feature image: Georgia O’Keeffe

Gloria walked to the roadside curb to sit down, pulling the back of her short skirt to prevent her flesh from scorching on the cement pavement as she lowered her ass down.

It was an hour past noon, on cue for the sun to be more than warmly felt on the dusty streets of Petaling Jaya, but that wasn’t good enough a reason to skip a cigarette break, in fact, if you ask, Gloria, there’s never a reason not to light up a stick.

Cancer sticks they call it nowadays, she’d scoff hearing that from anyone.

“Fuck off far away so I can smoke in peace,” she’d tell them.

That’s the reason she smoked anyway, to ward off negativity and breathe in her own Zen.

“Ain’t nothing kills people more than toxic thoughts in their heads,” she’d say.

She’d been smoking 40 years now, starting since she was 14.

The pink gums and pearly whites had slowly turned a darkened brown and pale yellow. This, despite Gloria being particularly steadfast about her dental care. She was rather proud of her smile, that many liked to remark, as one of her most striking feature.

Still, her vanity was not enough to keep her from the crave of tar-laced smoke in her lungs. Besides, if there was anyone who could suck a drag in style, it was she.

Something in the way her lips puckered as she exhaled the fumes, a neatly packed tobacco stick perched between her index and middle finger, as if it was perfectly poised to appear absolutely fabulous. And all this with her knees wide apart, elbows on her thighs, on the sidewalk by an office block off Section 13, right next to a mud-tracking construction site.

She suddenly recalled her husband telling her how he loved her despite her black lips. Dark maroon, wrinkled plump, reminding him of the hue between her legs.

A Bangladeshi labourer and his Indonesian colleague, walked past Gloria in her reverie. They were strolling towards a mass of rusted zink shacks surrounded by red plastic chairs and tables laid for their lunch break.

Both stared at Gloria as they passed from across the road, slowing their step to turn and look at the woman, probably in her early 40s, seated with her legs spread eagle. They didn’t say it to each other but both were intrigued by the same glimpse, causing them to throw furtive glances at her as she puffed  away by the gravelly road.

Behind them, two other workers in mud-stained rubber boots trailed along. They were chatting with playful expressions when one of their faces suddenly froze . One of them abruptly hooked his arm around the other’s neck, lunging towards his friend’s ear to mouth something, his eyes darted towards Gloria, his head cocked in her direction.

The friend looked confused and annoyed at first, then suddenly getting his friend’s meaning, grinned widely to display jagged, yellow, square, enamels, arranged in a wide row across his face.

Their jokish countenance returned, moderately feigning nonchalance.

Their skittish movements made Gloria aware of their strange gaze on her, disrupting the  delicious daydream she was having.

Her cheeks had flushed red at the thought of her husband and the things he used to say and do. The sudden attention only caused the blush to stay longer, as realisation dawned of what might have elicited the scrutiny.

It was her pubic hair, curly, unruly and unhindered by underwear beneath her skirt.

The bright midday sun shone enough light to the parting between her legs, casting stripey shadows on her inner thighs, from her dark but sheer cotton skirt.

Still, she made no move to close her legs.

She stared back at the embarrassed gawkers, her eyes hooded in disdain, eyebrows raised.

She sucked her cheeks in, as was her usual pissed off expression, before taking a long drag from her cigarette, sparking angry specks to spit from the lit end.

The foreign youths, intimidated yet amused by her stance pretended as if they had not seen anything out of the ordinary and continued walking.

A bespectacled youth, in pinstripe shirt walked by next. Lost in his own thoughts, he barely noticed Gloria in her provocative pos
ture.

A gust of wind blew dust in his eye and he stopped directly in front of her, trying to squint away the discomfort.

His hands flew to his face, holding up the frame without taking it off completely, fingers reaching underneath the glasses to rub vigorously. When he finally managed the irritation, his first sight was greeted by Gloria’s private bits, unabashedly, unapologetically on display.

He took a while to take in the scene and was in a stupor of making sense of what he just saw when suddenly, she barked at him.

“What are you looking at?

“Never seen your mother’s cunt before?

“It was the first thing you saw as you entered the world and even if you’re one of those Caesarean babies, you were breathing and living right next door for nine months.

“Forgotten all that and jogging your memory now?

Her voice was a raspy, mocking tone that almost frightened the man.

He was tempted to pretend he never heard or saw her and simply walk on but then he heard her snigger.

Something in her belittling tone pressed him to stand his ground and tell her off. Afterall, she was only putting herself at risk with that kind of behaviour.

“Hey auntie, you should watch yourself and cover up la.

“You want to get raped is it?

“Oooh. So you see a pussy, look like your mother’s also you want to fuck la.

“Do you guys ever think with anything other than a dick?

“Eh, mak cik, you ni gila or what?

“You sit like that, naked for all to see, even dogs passing will want to come and investigate lah.

“I’m telling you because I respect you. Please lah, respect yourself.

“Son, I don’t need your respect or your protection. I need you to mind your fucking business and leave my cunt out of it. If you cannot help but save an image of my cunt for your fucking pleasure by yourself later, by all means take a picture. I won’t blame you for that but please save your moral outrage and fuck off. Even dogs that come near will know, whether I want to fuck or be fucked or not. They got heart, not like men like you. Only got fucking dicks.

He lost his cool. He could feel cool sweat dripping down his back and his feet almost swung involuntarily in front of him towards her.

Next thing, he found himself bashing the woman with his knuckles cutting into the side of her face and kicking his new, shiny, black leather shoes right in between her legs.

She was surprisingly unretaliative and her head flopped almost like a rag doll when he yanked her by the hair.

He was suddenly aware that her body flailed unnaturally, even when he wasn’t hitting her,  and it startled him.

When he saw wet blood staining her cheeks, he suddenly sprung back in horror.

What had he done? Is she dying? The hair on the back of his neck was standing and chills ran down his spine.

She lay sprawled on the kerb with her legs still open, blood smeared all over her clothes and face.

He didn’t want to look but involuntarily caught sight of her lifeless expression, eyeballs rolled back, mouth ajar, buck teeth glistening with slivers of blood.

His pupils darted away at the grotesqueness,  and focused on the surrounding to check if there had been any witnesses.

When he didn’t see anyone, he immediately sprinted off to get away from the scene, running faster than he ever had in his life.

***

Al came home in the middle of the afternoon, hoping to sleep off the adrenaline rush after what happened at his lunch break. He had called in sick from work in the train ride, knowing that if he didn’t, there would be incessant calls from his boss and colleagues, wondering why he went missing.

He collapsed on the long sofa in the flat he shared with his university mates, and dozed off trying to escape the assail of paranoid thoughts dogging him.

“What have I done? She’s alive right? But it was her fault. What was she thinking sitting like that and then talking shit.

After fleeing, it occurred to him that he should have checked if the lady was still alive and he could have called an ambulance to save her despite what he did, but when he took out his phone, he couldn’t bring himself to act on it for fear he could somehow be linked to the situation and forced to be punished.

The battle in his mind went on even as sleep crept upon him.

A stinging pain on his cheek followed by a loud clap jolted him out of unconsciousness.

His housemates were back and Jim, his cousin, had slapped him awake.

“Dei, what happened to you ah?

“Why your shirt all bloody? Somebody whack you and you pengsan here isit?

Al looked down his torso and caught sight of the caked brown blood on his shirt and hands.

He sprang up nervously and dashed to wash off the stains in the kitchen sink. He was breaking out in sweat again, worried that he might have triggered suspicion if someone had noticed on his way home.

As he rubbed his shirt under the running water, Al was trying to keep his frantic under the lid. He tried to stay calm and rationalise: it was possible no one suspected him of anything, or else he was like to have been stopped by the guards at the train stops.  There were other passengers in the train but no one paid any special attention to him.

Perhaps it looked just like a nosebleed or ketchup stain. There wasn’t a lot of blood, just a few smudges here and there.

As he hung his shirt to dry, he could hear his housemates slapping each other loudly, playing their boyish tricks on each other and laughing. He could also hear them taking out his laptop and turning it on.

This was a habit they were accustomed to since Al came home one day, with the work computer in his knapsack.

Nevermind that it was not Al’s personal equipment, what more that it was meant for his work. The four hot-blooded males in the flat needed their daily dose of porn, video games and the occasional social media to chat up girls.

His flatmates had dressed down to their boxers and grouped around the laptop. They were on Facebook checking out girls again.

He went to them to logout of his account before they monopolised it.

“Move la, let me log off first.

“Eh don worry, we won’t Frape you la.

Al decided to check some notifications first and saw that someone had tagged him in a post.

He clicked on it and was shocked to see pictures of the roadside lady all over his newsfeed.

His blood curled.

What the fuck? Someone had seen him!

The photos showed the woman smiling and posing with a book juxtapositioned with her bloodied, lifeless body on the road. The pixels between her legs were blurred but her face with tongue hanging out was not. He clicked it away.

Al couldn’t bring himself to respond and froze in his seat. He wasn’t sure whether he should scroll down further or not.

Before he could decide, his cousin grabbed hold of the mouse and started reading the post aloud.

“Feminist poet found naked, raped and beaten up

Petaling Jaya: The body of 54-year-old local feminist, Gloria Pan That was found in a bloodied state along Section 13 today.

Police believe she was raped and beaten before being dumped at the side of the road in the 1.30pm incident.

It is believed, she could have been targeted for sharing her provocative ideal of feminism through her poetry, which was against many fundamentalist religions…”

“Eh, what’s this la? Dei near ur workplace la? Section 13 PJ… dei what happened to the woman la, eeyer,” said his cousin.

“Waaah so gory la. Hahaa her name gloria she mati gory lah!

“Her name Pan That summore, is that why they blur her pantat?,” quipped one of the housemates, drawing laughter from the other boys.

Al took the chance to pick up his laptop and ran to his room.

“Dei, why you do that, bring it back!”

His housemates tried to stop him midway but he managed to get inside and slam the door behind him.

He ignored the noisy knocks and frantic attempts to pry open his door and sat on his bed with his laptop.

He needed to know who had tagged him and why.

He scrolled to see and was surprised that it was Siti, a colleague he liked, and a potential love interest.

Did she see what I did? Fuck!

Then he realised she had tagged not only him but several others as well.

In the comment section, Siti wrote,
“What kind of animal does this to a person in broad daylight? Sick bastard! I don’t agree with her writings but this should never have happened to her.”

Al’s mind was racing by now and a bursting feeling started to envelope him. As he read the headlines, he felt like he could almost puke out all the blood being pumped from his heart in a projectile trail onto his laptop screen.

“She thinks I’m an animal? If she only knew what that bitch auntie was really like.

“And I didn’t even rape her, but she sit like that so people think she kena rape la.

“Maybe, someone did rape her after I left.

“But I don’t care la. She deserved it.

“This kind of woman shouldn’t exist.

He turned over to his side and fell asleep.