By Hong Wee
I walked into the room and at once knew it was him. My Sebastian. A glass of wine in one hand, his other freely gesturing while he entertained. I darted behind a passer-by so that I can get in for a closer look. Ah... every morsel of him is still there, fresh on my memory as they are on his face. Will he remember me?
And could I blame him if he didn’t? I had left him fifteen years ago. I had no choice under the circumstances. We had no money – we never could make ends meet. When Li Shian offered me a way out, I took it. I took it unashamedly as I craved to escape the torturous life in Kampang Amman. I came to Singapore and started anew, eventually marrying Li Shian. But I never forgot Sebastian. Fifteen long years, I thought of him day and night and day and night. Did we not used to roam the little paths and teach other so much about life? Did we not picnic on simple bread and butter and tap water while the little stream ran its course into the unknown? How could you forget someone for whom you would have sacrificed your life?
But I left him, as I said, unashamedly. Had I come to re-claim him? Could Sebastian and Li Shian accept each other? I didn’t know. After all these years of remembering and thinking, I still did not know. And perhaps never would. Li Shian must have known about Sebastian – he knew about my scrapbook. But he did not question. Neither did he ask why I had to make this trip to Penang. He understood that I needed to complete this chapter of my life.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the organiser raised his voice. “We are very glad to have Mr Sebastian Yap signing his second book, ‘Streaming On’. So if you will form a line here, please, Mr Yap will be signing your copy.”
Sebastian took his seat behind the table and immediately a line snaked out in front of him. I joined the queue, with my well thumbed copy of ‘Streaming On’ pressed against my heart. I peered round to admire Sebastian sitting there, quietly and obediently putting words on paper, just as I had watched him done countless times. The way he held his pen, with his left hand lying awkwardly near, covering the words he had just written. How many times had he smudged his palm thus? I smiled as tears began to well up. Love and pride had filled me.
Then came my turn.
I slid the open book into his receiving hands. Should I call out his name, just perhaps this once, this one last time? I promise not to do it ever again. He probably hates me, but he probably would not recognize me. Fifteen years is a long time. Would he still remember? Why was I here? This is very silly. What was on my mind? Just to see him? Or was I hoping for more? Would I be happy looking at him from afar, or would I be tempted to reach out for him too? Oh! What was I doing here?
“For whom should I sign it?” Sebastian asked, the very picture of calmness.
“What name should I put down?”
“What? Oh... Mrs Koh.”
He smiled at me sweetly. Then the smile faded as he examined my face. Had he recognized me? Was he searching the vestige of his memory for the one who had given him up? Would he summon enough anger, even in public, to toss my book to the ground?
The pregnant pause lasted an eternity. “You seem to have read this many times,” he said, fingering the dog ears.
“Four,” I replied mechanically.
While he scribbled on the title page, my eyes fell again on his left palm, awkwardly close to the writing hand. It was smudged with ink from the fountain pen. How many times had I smacked that very same hand whilst teaching him to write properly? How many times had I kissed it again those very same evenings while he was asleep, as if, by kissing, I could suck and swallow the bruises into my own body?
Finally, he closed the book and handed it to me with both hands. I turned away before he could see my tears rolling down. I dashed through the door before he could get up. Not that he would be getting up. To him, I was just another reader, another autograph hunter.
As I sat on the train back to Singapore, I put the book on my lap. Sebastian’s book. He had always wanted to write a book and now he had two. Could he be prouder of it than I of him? I mustered enough energy to open the book with my shaking hand, for I wished to touch his handwriting with my wrinkled forefinger. He wrote:
‘Those many picnics by the stream, all motivation for my dreams.
A drop of tear fell, smudging ‘Those’.QLRS Vol. 1 No. 2 Jan 2002