home (working title)

a few months after Malaysia baru, I had wanted to give up my Kuching address under the pretext that I have not regularly been in that city for at least five years and was dissuaded by doing so by my ayah
telling me that the city will always be there to welcome me, even if her arms smothers you for better or for worse

and while I don’t know if the tiny K below my IC photo would disappear had I did that
the numbers 1 and 3 occupying spaces 7 and 8 of my IC will always be there
just as my father’s name will still be tacked to the end of mine even as he ceases to be a body
(and it’s been hundred days and counting since then)
just as Sungai Sarawak will still flow dividing the two halves of Kuching
just as PJ to me deep down has always been Petrajaya
not Petaling Jaya bukan juak Putrajaya — and there is no alternate universe where it will outshine the latter two

so here’s to all the aiskrim paddle pop rainbow cair coloured morning skies that lets me gaze upon Gunung Santubong for 11 years on the way to school
to all the sweltering panas afternoons that I’ve walked back home from school sebab both my parents seemed to forget they had a daughter who needed picking up
to all the quiet nights where everything used to close by 10pm
to all the weekends that I’ve spent in the bone-freezing halls of Pustaka Negeri not really doing my Add Maths drills despite telling my parents otherwise
to all those Ramadhan months masjid-hopping all over the city with the promise of a McD sundae at the end of solat terawih
to all those years when Riverside Waterfront was still where we went for outings and there was still a MyBookstore at Jalan Haji Taha where I bought Harry Potter book 7, a 6As in UPSR gift a year overdue

yet there was a time when breathing in Kuching air felt like a hand wrapping unbidden across my throat
that unlit road next to Masjid Jamek is a reminder of how I purposefully shrunk my world for & after a sad excuse of a man who pulled his pants down to push me under in many, many, many ways
the quiet Pengkalan Sapi jetty
and the old temporary perpustakaan DBKU belakang muzium lamak where the realisation that studying hard could be a ticket out and away arrived

but Kuching is still, is still —
ayah rousing me up for a jog lepas Subuh at Reservoir Park followed by a laksa Sarawak-mee jawaroti canai cecah kuah kari ikanmee sapi breakfast
his full-bellied laugh carried by the wind as I chase after him on a mountain bike too high and too big for my short, tiny frame
Mak’s hands braiding her way through my hair and nagging me for a haircut —
the very same hands that make teh Lipton panas cecah roti kering taste like the most luxurious thing in the world
sinking my teeth into ripe fruits of the now dead rambutan tree in the sultry monsoon afternoons
and even though those years now get just as hazy as Kuching skies every September
you do not stop loving someone just because they’re dead, and they do not leave you even if they’re dead, even if you are being left behind

and the Sarawak I grew up has not been the one of twelve hours journey via boat
not wooden structures on stilts but concrete walls of cream, blush and grey row after row

while she has dislodged herself from my soul in the years and months that I have been away because leaving gets easier each time, but a dead dad unarguably means choosing the decent thing even if it makes me unhappy and the only decent thing to do is to come home to my mother and sister and our five cats
and this sacrifice of mine is tanggungjawab, dan tanggungjawab itu cinta and at the end of the day that overcomes whatever whims and wants I may want for myself
sebab my mother gave me the earth I’m shuffling my feet against and restu ibu is a wonderful thing to get me by regardless of how the rest of my life will look like from now on

but if anyone asks me where home is, I would say:

home is a house I forcefully bind myself to in the name of familial piety
home is post-Subuh Fridays reciting al-Fatihah alone in a taman fully occupied by the dead
home is the taste of aiskrim gula apong on my tongue on a sultry monsoon afternoon
home is a blur of clinically smelling glassy grey terminals in between flights
home is an extra long table at Maulana post-puisi musisi
home is rush hour made full simultaneous shoves of sweaty sticky bodies filing through moving doors of Komuter trains
and home is lying down atop Arthur’s Seat waiting for sunset with another secondhand copy of One Day

(this poem was first performed live at JackIt!’s 3rd anniversary show, at IntunNation, and was previously two disparate pieces — but the line ‘home is a house I forcefully bind myself to in the name of familial piety’ came in response to a Telegram conversation I had with a very, very, very dear friend)

 

quietly unassuming, like the sudden breeze rippling through your body on a hot monsoon afternoon.
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