it’s a letter not to you, but for you: since you will not be able to read this the way the living do.
If I said that we got on like a house on fire,
then you were the fire
and I am the house.
That your fire has burnt out
means that I am gutted now.
Metaphorically, this ‘we’ burnt out long ago.
I tried to rekindle something from those burnt ashes, and I hope that the papers I sent you were able to at least keep you warm.
So there was not much, but I am still gutted. Terribly and horribly, and I know that if we had managed to speak that one day in January you would have said something like “It’s fine,” and that you understand, and that you are ().
But I meant everything we wrote to you so it is not you
but us who should say sorry.
There’s not much use in saying it now,
so I hope that in January when I was seated
you felt the sincerity of our bow;
the same value of the tears my unknown juniors shed this morning
before your body.
For you and because of you.
I spoke to uncle briefly, and he reminisced to me just a little about what you were like when you were younger. In turn, I could only tell him about the things I remembered best about you.
I’m sorry I couldn’t stay long,
you would chide me for the foolish thinking that standing by your cold body does anything.
I’m sorry I didn’t come back often,
you would chide me for the foolish thinking that coming back more often might have let me know more.
I’m sorry I didn’t ask more,
you would laugh at the thought that my insistence might have broken your determination not to tell us. Uncle said you didn’t want to “bother”.
I’m sorry those letters weren’t enough to convince you that I would have wanted to know.
You would shake your head and reaffirm your belief that it would have made things harder not easier.
But Mr Ng, you were never a bother so please.
Among the many conversations we had about things, mainly history and trivia, we had discussions on psychology and counselling. Never in an emotional manner, but an abstract, academic form.
You said there were seven stages to grief in conventional literature, but the thing is that there is nothing to be angry with.
There is no bargaining in logic either.
“But people aren’t logical” –
Your chuckle rings in my ears
and knocks on my heart.
Of course, I know that. But I have to be logical since that’s what you’d like us to be.
Logic brings us to another course, Mr Ng. Even if I believe in nothing and everything, I can hope since there’s much to-do about nothing.
A sea burial: Mr Ng if I promised not to visit on Easter Sunday but on your birthday with the orh nee you told us you were craving, would you have changed your mind?
From now on into the infinity, tomorrow afternoon to the infinity, your carbon particles floating out at sea.
Would they be caught by our country’s desalination plants, or would you become part of an endangered coral?
That depends on what is ‘you’, right?
And to the correct you, your consciousness and not your body, I ask of thee, please, don’t let me forget you.
So that I will keep you in mind, that the memory of you will be there when I need you.
If the afterlife needs an odd currency like human sadness or tears of grief, I hope that you will be comfortable and ask it of us.
Since, after all, this one barely got the chance to render anything back to you.
You probably dislike that thought. No, but Mr Ng, I remember a long while back you asked us to come back and visit.
This is an attempt to get back, get back to you.
The pilgrimage this morning to Tampines, so far away from home, be it yours or mine, half the length of the island in weather that is too hot then too cold.
It is autumn in my heart. Forgive us for not being able to tell you all this earlier.
Thank you for giving me History that allowed me to eventually come back and tell you some of this. That I got to tell you this is a balm to my soul aching with the awareness that you are gone.
Thank you for giving me History that made me agree to take up all the arts and write so many essays up till the point that writing became a habit then second nature.
Thank you for making me comfortable enough to be able to write all of those things to you even when others baulked and called it clingy. Since it is true, I do not mind saying it, but we are attached to you and that memory of you.
This memory among others, a bleeding heart only knows that it is slowly dying, not where it is leaking.
The photographer we were and am, the image of you frozen in my mind’s eye when you recognised us and were surprised.
The 10-second interaction in January that was our last; Mr Ng, I still wish that you would have told us something.
To be told you were in “quite a bit of pain” really leaves me gutted, even if I could have done nothing.