Grandfather’s Aquaria

October 31, 2012

This excerpt is from my story first published in Balik Kampung: Stories of Connection/Disconnection with Different Parts of Singapore, ed. Verena Tay (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2012).

I can no longer remember the year or the day, but I sometimes still dream of the hour when news of Grandmother’s death first entered my home. The afternoon, like a few hundred afternoons scattered across my younger days, was very warm. I would be drowning in half-sleep on Mother’s bed, a book thrown unravelled by my side. In that age before the advent of mobile phones, the light-grey Telecoms phone sitting on top of three volumes of Yellow Pages on a side table in the living room rang a good deal. It would often be one of Mother’s sisters, and what followed salutations would be the semi-melodic movement of Mother’s voice as she spun or re-affirmed gossips, filling the space of her domestic hours. But that time was unusual. The handset clicked back in place within seconds, and, as I roused my mind to question the rashness, there was a low-pitched roar, one I did not hear before nor have since heard again. It was unwomanly, even inhuman, off-tune and steady but loud, like the aching groan of an old engine. By the time I came startled to the door, I caught sight of its end, Mother raising her face from her deep palms cupping tears. She swept clean her eyes with one brush of her arm and, with sudden singleness of purpose, had a new face on. She dug out a small, black notebook, pulled off its rubber band, and began punching the plastic phone buttons. With her back turned, the words fell, in Teochew: ‘Grandmother is dead.’


Gwee Li Sui

Read on! For more on the book, click here.


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