The Ring

Just thought I’d try a little writing exercise, taken from an online monthly writing competition. I didn’t made the deadline to submit but enjoyed the process and story enough to continue. The only rule I didn’t keep was the 500-word limit – I think I’m roundabout 530. Close enough, I figure.

RULES:
Your story must take place at a PARTY of some kind.
Your story must include a BUTTON.
Your story must include the following sentence (which you will complete with one or more words): THE AIR WAS THICK WITH _______.

THE RING
The opulence was overwhelming. His stolen tux fit him like a second skin, and he could tell from the appreciative glances he was getting from other masked partygoers that he wore it well. Still, he had never before moved in such proximity to people like this, and found it unnerving.

Gorgeous women tossed manes of perfumed hair as they danced in a riot of impossible colours and fabrics. Men executed expert footwork as naturally as walking, slick as panthers. The air was thick with different scents, flowered perfumes and spiced colognes, mingling with dizzying potency.

The thief swallowed. He could throw an arm out into this flurry of wealth, quick as a fox, and walk away with something, anything, that could feed him for a week or more. The thought of meat for every meal made his stomach roar.

*

All of a sudden: his mark. The thief forced his coiled muscles to relax, and leaned into the pillar with an exaggerated nonchalance, gazing out into the rain-soaked night as if he were bored and wishing to get away. Sure enough…

“Drink?”

His mark held a shimmering glass to him. Beyond the mask, the green eyes were alight with merriment and a touch too much alcohol. The hand that offered the drink bore an ornate ring crusted with tiny precious jewels. They threw light into the champagne, greens, reds, blues glimmering in the liquid like restless fish. But the thief knew his craft well – it was not to the ring he looked, but into the eyes of its bearer. An opportunity like this was rare, months in the planning. He would not allow his desire, his hunger to betray him.

He accepted the drink, bestowing upon his mark a lazy half smile of thanks. The deception had begun.

*

Three hours later – long past the time the thief had allowed himself to be done with the trickery and away with his treasure – found the two of them sitting in one of the quieter rooms of the mansion. Partygoers swirled in and out from time to time, but largely they were left alone. Their glasses never emptied, topped up by waitstaff, silent and invisible as any thief.

As the hours waned, the masks had come off, the bowties and jacket buttons had come undone. They laughed easily and often and the conversation, like their glasses, never ran dry. If the thief felt any disappointment, it was only as if from a great distance: there would be no theft tonight.

*

Dawn had just started to thin the night when they parted ways. Plans to reconnect were made but the thief was all too aware of the lie that made those plans impossible to keep. There was a kiss goodbye, sweet and lingering, and a tight embrace.

And then he was alone.

Suddenly chilled, the thief thrust his hands into his pockets and felt his fingers close around something small, heavy and cold. The ring, catching even the nascent morning light, shone like a thing of magic against his palm.

Hunched against the cold, the thief began the long, slow walk home, wondering at what he had gained that night, and all he had lost.

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For the rest of the world.


The events in Paris have made me angry, but not for the reasons you might think.

The outpourings of sorrow and support should make me feel happier about human nature and our ability to show solidarity for those of us in trouble. But instead, I just feel bitter and angry. Really angry.

The tragedy of Paris is the everyday reality for so many countries. Lebanon experienced something similar just 24 hours before Paris did – 41 people died in two suicide bombings in Beirut. Where were the outpourings and shows of solidarity for Beirut? Where were the profile pictures miraculously changing into Lebanese flags and dominating my newsfeed? Where was anything? Any mention of Beirut?

Where was the Lebanese flag on our Harbour Bridge and our Opera House? Or any other flag of any other country in crisis?

I am angry because I cannot feel the sorrow that is absolutely justified for the people of Paris who went through this horror on Friday night. As I write, for the first time, I feel a lump in my throat and a need to cry for those people. For the scared, for the confused, for the terrorised. For the families who lost their loved ones, for the friends that saw their peers being shot down, for the footballs fans who thought they were going to just another football match.

But the media is oversaturated by Paris and that (possibly unfairly) nauseates me and somehow takes me further and further away from what happened. All I see is the priority that is placed on tragedies happening in the West above anywhere else in the world – countries where this kind of thing is happening all the time, every day, every hour. I see the placing of importance of lives lost in one place over lives lost in another place.

Continue reading “For the rest of the world.”

Home

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A close friend asked me recently what ‘home’ meant to me. It’s not that we often delve into the philosophical during our frequent conversations together; she needed some information for a project she was working on and was interested in getting the perspectives of her friends and family. I was flipping through the answers she got from various other people and, in comparison to their one-liners, my own responses were rather long-winded. While this is laughingly typical of me (I have never quite mastered the art of being concise), I have a vague feeling that my answers to her questions were rather confused and convoluted. Weeks later, I still keep coming back to that question of what ‘home’ is and what it means to me – especially from my changed perspective as a fly-by visitor to the country I grew up in – a country I’m not sure I’ll ever truly return to again, except for periodic visits like this one.

It could have been because I lived a few of my formative years in Sydney that my bonds to Sri Lanka never felt terribly strong or permanent. I don’t remember much of my time here pre-Sydney. I was under 5 and have vague but happy memories of going to nursery and playing in my grandmother’s vast home and garden. Memories that old (or new, depending on how you look at it) are tied more to people, family and immediate environments rather than a country and sense of national identity. As children, I don’t think we ever dream there is a world outside the playgrounds we make for ourselves – except of course in the fancies of our imagination. For me anyway, anyone who wasn’t a fellow pint-sized sibling, or protective parent or grandparent, or stooping, loving Sumana, or sari-wrapped teacher, was either faceless or quickly forgotten. Continue reading “Home”

Aurora

Joker Card, by Chronoperates

I went out to a movie and came back dead.

Batman, the movie was.
One of those superhero movies
Where a masked vigilante finds himself in
extraordinary situations and somehow emerges
Triumphant.
Unscathed.
A hero who could never die,
who could take down a hundred men
without any help.

Then there’s me – in the most ordinary
of situations – at the movies with my girlfriends,
laughing about the cute boy in our class,
slurping noisily on my milkshake,
trying to drown out the thought of calories.

If someone had told me my life was in danger,
That I was going to die that day,
I would have laughed out loud.
Who would want to kill me?, I would have asked them. I’m just a kid.
My biggest problem is
the history test next week
that I can never seem to start studying for.
Life gets in the way, you know?

Besides,
I had more going for me than any superhero –
I was young. I was healthy. I was going places.

Was. Was. Was.

Where was my superhero?
I sure could have used one
when that boy came in and blazed his gun at me.
Yes, he was a boy. Who bought a gun because he could.
And decided to kill a bunch of people at a movie.
Because he could.
You can do that here, didn’t you know?
Here in America, we call it freedom.

He had orange hair.
And he had on a costume, like he was playacting.
The way we used to do when we were young,
throwing fake punches and cocking our fingers.
Pow! Bang, bang! You’re dead.
Except this time, the gun was real.
My life was real. And then it wasn’t a life anymore.

I didn’t get to see how the movie ended.
Did Batman save the day and get the girl?
Did they leave room for another story?

I didn’t get to see how my story ended.
This couldn’t have been it. I refuse to believe that it was.
Don’t I get a sequel? Another chance?

I wasn’t done.

It’s not fair.

*Inspired by the tragedy of the Aurora shooting – where 24 year old James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58. 

Skoonheid (Beauty): A discussion

NOTE: Contains spoilers

Francois and Christian in ‘Skoonheid’

At the wedding of his daughter, Francois van Heerden, thin-lipped and cold-eyed, watches a young man from across the room as he laughs and talks with friends; and if it wasn’t for the length of the stare, you wouldn’t know why. Francois is a man who has become the mask he must have donned years ago, from whichever point in time that he made the conscious decision to deny who he was.

His life is reflected on his face – it is a mask and the mask is without expression. He and his wife sleep in the same bed, yet they do not look at each other when they make conversation, let alone touch. He watches dispassionately from across the road as she embraces someone we assume to be her lover and then drives away without murmur. He appears to be a regular at a meeting of white Afrikaan men – no “faggots” and/or “coloureds” allowed – who have unappetizing and unfeeling sex with each other before going back to their suburban, heterosexual lives.

Yet, under this detachment in Francois lies something that puts us on edge, although we cannot at once put our finger on it. If the adage “calm before the storm” could have face, it would be Francois’s.

Continue reading “Skoonheid (Beauty): A discussion”

God Only Knows (Beach Boys cover)

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The greatest love songs cover all kinds of love, and that, I think, is this song’s triumph. It’s not just about romantic love — you can sing it to your lover, but it would be just as true if you sang it to your child, your best friend, your mother. Furthermore, it’s not about sweeping statements and dramatic declarations. It’s a jolly, rollicking little tune which takes as its message the one thing we have all sighed to our loved ones at some point in our lives when they have come through for us when we needed them the most: “God only knows what I’d do without you”. It’s a song of simple but glorious gratitude. And it makes me terribly happy.

Hate

Also published on Groundviews.org

image by michal tokarczuk

 

Tell me,

do you feel it every day?

When you’re buying groceries,

taking a train to somewhere;

when you smoke, eat or dream?

Does it take a toll? Make your feet drag, perhaps,

or your head ache?

*

Tell me,

Does it get away from you sometimes?

Have people around you sensed something

not quite right,

caught that glint in your eye (there for just a  second,

and gone the next)

and wondered what it was that made their skin

crawl?

Or have they wished you good morning every day,

sat down to lunch with you, asked how your mother was,

without ever having a clue?

*

Continue reading “Hate”

Catcher in the Rye: my thoughts.

WARNING: Spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book.

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I finished reading J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye today. Despite being such a short book (at just over 200 pages), I was surprised that I managed to finish it so quickly. I read every day but sparingly – perhaps on the train on the way to work if I’m lucky enough to snag a seat, or sometimes during my lunch hour. (Well, lunch half-hour but sometimes I cheat a little.)

I was also surprised at how easy it was to read. I have this childish preconception that books now dubbed ‘literary classics’ will, simply for that reason, be difficult to read, both in terms of content and language. Fortunately for me, and to my enduring delight, I often find that this is not the case. It was so with Catcher in the Rye: the language and tone of the narrative was very modern-retro, and hilariously pock-marked with the protagonist’s incessant swearing – a combination that had me hooked from the first paragraph.

People have seen me reading this book at work and said things like “Oh I loved that book”, and I’ve found this reaction quite difficult to reconcile with my own. At first I thought it must be because I hadn’t yet finished the book and had missed some vitally cheery ending, but now that I have, I am still unable to be so… effusive about it. It’s not at all that I didn’t like the book – on the contrary, it kept me both entertained and ponderous right through – but when you get right down it is, it’s not exactly a terribly ‘feel-good’ read, is it? In the colourful words of Holden himself, “It certainly didn’t make me feel too gorgeous”. Continue reading “Catcher in the Rye: my thoughts.”

Erase/Rewind

No Time To Stop, by pinkparis1233

I see songs in colour and line. This might sound strange but that is one of the many ways I experience music: I visualize it involuntarily. As soon as it fills my ears, it fills my head with tinted pulses and waves and I revel in the sensory experience no matter where I am – whether on a train, walking on the street or at my desk at work pretending to be very busy and important. Sometimes, when a song is just that good, I have to stop what I’m doing altogether – distracted beyond all pretense – and just sit there with a glazed look in my eyes, simply appreciating.

This song, by the Cardigans, is all dark blues fading into black, like a night sky. It is definitely a night song – I can’t listen to it during the day, it wouldn’t feel right. It’s coy, but bold, but also understated. I love the well-placed echoes; the pureness of the vocals against the slightly grungy music. Here’s my take on it.

She Is Fire: Poetry and Candy Royalle

Photo by Nicola Bailey Photography. http://www.nicolabailey.com

When she spoke, her words seemed to be coming from another time and place, as if she was shouting to be heard from a distant room, and we strained our ears, desperate to catch every syllable. She spoke of the sea and in my eyes she swam with the colours of the sunset and her voice rippled across the room, splashing intimately against our ears. I sat enraptured in the semi-darkness…

–       Written on the train, Sat 21 May, 2011

________________________________________________________________________________________

I’ve spent months trying to put Candy Royalle on a page and I have to admit – it has been harder than I thought. This strikes me as odd, because I don’t usually write like this. When I’m inspired, the writing usually comes in torrents and my fingers own the keyboard, almost as if they know what to say before my brain registers the thought.

And I have written about her – reams, actually. Disjointed paragraphs in that book and the other, even on my phone – all over the place really. Tackling a hundred different ideas and sensations that never really came together into one cohesive thought process. So here’s take number umpteen.

*

“I will her to want it all”, Candy admits from the stage, half singing, half speaking, staring directly into the collective gaze of her audience.

I drink in the tone of her voice, the sensuousness of her language and try to close my mouth, aware of the cameras deftly roving the crowd at intervals. I don’t want to be caught on screen with my jaw unhinged, but quite truthfully, that is how I feel on this late week night, sitting in this cosy pub enclosure together with a handful of people, watching this otherworldly poetess speak about love, sex, anger and politics.

This is the second time I’m seeing Candy Royalle on the stage.

The first was at a more public gathering, at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. I had seen her speak that same morning with a group of other poets, writers and artists who were using their work to inspire positive social change – a talk I enjoyed enough to want to know more about each of the speakers. So when I saw that most of them were performing that evening at a session of performance poetry, I thought ‘why not’. I had never seen performance poetry before and while I had a sneaking suspicion that I would find it pretentious or silly or downright depressing or all of the above, nevertheless, I figured there should be a first time for everything and decided to go along.

I’m not sure what gave me that first negative impression of performance poetry. I am a lover of language and I enjoy poetry even though it’s not usually part of my typical reading list. For whatever reason though, I had this picture in my head of self-proclaimed ‘poets’ standing on a dim stage with bits of paper in their hands, monologuing at length about their tortured feelings and depressing experiences, beating at their breasts while we sat in the audience trying to stifle our yawns.

So yes. The first time I saw Candy Royalle on the stage, I went with the eyes, ears and mind of a skeptic.

The poets who performed before her pleasantly surprised me – I marveled at their clever witticisms and wordplay and laughed at their impressions. I was enjoying myself. Candy was one of the last to perform. She had already intrigued me that morning – from her appearance, to her direct introduction of herself as a queer Arab woman, to the gentle huskiness of her voice, to her opinions on revolution and social change, to an excerpt of one of her poems that she had briefly performed. Continue reading “She Is Fire: Poetry and Candy Royalle”