The winners of the Creative Writing Competition 2007/2008 are out. Congratulations to all our winners! Prizes will be presented during our Evening of Poetry and Music.
Winners in the Short Story Category:
||Wang Xinlin “Subterfuge”
||Parvathi Menon “Alone”
||Raffles Junior College
||Ashish Ravinran “The Padang’s Groan”
||National Service (graduated from Anglo-Chinese Junior College in 2006)
||Krishna Balasubramanian “Storm and Calm”
||National University of Singapore
Winners in the Poetry Category:
||Lin Ziwei “The Moth”
||Hwa Chong Institution
||Khor Kuan Min “The Lawn”
||National University of Singapore
||Lin Ziwei “Eating Girls”
||Hwa Chong Institution
||Loh Guan Liang “Talking”
||National University of Singapore
Winning entry: Poetry (2nd prize)
The Moth by Lin Ziwei
“When people die, they come back as moths.”
In that instance, my mother’s words came tumbling
down on me, painful realization hitting me in the head
as I crushed the moth in my fist. It was reflex, I swear
I never meant to kill it. It had been a hard day, I was
tired, exhausted. The blameless moth was an eyesore as it
loitered about, tainting the clean white papers carpeting
my desk’s surface with its dirty wings. I wasn’t thinking
when I closed my fingers around it—really, I wasn’t, it’s
not my fault. Hastily, I flushed its crumpled body down
the toilet, eager to get rid of the evidence. Shaking,
quaking, I scrubbed my hands with soap till they were
pink and raw, washing away the rust-coloured dust that
stained my fingers (like oxidized blood, left too
long on a murderer’s knife), hoping that
I didn’t just kill grandmother.
Winning entry: Short Story (1st prize)
Subterfuge by Wang Xinlin
There is a broom on the roof, and I am scaling an HDB flat.
Surely, you think, this is weird. You are an outsider, looking through glass-tinted windows at my story, watching the actions played out in words on a paper. There are vowels and consonants and I am saying this to you: “There is a broom on the roof and I am scaling an HDB flat.” This is the opening line of my story, in fact, the opening lines of my actions. But surely, you think, you are weird. Who scales an HDB flat in damn Singapore? Who scales a bloody HDB flat in damn Singapore? You take the lift, mister, you as the reader – you say. You take the bloody lift or the bloody stairs (if you are up to a good round of exercising) and you go up by foot. This is not Spiderman, you say, or bloody Spiderman on drugs.
Listen please, I raise my hands. This is my story. I will tell it the way I want to.
I think sometimes that words are only humour. I think sometimes that every word has a touch, and every image carries a sense, but no true sense can be expressed by mere words. No true sense can be expressed by even a thousand images. Words and images are accounts – true accounts, nonetheless, borne of a distinctive urge to tell a story – but trust me, the real deal only comes in when you become me, when you are up there, at midnight, pressed against the panels of thick plastic windows, one hand steadied against the ledge and the other wedged somewhere between storey two and three – dangerous, propellant, still.
It is dark, as all midnights are. The moon cracks a waxing grey in a bruised-like sky. From my vantage point, it is almost hard to tell if there are clouds in the sky, but in the dead of the night anything can happen, even your wildest imagination. So I’d like to believe that clouds, the clouds in my imagination, they take the colour of foam as the darkest of nights, frothing from an overturned ocean like a parallel world.
It is strange that I should be climbing an HDB flat. Surely, nothing exciting ever happens in Singapore, nothing ever worth mentioning beyond the fixed schedules of life played out in equal measures, and its daily humdrum of work that only serve to thicken the monotony. But alcohol has that effect on people; even a small tinge of it (for I am a coward and had never had past more than a few seeps) can make you feel like you are the bravest person on Earth, or at least, a metaphorical Tarzan.
It is for the broom on its rooftop that I am scaling a five-storey building. It is the lure of darkness that spur me to peer out my window at the exact stroke of midnight, and notice the peculiarity of the building next to mine, two storeys down. It is the way the broom is placed, jutting out from the edge of the roof, breaking the distinctive lines of architecture, that makes me recognize its shape. It is the alcohol in my brain that I am doing it without safety ropes or buckles. It is the thirst in my veins that I am even doing it at all.
Climbing an HDB flat is not difficult by any stretch of the imagination, though the opposite often seems true. Courage bubbles in my stomach like a warm pit of Milo. I do not start at level one, no. Unless you are suicidal (though now that I am climbing a building, who am I to judge?), even a drunken man can tell you that. If you want to climb anything, anything at all, find a ground and a sky. The distance between the ground and sky should not exceed the length at which you can push yourself forward with either feet or hands. Not rocket science, just simple common sense. For me, this common sense takes place at level two, at the flight of stairs stamping through the storeys, atop the metal railing which divides consecutive blocks of flats.
It is hard to climb vertically, I surmise, the distance between two storeys of staircase far surpassing the distance at which I could propel myself upward. It is harder still to balance both feet on the railing, which, though, rusty with years and peeling with paint, is still round and precarious under my feet. To climb to the next level I have to find a grounding for both my feet and hands: the former is now carefully edging its way around the protruding blocks of concrete that stretch from the top of the building to the bottom, shifting through the cracked paint to find a perching on a close by window ledge, while the latter – my hands – slip themselves around the corners of wall, my left palm raised high up to press against the concrete wall above me and the other stretched outward to curl around the grills of a metal window.
On any other days, perhaps, perhaps, this juxtaposition of limbs will seem like a virtual impossibility. To stretch yourself into a position at which your entire form is almost, almost parallel to that of a swastika while moulding yourself to each curve and bend of the wall could have only been possible if a) the distance between staircase and the neighbouring apartment did not exceed the length of your arm, b) you had not been perched on a singular railing like I was, but instead moving freely around like air or c) taken a supernatural pill that renders your body like rubber, or simply fit to any form, like a compressible liquid.
Indeed, at that precise moment in time I did wonder if someone had slipped a pill into my drink. Perhaps that is why my alcohol-addled brain is not registering any form of even vague astonishment? I do not feel scared, nor threatened by the drop in height, for however low I am at this level of building falling to the ground below is still intimidating enough to crack my head open like an egg shell. It is not so much an acceptance as an acknowledgement of the night. The night, it does strange things to you.
But my story does not take place in the hows of climbing an HDB flat. It is not an instruction manual to turn your body into butter. This is not the whole point of why I’m telling you this. So listen, I say. Please. Close your mouth.
The broom is why I am here. The broom atop the roof. The broom that triggered this entire story.
It is an odd coincidence. The first window I push myself up to has its curtains drawn. Perhaps it is with a perverse sort of curiosity that I want to look inside, to assure myself that this is real, that everything, even scaling HDB flats, can be affirmed with a sign of life. The scraggy bumps of paint presses into my hands as I lean forward – ever so slightly – to nose the curtain. It is hard to tell its colour, even at this proximity. In the darkness I can make out a random smattering of faint patterns. Perhaps it is flowery. Perhaps it is not. My judgment is impaired in the darkness, as is my sight. I cannot say that silence hang around me like a ringing vacuum, for the occasional trundling of wheels in a nearby road not far off from my flat tethers life back into a sleeping world. What this night is, I think: sleepy, hypnotic, personal.
I feel like a long hose, stretched and compressed and rubbery, as I grab with sboth hands the window grill in front of me, arch my body like a high-strung bow, and track up the metal grid. It is cool beneath my hands, cool and solid and square. As a child I have always had the idea that the human anatomy was not divided into ligaments and joints and bones as it was entirely of skin and muscles and soft organic tissue. For a second I feel like I am hidden beneath two layers of skin, the first layer protective and detached from the night chill, the second layer foaming beneath my muscles like a warm mug of beer.
Instinct makes me deft. Intuition guides my way. In no time at all, I heave myself to level three. It seems that I am climbing diagonally. I no longer lean into the building from my left arm, instead favouring my right as I strain against the wall to peer into the window. I find it interesting how most Singaporeans live in HDB flats, under the same sky and night, yet the astrology that defines each lifestyle, each preference, each race and colour, each living standard differs like a million grains of sand. Indeed, the room I am looking into right now, with its wardrobe and table and bed, had the intimacy of a bedroom, yet the bookshelf leaning against the far right of the wall looked so out of place that for a second, I strain my eyes against the ceiling light. It is perhaps only a feeling that I am thinking this way, for the object of my fixture does not look any different from the normal bookshelf. It reminds me a lot of my own room, I think, though not exactly. What is similar in size and wall colour ends here. My own room is a hole of hell, pockets of air lost between stacks of books and papers, details and trivialities hidden beneath jumbled clothes. This room reminds me of what my room could have been – neat and orderly, precise and prim. Perhaps this is the reason why the bookshelf, on a closer look I realise, looks so out of place.
No, it is neither the books on the bookshelf nor the way they are arranged that disproves its reputation. Indeed, they are organized exactly like the rest of the room, with an air of sturdy confidence not quite unlike words in a dictionary: prevalent but comprehensible, each spine leaning against the next in a sequence of size: the large, the small, the thick, the thin. However, the combined weight of the books and the fact that two individual levels were piled atop each other in a single compartment has made the wooden support below it, perhaps over the years, turn down like a sad frown. The whole bookshelf, so very different from its budding counterparts, stands like a tired tree in the midst of well-trimmed grass and neat lawns. For a second, the book lover in me is gripped with a strange urge to slip into the room. The night makes people curious as it makes them foolish. The night drives people wild as it drives them insane. For a second, my hands find themselves into the underbelly of the ledge, my feet ready to push myself forward. For a second, I am half-body in and half-body out. For a second, I almost break the rules that define climbing up from breaking in.
Then I hear a voice. “OY! WHAT YOU DOING!”
I look up. It is a woman, plump and middle age, like my Mum, except that if Mums really look like the second-grade killer she is looking right now I’d happily plunge myself three storeys down.
“Um,” I said. The atmospheric climb screeches to a grinding halt. The butter in my body dissipates like a fried shrimp. I’d explain with fevered passion thereafter that my quest was for a broom, and that the drink I had before was making me climb. I’d demonstrate the credentials of my skill by pulling back my body and scrambling for the quickest exit possible (which was, not to say, the staircase two apartments away.) I’d even say, “Look, Ma’am, I’m sorry. It was a jolly good mistake that I seem like a pervert but yes, back off, I’m going to leap to my death now” If it weren’t for the fact that she gave a piercing loud scream.
“OH MY GOD AH GHIM GOT PERVERT IN XIAO YING’S ROOM!”
Ah Ghim was obviously MIA, AFK, or having severe diarrhoea in the kitchen, for the lady – woman – auntie does not wait a minute longer as she scans the room and leaps. In the next moment, I find myself being whipped like a cream across the temples with all the full force of a baby elephant.
“Auntie auntie!” I scream, suspended fifteen metres up in the air. “Stop stop I’m going to fall!” For a kinder person the sight of me flailing my arms about disheveled and confused might have prompted her to stop. Might have pulled me up to safety. But the auntie now whacking the butter out of my body has the heart of steel and arms of iron. Each whack of the broom folds me into myself, so much so that the muscles on my skin seem to push into itself like a wet sponge. It is not painful as it is jolting, like electricity, like blunt needles. I am not screaming for the pain or the shock or the surprise but the bizarre nature of the entire situation because why, why, why am I climbing an HDB flat in the dead of the night, how is it virtually possible that I could be suspended fifteen metres in the air in my bedroom slippers, how is it that the broom I am searching for is now hitting me so hard against the head I see stars and moons and planetary orbits dancing before my vision like fireflies and is it could it be the drink I had at the party before that is now shaking my senses alive because something something something is devouring my leg like a giant-footed Tyrannosaurus and it isn’t the auntie this time but a monstrous man-eating shark with unparalleled ferocity that is gnawing at my legs and my body and my arms and my arms—my arms they are gone and I have no legs or hands or fingers to hold even a pencil—
When I open my eyes again, I am looking down at a sea of faces. The teacher stands at the back of the class, leaning against the notice board, tapping a ruler in her palm, a fixed and steady rhythm that remains as unbroken and initial as the look on her face.
“Jonathan,” she does not look amused, “now care to tell me the real reason for not doing your homework?”