Asian Girl Vol. 1 by animegamer001
The interior design of a Kuala Lumpur café is
a language that alters its geography.
It is a capsule that seals its patrons
in a country of make-believe-in-dreams,
in an elsewhere in a town.
I will demonstrate an example by naming one:
La Parisienne, Bandar Biru Damansara,
Kuala Lumpur – Thursday evening, Friday night;
small on the ground floor of a skyscraper
still against the strong winds kicking up city dust,
solid and minute beneath the
armies of clouds, black and voluptuous, rolling in the sky,
witness to the crows and the crowds of salaried professionals
shuffling out of offices,
spilling on to the streets,
sweeping into their cars, moving and leaving
before the storm hits and the rains fill the
city with water, the drains gush,
the rivers rise and the roads turn to rivers.
And let us witness this;
Let us pretend that we are the gods above.
See, a human:
Sarah Pan, Malaysian, middle-class and woman,
small, hardworking, without daring
nothing on her feet taller than kitten heels,
see her this evening as she steps out of her office late,
looks to the sky, knows it will storm,
decides to wait.
She walks to La Parisienne at the end of the road.
- A place that has seen better days.
Now one letter on its signboard give no light,
The tables arranged alfresco are now scratched and dented,
The tables where around them, stand
— The men,
who stare at Sarah,
stare at the street,
stare at the sky and the storm
stare at nothing.
Watch them. Smoke.
Circling around their faces
slipping out of their lips
curled around dying buds of fire
Watch these men who wait for the storm to pass.
Now watch –
Sarah – who passes them and steps into the café:
where it is warm and not uninviting.
Let us look at its walls, let us listen
to the hiss of the steamer as it fills a cup
the clutter of cutlery in the sink, water that runs,
warmth of machines,
and the walls all around us show:
old men and women in the sun smiling,
wrinkled hands holding beans.
Elephants in a forest.
Java: now a kingdom de-located.
Outside of here it is roots inside here it is a bean factory.
That is the way that coffee-drinkers dream it to be.
Believe these walls as you believe in mirrors.
Here, on a ledge near some books,
is an imitation of a New York pop art spelling L-O-V-E.
And there, at the far end of the room is a large
reproduction of Renoir
full bodied, a portrait of a European
with a smiling face
and beneath it its title:
Study of a Middle-Class Woman in Blue.
- Who are the souls ensconced in this place?
Sarah Pan, Malaysian, takes her coffee sweet
and her seat under the replica of L-O-V-E.
At the table with the power plugs
four students, Malaysian Chinese,
keep their heads down and the hoods on their jackets up:
(Look at everyone hardworking.)
(Look at everyone hard-working for their futures.)
At the corner, a black-shawled woman staring at her screen.
The ticking news alerts on Sarah’s phone
shake like a tremor in her hand:
At the table the children talk.
“Is he coming or not?” – I thought he’s joining us?” – “He said he cannot.” – “He says he has to go somewhere.” – “Where?” – “We got work to do.” – “Deadline very soon.” – “He has to gone to pray.” – “Oh.” – “We got no more time.”
Sarah sees the image of a man.
A man out in town. A man dead.
- Now a man and a woman burst through the café’s glass doors
the chime of the doorbells ring in their cheer
the baristas bustle, the orders are spoken, suggested
and made as the wild wind’s howl roars fills the café
for two seconds, then the doors are shut.
The man and the woman talk in a hum
and smoothen their clothes
and seek out their orders.
- Sarah regrets.
(Why did I read the news?)
Now she can’t take her coffee. Now she starts feeling sad.
Now she realizes that the natural order is broken;
That there has been a violation:
Children should not die before their parents.
(Is it not the way the world ought to be, that parents serve the young?)
(Just like the youths at the table.)
(Those heads bowed in study, those hoods up like monks.)
(So much of their parents’ sacrifice going to them so much money.)
(So much love that they may have bright futures.)
(Such as that they have never known in this country.)
(Such as I have never known in this country.)
The young cannot be slaughtered for the old.
(The future is uncertain the future is uncertain.)
— But God is certain!
His love is strong.
And He will provide for her,
He will shelter her,
He will return her love in returns hundredfold,
It must be so – she has loved Him for so long and she is already thirty-four.
His promises are true:
In the face and the body of a stranger she has seen
the markers and handiwork of the divine,
the sculpting of love as concrete as the laws of physics,
as clockwork designed by a clockmaker Sarah has found –
(He hasn’t replied.)
You see, Sarah has faith.
If God is for her then nothing is against her.
The man and the woman talk across each other.
How quickly she had turned thirty-four.
And then there will be years and years and years after.
The body would not last.
The mind would forget.
Friends will disappear. Some of them
will be wrapped in their families.
Some in their graves.
“There is no retirement fund not subject to inflation.”
There are no homes.
There are no houses.
The man and the woman speak:
“I am very health conscious.
I watched a documentary of a very fat woman in Texas.
She was half a thousand kilos.
She killed a baby by smashing him.
They wanted her on death penalty.
But she was not.
She was so fat she had to have towels underneath.
She leaked water.
I watched until the end of the documentary but it ended.
Just like that.
(How else to live in the world if not married?)
(The world’s civilization was made by those who married.)
(Is this not too wild a thought?)
(The ones who were married begot the ones today.)
I am not that, you know, always thinking about fat.
I am very health-conscious.
I am very disciplined –
(How else to live without love?)
You are obsessed –
I’m not obsessed.
I like the sotong, the barbecue sotong,
the kind that the auntie at the kopitiam make.
The kind of stalls where they cook
otak-otak, fish cakes, barbecue the sotong they
cook it with chilli. I am health conscious.
I like the bacon the bakwa the sambal belacan –
(How else to love?)
– I drink and I smoke and I sleep in my car. –
(How else to live without love?)
–The longest I stayed up was thirty-six hours.
My eyes were wide awake.”
Do you remember the woman in the black shawl?
When will that woman shut up!
Who hears the woman in the black shawl?
All morning she has been here, tipping the scales.
All morning she has been working at money.
When will that woman shut up!
All day she had turned the accounts.
All day she had tried to make the money work.
All day she had counted and counted.
When will that fatphobic woman shut up!
The woman in the black shawl calculates and counts
And concludes there is no profit in this project —
“Dahling ah you know which MBTI makes the most money?”
“I think ENTJ. I am ENTJ. I am ISTJ.”
“Dahling ah ENTJ make the most money right.”
Shut the woman! Shut the woman up!
She had tried she had tried she had tried.
“Behold the man – behold the man again.”
The woman in the black shawl looks on the man who is dead.
She sees how his dark face is purple with bruises,
See his eyes closed, see them swell with injury.
“There has been another dead Indian in custody.”
No one in this country cares for Mr. Just-Another-Kafir.
The black-shawled woman thinks of her father, who was right,
The black-shawled woman thinks of her grandfather, who was right,
“There is no point resisting.”
“You can march and you can march from your house to Putrajaya but –
Assimilation was the language of the country from the day that it was born.”
One day –
She will stitch her investment, bonds, stocks and swindlings
She will turn her money into wings.
One day she will set them on the sea and
she will swim
She will let the tides take her out.
She will go out. She will out.
(Look at those young people sitting at the table.)
Go out —
The bells chime once, the doors swing close,
The wind blows the woman’s black shawl
outside and the baristas forget their goodbye.
- But Sarah is still here,
waiting by her phone for a reply.
(Why was the world so full of terrible things?)
(Was he involved in a gang?)
(Did he do wrong?)
(You hear this now – )
(Gangs in schools.)
(Guns for cheap.)
(It was all so depressing.)
(It was all so depressing to see the heartbreak of a mother.)
If all are obedient to the Master plan,
then all things would be looked after.
Above all else, God will love.
Above all else, God will provide.
Love written into fortunes like
lines carved by Destiny’s hands.
And there will be children and more children.
And there will be houses for the children.
And for their children’s children, and the
children’s children thereafter.
There will be love.
There will be love.
Love, love, love, love, love.
For as long as you have love,
Yes as long as you have love
And you will have love for as long
as you have it it will be
It will be enough.
It will always be enough.
It is enough.
- Then from the baristas there comes a voice loud and strong,
and splashing of water, and closing of taps,
and the clatter of glasses and the cups put in place,
the swinging of plastic, the upturning of chairs,
The sign on the door that was ‘Open’ is ‘Closed’.
And then a voice comes through,
a voice loud and clear and earthy and thick:
and a love song, an old song, is being sung.
Katakanlah kau cinta padaku
“Who sang this?”
“All the Malay people know it.”
“But who sang it?”
And the voice thick and earthy sang the lines of the song.
(I know who sang it!)
“Who sang it?”
(I know who sang it!)
The lines of an old love song.
“So who sang it?”
(They are wrong!)
(It’s all wrong!)
(It’s not Siti Nurhaliza!)
Now the voice has stopped singing.
Now the youths have shut their machines and are gone.
And let us too leave La Parisienne
a small place in a very big city.
Let us step out of its warm enclosure,
through the glass doors
outside – where the men have left
and the storm now stirs both
dust and water;
away from inside –
where the baristas sing
close to the replica of L.O.V.E.
and the man and the woman share a cheesecake
beneath the gaze of the woman in blue
and Sarah scrolls through her phone and learns
she was wrong –
It was Siti Nurhaliza all along.
“I wrote the draft for this poem when I was living in Kuala Lumpur and experiencing a lot of the problems that affected its middle-class: financially stagnant, unlucky in love, anxious about the political future of the country, and indulging in short-term escapist forms of consumerism to while away the time. The title of the poem is a reference to ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T.S. Eliot, whose poems about city dwellers gave me a kind of boldness to make a poem of this length.” Catalina Rembuyan says of her poem.
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