore. Grandma would cut the stirred concoction with a sharp knife as she rolled it into the stirred eggs next to the boiling pot of oil.

 

Chee Beng took enjoyment in sliding those nian gao covered in egg yolks into the boiling oil, listening to the sizzling sounds filling the afternoon.

 

“See, it wasn’t so bad now, was it?” Grandma said, as she placed the plate of hot fried nian gao onto the wooden table as Chee Beng’s parents and siblings rushed to it as they smelled the aroma of the sweet mixture.

 

And now Chee Beng was wandering aimlessly again.

 

He walked around nervously, almost trying to scratch a spotless itch on his arm. Waiting, waiting for another thing to do to fill in his loneliness. His father saw him as he watered the plants next to the car. His father tossed the cigarette away as he approached his son.

 

“Son, are you on drugs?”

 

“No, father. Why did you ask?

 

“Well, cause you look like a drug addict right now.”

 

His father laughed non-sensibly. Then he handed out a broom to his son.

 

“You need something to fill your time with, boy.”

 

And so Chee Beng swept away the leaves as his father watered the plants. They spent quality time together, father and son moment. Been awhile since I had this, Chee Beng thought as he followed the momentum of the broom sweeping past the leaves.

 

He’d almost delayed the works so those books and scribbles won’t haunt him again. But a job never last forever.

 

So the brooms switched hands and delivered to the storeroom. The afternoon turned into an evening. The sky turned silver. The sun set sail for the other part of the world. Chee Beng the poor boy was sitting by the porch looking at the retreating sun.

 

He could see his characters dancing in the air. He could see words floating around, almost transparent to his eyes. He needed to make it through the day. And he was getting close.

 

Pungent smell of fried fish roamed the air. Sizzling sounds of kangkung being put into the frying pan rang in his ears. He savoured the moment as he waited for his dinner. He ran into his room when the temptation had grown unbearable.

 

He pulled out the mattresses and switched it, beat the pillows with his hands, wiped the floor with a semi-wet mop, and swept off the dust on the cupboards. Clinking sounds were made as the clothes are hung into the cupboards, good as new. He was ready for dinner now.

 

They had a laugh on the dinner table, truly a memorable family reunion if you ask me. They were laughing at how silly Chee Beng was, without that rucksack of his. This was perhaps the first time ever he had cleaned up a room, and it was done when he was separated from his rucksack. That cursed rucksack, his mother would joke. So they laughed. And so they ate.

 

Chee Beng had decided to call it a night after doing the dishes. His muscles ached a little as he landed himself on the bed from vigorous stirring of the nian gao and the sweeping. He felt a little sting in his jaws from laughing too much in the table. He would have no trouble sleeping in this tired form. He would write again tomorrow as soon as he reached home again.

 

He could feel the blankets embracing his body, from tip to toe. He stole a look and he saw his mother. She landed a gentle kiss on his forehead as she said, “So this is what happens when we forget that rucksack of yours.”

 

Chee Beng could feel the air of pride resonating from his mother.

 

“But mother,” He gathered air and energy to reply, before taking a leap into his dreams.

 

“There would be one less story to tell.”

 

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  • 1) It's nice to know that Chee Beng can really survive not having his rucksack with him

  • (Author)
    2) barely. lol

    actually i wrote this based on my true experience of not having my notebook or laptop with me in a trip. in the end i borrowed a laptop from my bro and wrote this down.

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