The Bicycle book cover

thebicycle.gif

The book should be out this week (Christmas week) and priced at RM12 for Peninsula Malaysia and RM15 for Sabah & Sarawak . I love the simplicity of the cover.

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2nd Book Slated for Publishing Next Month

My publisher finally came back to me about my 2nd book. I’ve got a tight deadline, editing the manuscript and getting it back to them by next Monday (16th). So I’ve got a busy weekend, reading through the manuscript and making changes to all that I’ve written. That’s a 98 page Word document to read through.

But I’m happy.

How to choose the RIGHT language to write a novel.

Let’s keep things simple. You want to write and you want to be published. So what language will you write in? It sounds like a dumb question and I can see some of you rolling your eyes and fidgeting in your seat; ready to flame my blog. But hear me out.

Language choice is a BIG decision, primarily because it can determine whether you would actually finish your novel/short story/article or love letter. Anyone can write, thats why we go to school. We learn to spell words and articulate our minds onto a medium called paper.

Yet, language will determine the feel of the story, the life of the story lies not in the writing itself (per say) but rather in the language used. Language determines the way the words are spoken by that invisible story teller, who sits in reading room of our mind and language moves us to think, to dream and to imagine.

Write in the language you think in.
If you think in Chinese, try writing in Chinese and so on so forth. Writing in the language you think creates flair in your stories. It just means, you have mastery over the language. By being a master of the language you can play with words and sentences and allow yourself to speak your mind. Remember, creative writing is about painting your mind onto a printed medium for people to read. Paint using the colors that you are sure of. Write in the language that you think in.

Now, there will come a time when you choose to write in a language you learnt..

Write in a foreign language if you want to reinvent yourself.
When I write in Bahasa Malaysia, my style changes. It becomes dead formal. My sentencing becomes rigid and it takes on an air of formality. Yet, when I do attempt to write in Bahasa Malaysia, I am not govern by the rules of the language because I don’t know them. My writing takes on a flair akin to a mad-man ranting away nonsenses. So, if I ever want to write in Bahasa Malaysia, it’ll probably be poetry or a compilation of short stories by inmates of the local asylum.

Write in the language you read in.
Writers are in part hugely influenced by what they read. We pick up a writer we love and in time our style matches them to a certain degree. We take on some of the way they sentence their words or speak their minds. My own style is (ironically) greatly influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of the Sherlock Holmes series, and lately by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Nicholas Sparks. These are the writers I read and they all write in English.

Write in the language you vocalize your stories in.
Writers need to be good story tellers. For example, imagine sitting in a coffee shop with your friends and it’s your turn to tell them your story. You need to grab their attention, keep them hooked, allow them to follow the story, allow them to experience the characters. This imagery is the one I keep in my mind when I write my short stories. I imagine I’m telling the story to a friend. This is what I deem the Voice of the Writer. Every writer has their own unique voice. It’s their fingerprint in the literacy world. We recognize each other by the way we speak on paper. So make it a point to try to translate how you vocalize your stories to people onto paper. Try to mimic the phrasing and sentencing onto paper and you’ll find that your writing has taken on a new dimension.

So why are you still reading this? Go write something.

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2nd book accepted (in principle).

After waiting 2 months (normal evaluation period in Malaysia), I finally got the green light from my publisher for my 2nd book.In their email to me, they seem to imply that they will take their time with this book. Stating that they will be publishing it “in the near future”. The email was quite confusing but the very next day, I get a request to send over the manuscript in .doc format for editing purposes.

I’m not going to push for a timeline cause being pushy can translate to being irritating and they may just can me for being a desperate-wanna-be-published writer. So I am going to take this patiently and see what happens. I have one foot in the door and it may take some time to put the other one through too.

Publishers won’t be too desperate if they feel your book is a hard sale and I foresee this is the challenge ahead for me. Novels in English especially written by local writers like me have to go head-to-head with the imported titles. By putting my book into a bookstore in Malaysia, I have to compete with Dan Brown, JK Rowling or Stephen King.

It’s a tough sell and carving your place among giants is a daunting task for there is a stigma that local writers are not up to par with our illustrious cousins writing from abroad. Which is a myth since writing is universal, the telling of a story is a human trait birth from the long nights our ancestors had sitting around campfires and family communes. Story telling is colorful and never meant to be stagnant and the same. So if there is to be judgement, then judge the story not the story teller. This way, we become color blind to the writer and give all stories their due respect.

Noodles in his hair – Short Story

NOODLES IN HIS HAIR
by Maclean Patrick

There were noodles in the little boy’s hair and he chuckled as he reached over to pick them out. His son must have been playing too close to the entrance of the 7-ELEVEN convenient store just down the street from where they stayed. He had warned the young boy, not to pick through the garbage-bin when the customers left the store. The opening of the door would most certainly push him into the agape mouth of the garbage-bin and swallow his tiny head.

His son stirred a little, shifting to the right as he removed the last of somebody’s meal from his tangled hair. There was a bit of coal on his left cheek, which he gently rubbed off with his thumb. His son had been playing by the exhaust vent of the Chinese restaurant, two blocks from where the two normally bedded for the night. It was clear, he had not heeded his warning.

One day he’s going to get his eye-brows burnt, he thought to himself as the last bit of coal came off.

His son was naughty but he was a good kid in the pure sense of the word. Short for an eleven year old and skinny compared to the rest of the children living on the street. Too much junk food and the onset of a poor diet contributed to this gaunky stance. A hot complete meal was hard to come by in a city where the divide between the haves and have-nots was glaring like the noon sun. Last night’s meal was still tucked away in his siphon bag. It would last them another night or two and then he would need to find another meal.

Where am I going to find the money for that? He leaned back and exhaled. His gentle sigh went un-noticed by his sleeping son. He’s too young to face all these things. What can I do? I’ve got no money, barely can hold on to my job and there’s barely enough food for the two of us.

He buried his head in his hands and rub the lines on his forehead. His hair was receding at an alarming rate, soon he would lose it all. But loosing his hair was the least of his worries.

He was now a skeleton of a man compared to the chubby self of his younger days spent frolicking in the highlands of his village located several hours away from the capital of the Philippines, Manila City and nested in the mountain range that divided the province into two.

Village life was simple but tending to cows and harvesting pineapple from his father’s land could not curtail the lure of the city and one hot July afternoon, he found himself on board a jeepney heading for Manila City. He would find work, he would make his fortune, he would buy a house, send money back to his parents and be a man of the city. And he did become a man of the city minus the money and the house and everything else in between.

He met a girl from Mindanao, dancer at a local club he frequent after his hours at the construction yard, who moved in with him and a few months later she surprised him with the news.

She was pregnant. Add child to the the list of things in his life.

In the beginning, the prospect of life as a family man seemed welcoming, romantic even. His life seemed complete. Almost.

Then 1997 came along and everything seemed to ground to a stand still. Work became scarce and construction projects came to a stand still. He lost his job and worst still, his de-facto wife ran off with a sailor from Myanmar, leaving him with a young son and a perpetual migraine.

Why?

There was no point to rue over spilled milk but most mornings he could not help but feel sorry for himself. What else can a man do?

Yellow neon lights flashing CAESAR CASINO reflected off the dark tarmac in front of him. The sound of drunken laughter startled him. Drunken revellers with money to spare and time to pass streamed out of the casino and he wondered if they would walk down his way and give him a tip.

Not today, the group walked the opposite way, maybe tomorrow night he would have better luck.

There was movement from down the street and he knew that his neighbors were waking up. They would be making their way towards the water faucet to clean up before making their trip to the outskirts of the city. HIs neighbor looked in his direction and he gave her a slight nod. She returned the nod and managed a smile. Thanking him for allowing her first claims to the water. She gingerly brought her daughter to the faucet, turned the water on and gave her a cold morning bath.

His son knew how to count and could spell out his name, somewhat better than him, who neither knew how to count nor spell. But he knew the city and the roads and the people who called it home. He knew who lived on which street and who owned which water tap and who had first take on any food served out by the restaurants. There was respect for each other and noone cross the other for they had no need for quarrel. The city was big enough to support them. No-one would go hungry if they stuck to the unwritten code shared among those like him. They were the hidden nation, aliens in a strange land where they were citizens yet lived apart from their countrymen. They exist in silence, invisible yet visible to the populace. Often times only acknowledged when it came to festivities like Easter or Christmas. Often times, a means for corporations to gain additional tax-cuts from the government. They lived on the charity or kindness of people, whether sincere or not, it didn’t matter. All they needed was food to live another day. Motives mattered little.

His son stirred from his sleep and rub his eyes. The weiry father managed a smile. Start the day with a smile, keep their spirits up and maybe something good would come their way. His son smiled back and ran his small hand through the rough patch of hair on his head.

His father rub his back, much to his delight and quietly told him it was time to freshen up. It was their time at the water faucet by the street. The little boy sat up and watched as his father gathered their belongings and rolled up their bedding. The cardboard box had served them well and it was time they replaced it with a new one. The little boy had found the box by the 7-ELEVEN store and proudly showed it to his father. It had a bright red chicken painted across it and he found it funny that the last thing he saw as he slept was a smiling red chicken with a thumbs up sign that seems to say everything was going to be alright. The previous night his father had amused him with stories of the chickens from a place his father said was located in the mountains. One day, his father had promised him, they would go to that place in the mountains and he was sure he would find a bright red chicken living among the pineapples, giving him the thumbs up sign and telling him everything was going to be alright.

His son shivered as he poured water over his head and it washed down his chest, cascading over the form of his rib-cage and down his thighs.

“Cold?” The father asked.

“Cold,” his son replied.

“You got noodles in your hair. Stop playing by the store.”

“I just wanted to get the noodles,” he replied, wiping the water from his face. “Miquel almost got them before me.”

“Did you fight Miquel, again?”

“No. I took the cup and just ran.”

“Stay out of trouble. Fighting is not good. We don’t fight, we share as much as we can. Live at peace with everyone. You hear me?”

“Yes, daddy.”

“Good, we need to go early. Better be there earlier so we can start first. Remember what daddy told you we are looking for?”

“Cans and bottles.”

“Good boy,” father smiled and combed his son’s hair with his hand.

They packed their box with the smiling red chicken under a staircase and walked slowly down the street, hand in hand. This little boy and rough middle-age man were going to Payatas where hopefully they could make two dollars today. Two dollars to keep them full for another day and enough to keep his son out of the 7-ELEVEN garbage bin and no noodles in his hair.

Note: I spent 5 days in the Philippines last year and walked the streets around my hotel. I was struck by the human story I saw around me and the image of a father and son sleeping on the street never left me until today. This story is dedicated to the unnamed father and son I found sleeping just yards from the 7-ELEVEN store, where I had breakfast one morning in June of 2007.

Big City Preacher : Neighbors – Short Story

Part of a book I’m writing. The stories deal with issues I face as a Christian. The main character Ryan Asher is a burn-out pastor who decides to become a fisherman and there he learns more about his faith than when he was in service to the church. Sometimes we learn more about God in everyday living than in between the walls of a church.


Neighbor

by Maclean Patrick

There was a lull in the fishing, we had spent a good part of the night going round in circles and to make matters worse a storm slammed the shore just as the boat turned to head home that morning. So Skipper Jim decided to keep the boat out at sea to wait out the storm.

The boat bobbed, in time with the passing waves as seagulls encircled the boat; hoping to find a meal among the scraps of fish the nets drew in. I’m always amazed at these birds. They seem to pop out of nowhere, even when land was a mere speck in the horizon, the gulls always seem to find their way out to sea and onto the Sea Parrot. And they came round the time we had gutted the fish and cleaned the deck. A task, which by virtue of the fact I was the youngest member of the crew, fell to me. So I would dance about the deck sweeping fish entrails over the side, avoiding gawking beaks and sea gull droppings, while trying to maintain balance on a tilting boat and look cool while I was at it – Skipper Jim kept his eye on his crew no matter where you were and doing a belly flop on deck would be a tale that would make the rounds among the fishing docks for a good few years. Heck, it may even make you a legend in your own time. A legend of the laughing kind, if you know what I mean.

The nets had been drawn in and neatly folded and bundled together at the stern, I have had my fair share of getting entangled in them when I first started working the Sea Parrot, looking ridiculously like a beached dugong, which always cracked up the other guys on the ship and the tale did make its round on the docks, though it didn’t make me a legend in my own time.

As the ship swayed, a low clanking sound could be heard, nothing out of the ordinary though it scared me the first time I heard them. The slack ropes cause the wooded pulleys to beat against each other every time a slight breeze blew against them, creating the clanking sound. After a while, you learn to tune it out and only hear the sound of the splashing waves against the side of the boat or the passing wind or the low rumble of thunder from a distant storm. They say you only hear what really matters to you and out here in the middle of the ocean you can hear your own breathing, the thumping of your heart and the shouts of your captain telling you to stop day-dreaming.

I cleaned out the deck and store the fish in the storage tanks below-deck. With that done, I only had to occupy my time while we waited for the storm to blow over. There’s not much you can do on a boat during lull time like this. Which in a way is good when you need some time to contemplate or think about the reasons the universe swirl about you or why life can pull your leg almost every time you have a happy moment. Most times the thinking can drive you mad but I’ve learnt to cope with it. Out here, you also become more aware of yourself, of how the sea breeze blows against you skin or how your lips taste salty even if you never (on purpose would) drink sea water. There was this sailor who had the idea that sea water had different levels of saltiness in different parts of the ocean. We had a good laugh over that one. I cannot imagine someone purposely drinking sea water from different locations just to see if the level of saltiness ever changes. Sea water is salty, period. If it was not then it would not be sea water in the first place. Right? Sounds like something I would have preached.

But what happens when someone loses his saltiness? Can he ever come back to being salty? I don’t know. Even if God does bring him back, would those around him accept him back? It would be truly sad when God accepts but man cannot.

Sad…really sad.

Tony was asleep in his hammock which he hung just below the bridge. It was his private space and when Tony snoozed, nothing on earth could wake him up. The ship could be the Titanic and sinking could take two hours and Tony would wake up on the bottom of the ocean wondering if it was time to lower the nets. I heard tale that Tony once slept through a ship fire. They found him in his bed and when they woke him up, the first thing he did was to scold them for smoking in his cabin. Dead-Wood Tony was the other name they gave him besides Squeaky Tony.

Ming was in a foul mood the moment morning broke. He had a habit of cursing and grumbling his way about the ship when things did not go his way. My bad. He was livid about the fact I forgot to stock up on coffee before we left port. I made a mental note to treat him to a cup of coffee when we reach port. Call it “caffeine craving” but Ming was dependent on coffee to get him through the day. He walked by me on the deck and cursed the sun (though I think it was meant for me) and finally made his way below-deck, down into the kitchen compartment.

I grabbed the side rail, skipped over and sat on the railing of the boat. I harbored some fear that a shark would spring out of the water and drag me under like what I saw in those sad reruns of “Jaws” they loved showing over at the kopi-tiam. I swear that’s the only DVD they have lying around the place. “Jaws” the ever smiling Great White who seemed to enjoy chasing panicking swimmers to his own music score. Forget Great Whites, there were none in these waters, rather it was the mischievous Tiger Sharks who pose a danger for anyone caught out in open oceans in the shores off Big City. I’ve heard talk on the docks about how those sharks roamed about in packs and would sometimes encircle a boat, much like the seagulls, for scraps of fish or dangling fisherman feet. I counted my toes, yup, still had ten of them and I intend to keep all ten.

I pulled my legs up and tucked them to my chest and rested my chin on my knees. I was now perched on the side of the boat, balancing my weight on the ball of my feet as the boat rode the waves. From the side, I imagine I look like a squatting ostrich minus the bulging belly.

I’ve lost weight in the previous months and it showed. My fingers stuck out like chopsticks, mere skin canvassing bone with little meat in between. I bet the sharks would taste me and spit me out, too bony, no meat. And I felt the age in my cheeks and forehead. The lines were showing. I also noticed a spot of gray in the black of my hair. I was growing older and that happened faster on a boat where the sun beats down on you in the day and the cold of darkness cuts you during night fishing. The long hot days bake your skin, dry you out till you start looking like those Egyptian mummies on National Geographic or Discovery Channel. And the nights were no better, lack of sleep and the cold, pushes your body to the brink of breaking. It was a hard life yet simple enough to endure because it was mostly physical and without much emotional or mental strain. A far cry from my days in the ministry where things were less physical but I was stretched emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Getting old, yes but things were simpler more easier to handle then before.

I like this life…better. Maybe even feel more fulfilled. Full-fillment, we all want that don’t we?

The distant lightning flashed and split the heavens. Snaking and dancing along the black and purple storm clouds jutting like an up-side down mountain range across the horizon. It was a show not to be missed and instead of popcorn, I pulled out an apple from my pocket. I ate my apples in slices, slicing it with my Swiss Army blade into wafer like pieces rather than taking a chunk size bite. It always taste better this way, crunchy like Pringles when fresh, and the apple always last longer than merely biting into the apple.

“Probably last another hour or two.”

“Looks like we’ll be here till after dark, ey Skipper?”

“Ya. Ain’t nothing as exciting as waiting on a storm.”

“It could have been better if we had coffee!” A voice boomed from below-deck. Ming was getting on my nerves. He was getting on everyone’s nerves saved Tony who was still very much in Lullaby-land.

“CAN you quit it with the coffee?” Shouted an irritated Skipper Jim.

There was a clanging of pots and pans and the sound of feet tripping over each other, “Now, I lost my cigarette! Soi ah !”

“You’re ain’t getting any of mine, so shut it with the coffee!” Skipper Jim shouted down the staircase to the lower deck.

Skipper Jim skipped over the side rail and sat next to me. His squinted, his eyes no more than slits as he focused to a point in the distant horizon. He clasped his hands and started rubbing the dry skin across the back of his hand.

“Why did you become a preacher-man?” The question took me by surprise. It was not often he would ask me about my past.

“Why did you become a fisherman?” I countered. Smart aleck, he asked first and I had to reply him with a question of my own? Sharks, here I come!

“It’s the only thing I’m good at,” he replied with a faraway look in his eye. “What about you?”

“To catch men.”

“Any luck?”

“I got my fair share of men. Won them over and set them on the good path.”

Skipper Jim rolled the sleeve of his shirt till it reached a point above his elbow, revealing a tapestry of tattoos that ran all the way up his arms, “Would people like me be accepted?”

“Yes. At least if I’m the preacher in charge.”

Skipper Jim laughed, almost doubling over the side of the boat while doing so, “Yeah right!” he hollered.

He was mocking me, having no qualms in showing his disdained. Somehow he did not believe I would allow him through the parish doors if he ever came calling and I don’t blame him. At first sight, Skipper Jim would be the sort of guy you turn away at the road junction leading to your church. He was not a religious man, at least by my standards, he harbored deep resentment towards anything religious and proclaiming (after a few rounds of beer) religion should be left to preachers and the ‘holy-brigade’ and fishing to fishermen lest the fish had two feet.

“Talked about loving your neighbor and everything but when a ruffian like me comes along, they shut the windows, bar the doors and turn out the lights,” he said and turned to look at me, “That ain’t a place for people like me. I caused too much talk, too much chatter among the church goers. Had my experience. Walked into one of them meetings, had my best shirt on, forgot to shave and I guess my trip to the bar did not help and they told me to sit at back, away from the rest of the people. Heck, I was ready to walk all the way up to the front where all the action was but they didn’t let me. They looked at me funny. Figured out I was not their type and brushed me away. Hypocrites! I dusted my shoes, gave them the finger and walked out of that place. God wouldn’t miss me if I never stepped in that place again.”

Again he fixed his gaze on a unknown point on the horizon, recalling some deep repress memory. It was the first time I heard him say he had been to a church or meeting as he called it. I wipe the sweat off my brow and then scratch the itch at the back of my head.

“Look some…churches are like that. They haven’t got much…exposure to people who are…different?” I was not trying to sound apologetic, though I knew how he felt about being different from the ‘holier’ crowd. “Sunday services are filled with good mannered people, but sometimes they fail to see that Sunday services are what people look forward to, it should welcome people rather than turn them away,” I said. I was trying hard to make some sense but that was the best I could offer. Don’t you hate it when your words fail you at an opportune time like this? When finally you could share the faith with someone who suddenly opens up to you and all you can manage is some lame cliche you remember reading in an evangelistic tract?

“It was my father’s funeral…” He had a half smile, the kind that only appeared on the side of your mouth when you wanted to prove you knew something the other guy did not. “It was a funeral. I walked out of my old man’s funeral.”

“Huh?!!”

“They didn’t let me in on…my father’s funeral,” he said it softly. “I was a troubled kid. Messed up my life real bad. Fell into the wrong crowd and did all sorts of things. See this?” He pointed to a tattoo of an eagle grabbing an arrow, “Got that when I was twelve. First tattoo, I ever got. Sent my parents up the wall, calling me all sorts of things. How I was bringing shame to the family and causing the people in the church to talk. I was an embarrassment to them. They called me a troubled child, they didn’t say it loud. Just a whisper here and there or when I passed by them. Just a whisper and they’d tell their kids to stay away from me and worst still, I was an example of everything that could go wrong in a teenager.”

“You went to church?” I had to ask. Duh! The answer was in my face yet I had to ask. Like a kid who needed assurance that Santa Clause really did drop the presents on Christmas or a jilted boy wanting to know if the girl really did not want him anymore. Yes, I needed him to tell me he really did go to church.

Skipper Jim looked up and fixed his gaze onto a point on the horizon and a smile appeared on his face, “We’re not that different, you know. The two of us. You’re a preacher-man and I…well…I was preached to, prayed for and put down. You walked away and I…well, I ran as fast and as far as I could. Took me a long time to realized I messed up big time,” he paused. “Even trash like me come to some form of realization. By that time, it was too late. Heard my father died so I thought I’d pay my respects. It was the least I could do after all the wrong I’ve done when he was alive. Remember the prodigal son? He had a father to run to, mine lay in a casket and I couldn’t even walk to it. I walked in that place and…boy…the neighborly spirit was out the window.”

A short burst of sea air struck the boat and it tilted slightly, sending the sleeping Tony into the wood wall. There was a slight thump, a murmur and followed by snoring. Amazing! The ship would be on fire and sinking and Tony would wake up in heaven.

Skipper Jim took a quick glance in Tony’s direction, shook his head and smiled, “One of these days I’m going to hang him from the nets and tell the other captains, we’ve caught a dugong. He won’t know a thing.”

I chuckled and ate the last of my apple, which had taken on a slight salty taste and then by habit the preacher-man in me had to say something.

“You know Skipper, everyone knows we’re suppose to love our neighbor. We hear it all the time but it seems, no one understands what it means. I guess we love the neighbor we want to love and not the ones we ought to love. We’re no different from the pharisee who asked ‘Who is my neighbor?’ It’s sad but sometimes we all still don’t get it.”

“But the Samaritan did. The other three fellas were more worried about themselves and what people thought of them. But the Samaritan? He was different.”

“You know about the Good Samaritan?”

“Hey! I went to Sunday school too. Some stories stick with you all your life. People should be more like the Samaritan, yet we are more Pharisee then the Pharisees themselves. The Samaritan gave help without asking questions, without thinking, without doubting. He didn’t ask about the fella’s history, what he believed in, where he came from, or even who he was. Here was a fella lying in a ditch, all broken up and dying and the Samaritan picked him up and cared for him. Why can’t we be like that today? Why can’t we treat people with love, care and respect because they were created by the same Creator as you and me?”

He paused and exhaled.

“We worry so much about how our actions affect our religion, we forget to be human. We’re no different from those three jokers who worried about their religion and walked on, forgetting their duty to help a fellow human being. We walked about with religious fervor, believing we can teach and point people towards the right way but forget to be like the Samaritan, where care came before words. You should know this, you’re a man of the Word. A preacher-man whose words spill out of your mouth almost automatically…you point people to the path, as you said but what about your deeds. I’m a fisherman and fishing is all I know. I know few words but I know what it means to work on a boat and you know on this boat, we all need each other. Tony may sleep his way, Ming angry about coffee and you eating apples all day but when it comes to getting the fish in, we all do it together. We work, we do what we do best and we get the rewards. We have no time to debate why Tony sleeps all day, Ming’s craving for caffeine and your fixation on slicing apples. We do what we can and we do it well. Do we have time to debate about the who and the what? When all we need to do is provide human care towards those who need help.”

“Like you did? When you were a teenager?”

“Ryan, I had my issues but no-one listened. Instead, they drew conclusions and slap a label on me – a big billboard with flashing lights which said ‘Troubled Child’. How do you think I felt? At the end of the day, I really believed I was troubled and troubled people don’t belong in a place where nobody wants trouble. How many people have stop coming to your church all because they felt too bad to walk through your doors. They are treated like people who have a disease which could strike you down a few spiritual levels. But we fail to realize, we have to love people we call troubled.”

He paused and exhaled and turned his gaze towards the sky. Clouds in various shapes, there was a train, a butterfly and what looked like an elephant with tiny ears passed over us, casting their shadows over the boat.

“Who is my neighbor? The guy who is in prison or who is thirsty and hungry or who has no clothes or someone I call an enemy. He’s my neighbor. I was a neighbor that day but I was turned away because I was different. Probably because of my tattoos or my foul breath or maybe the way I look. I turned the good people away. And you know the funny thing…Jesus came for the sick, not the well. Neither did He debate about who to help or not. When there was a need, Jesus met them and He told us to do the same. Better still, He told us to love our neighbor. It’s that simple…haha…I would leave the religious debates to the Pharisees, while I prefer to live the simple common-sense of the Samaritan.”

“Did you ever go back?” I asked.

“Why should I? I get more respect from foul-mouth Ming than those people. I still have some dignity in me and probably that’s all I have left in this life. Everyone has dignity and it’s probably the only thing I took that with me when I walked out of that place.”

“Look, I meant it when I said I would let you in if I was the preacher. We’re all living life to the best we can…and you’re my friend. Friends don’t give up on each other nor would they put each other down and friends accept each other. Friends look out for one another…friends care. You’re right. Jesus wanted us to love one another, love our neighbor because that was how people would know his followers. I’m sad it happened to you the way it did. It’s wrong but it happened. Like you, I wonder if people would accept me back. I walked away from it all. I wonder if people would really understand why I did it. I was angry then and anger makes you do stuff. I’d be the only person who understands why I walk away. No point explaining it ‘cause it’s hard to put into words. I walked away for a long time but I feel I can still walk back, like the prodigal son. Only this time, they’ll be someone waiting for me at the end of the path. It may not be my father but I guess it would be someone who sees me as his neighbor and that’s alright with me. What this world needs are people who would look for their neighbor and see that we all are no different from each other. We’re all just looking for our neighbor.”

The boat swayed to the right and the stern lifted up slightly, almost sending me into the water. The sun was setting and the green hue of the ocean was slowly turning dark blue. Night was coming and the creeping shadow of darkness was moving forward, in time with the dipping western sun.

“You know something? For a preacher-man, you’re not bad. You’re different.”

He pat my shoulder and swung round, his feet landing on the deck with a thud. He walked up the staircase leading to the bridge and made his way to the control room, leaving me alone, sitting on the side of the boat like a squatting ostrich minus the bulge. There was a slight lunge as the engines throttled up and the boat eased its way towards shore. Skipper Jim had seen a break in the storm and by his experience he knew it was time to head home before the storm headed out to see where a boat this size did not stand a chance against.

Who are my neighbors? I ponder as I watch the white surf, kicked up by the unseen propellors, arch and nose dived back into the ocean where it came from.

Well, at this time they were all on this boat. The sleeping-log Tony, caffeine deprived Ming and a prodigal-son turned boat captain, they were my neighbors. They did not share the beliefs I had but yet they deserved the respect, love and care I could offer them because if the time came…I knew they would treat me with respect, love and care…without question.

So why should I ever treat them any less?

I’ll Come To You – Short Story

I’ll Come To You

by Maclean Patrick

It was a cold breeze blowing against her exposed arm that woke her from her slumber. She forgot where she was, thinking it was her cold apartment back in the suburbs of Kuching, Malaysia where she would be having her afternoon nap, tucked away underneath the checkered blanket her mum gave her for her birthday. Instead she opened her eyes and found herself stuck in between a gunnysack of potatoes and four crates of green cans marked HEINEKEN. She pulled her shawl up, covering her bare arm and shook the cold away by giving her arm a good rub. She had taken off her jacket the moment she stepped into the back of the truck and used it as a pillow as she slept, seated upright against the truck.

The agonizing climb by the old Soviet era army truck had come to a halt. They were stranded midway up a slope on a mountain road in the middle of nowhere. She could hear the driver cursed into the wind and telling everyone to disembark, he promptly whipped out a can of beer, unceremoniously taken from one of the crates of HEINEKEN. Her trip in the truck was over. A puff of white mist alerted her to the other person in the truck seated across from her. He looked worried as he rested his backpack against the side of the truck and adjusted the shoulder straps. He gave her a nod and smiled nervously.

She sighed, pulled her hair back, grabbed hold of her backpack, jumped off the truck, kicking gray dust as her feet landed on the lonely mountain road. She stood there and took a moment to survey where they had stop. The Himalayan range was towering majestically in the distance. Without cloud cover, K2 and Everest jutted out like misshaped dark blue fangs piercing a clear blue sky. She was standing facing the ceiling of the world but she did come to climb them, it suffice enough for her to merely admire them from a distance and take a single picture with her battered CANON camera.

It was not the best place to be stranded considering the fact; help would take weeks to reach them. But all along she had relied on help to get her this far. She saved up and borrowed money for the plane-ticket, weaved her way through the maze of train-lines in India and made her way up to Nepal. By pure chance she had met a Sherpa on his way home from climbing Everest headed in the direction she was heading. They had hitched a ride on an old supply truck heading up towards the small village where the little school, she had hope to reach by early afternoon, was situated.

An old man walked by her and smiled. Toothless and broad face, he studied her face and nodded. A tattered dust covered coat clung to his body and he had a multicolored cloth bag slung over his right shoulder from where he took out prayer beads. In small courteous steps he walked towards her and stood next to her and again offered her a toothless smile.

Have I met you before or is this merely a warm gesture shared by strangers walking in a common direction?

He gestured towards the Twin Mountains in the distance and with prayer beads in hand he clasped his weathered hands together and started to pray. She did not understand a word of his mantra yet she felt a profound peace sweep over her and as he prayed she heard the chiming of tiny bells. Bells, tiny bells tingling, she looked around her yet saw nothing that could make the sound she heard. She turned once more to face the old man but he was now gone. She was standing alone before the Twin Mountains on a lonely mountain road. She walked a short distance down the dirt road but only saw boulders, more empty dusty road and no old man with the prayer beads.

He couldn’t have gone far…wait…

She stepped nervously to the edge of the dirt road where the ground drops in a sharp incline towards a river on the valley floor.

Surely the old man did not jump?!?

The hairs on the back of her neck stood and a cold chill, colder than the Himalayan air, went up her spine.

Mountain Spirit?

“Anna, we will need to walk from here. Driver say truck no good,” the man with rosy cheeks called out to her.

“Ok…Oni. You lead the way,” Anna replied.

Oni nodded and wondered what his charge was doing standing at the edge of the road looking down at the valley floor. He whistled to her and pointed up the slope and started walking. Anna looked over to Oni and obediently followed his lead, leaving the truck behind her. So the caravan of two, a stocky, small sized Sherpa with rosy cheeks followed by a lanky, tall woman with tousled hair, made their way up the dusty dirt road accompanied by the faint chiming of tiny bells.

“How far to go?” Anna asked as they rounded a bend at the top of the hill.

“Two miles. Pass old stupa on hill and down into valley,” Oni answered more than he was asked. Maybe it was an unspoken rule of Nepal, to answer more than asked. Economy of words, the more you pack into a sentence, less breath needed to make long explanations.

Anna smiled and maintained her pace, timing her steps in line with the ones Oni took. Oni was a head shorter than Anna yet his pace was twice hers and with much effort she labored to match his pace. The thin mountain air did not auger well for Anna, causing her to huff and puff with every step as the two maintained a steady march, their hiking shoes kicking dust as they navigated their way down the mountain slopes while the sag of their backpacks cut into their skin as they walked hunch-backed up the accompanying slopes. She eventually had to call out to him to stop and allow her to rest.

“You get tired very easily,” Oni said as they sat on the top of a large boulder by the dirt road.

“I have had no rest for the past three weeks.”

“You travelled a lot?” Oni asked as he scratched his head and ruffled his thin hair.

“Yes, from my hometown all the way here. I’ve only stop to sleep and eat.”

“You are in big hurry?”

“Yes, he would be waiting for me.”

“Ah…your man waiting for you?”

Anna managed a chuckled, “Not my man…my best friend. I have brought something for him from home.”

Oni sat up, jotted by something that had cross his mind, “Your friend…his name is Ee Van?”

Anna smiled, “Yes, his name is Evan.”

A broad smile lighted up Oni’s face, “We have same friend. He is also my friend. You must be Annabel?”

“Just call me Anna,” she replied. “Evan told you about me?”

“He say his friend would come to visit. He always happy when he tell me about you.”

“Really?”

Oni did not reply but just looked at her. Studying the lines on her face and the way her hair fell round the oval face that framed her brown eyes. He turned away and stared at the mountains.

“He very fond of you especially when talking to you on phone. I visit him one night, the night he talk to you on phone. He happy. Always looking at picture on his desk. The two of you together. He say picture was taken before he left and he waiting for you to come visit.”

Anna bit her lip as she held back her thoughts and her tears.

“He waiting for you. Good you come. He happy.”

“I know. I should come earlier but I couldn’t.”

Oni turned to face her and smiled warmly, “You love Evan?”

Anna sat up and turned her gaze away. The question was blunt and direct and out of the blue and to a certain extent she felt embarrassed. This Tibetan knew more than he should and had the nerve to pry into how she felt towards Evan. After all the years she and Evan have been friends never once did she consider how she felt towards him beyond the nuance of normal friendship. Yet as she made this journey to seek him, she had time to reflect on how she really felt. To finally confront her true feelings and Oni’s question was not out of place but rather most appropriate. What motivated her to be here in the first place? What pushed her to go the extra mile to see this journey to completion?

Anna, why are you here?

They had met casually, he had been a team-leader for a school project group and she had asked for his help. She cannot remember what the problem was but one thing lead to another and eventually they became committed friends. He had a subtle, quiet quality in his character that cushioned her impulsive nature. She had to admit, he was her emotional punching bag. Putting up with her tumultuous personal life and demands. Her life was a chaotic mess where the only constant was Evan, her strong, silent and gentle friend.

Again, she heard the chiming if tiny bells carried on the mountain breeze. Only this time Oni seemed to hear it too and directed his attention towards the hill before them.

“Prayer flags,” he said reverently.

He slid off the boulder and gestured to Anna to do the same. Anna followed and the two walked briskly up the hill and as they cross over the crest, she saw them. Hundreds of white, red, yellow, triangular prayer flags on long poles gathered round a derelict stupa, fluttering in the wind.

“Each flag is written with a prayer and the prayer would be taken to heaven by the blowing mountain wind. I think someone put bells on one of them,” Oni said.

“They are beautiful,” Anna pointed towards the stupa. “What do they pray for?”

“Many things. Healing, prosperity, hope, love. People pray for many things. Heaven listens to prayers.”

“Evan told me,” Anna whispered as she gazed on the sight of hundreds of flags, “If you pray here, heaven listens to your prayers.”

“He say to me also,” Oni said. “He very good man. Heaven listen to him.”

“Yes.”

“Huh?”

“Yes. I love him and I come here to tell him.”

“Then heaven heard his prayer,” Oni looked up to the sky and smiled. “He will say the same thing to you.”

“Don’t you think it’s too late?”

“He understands.”

Anna took her time taking pictures of the prayer flags. It is not often you could see Tibetan prayer flags in their true element. She had noticed some in Kuching but they were transplanted there by some Tibetan Buddhist and though beautiful, they did not flutter in the wind. In a way, it defeated the purpose for the prayer flags if they did not have wind to blow on them and here in the Himalayans, the flags were in full glory. Fluttering away in the wind on the roof of the world carrying the prayers of Tibetans towards the mountains where their gods lived.

A tap on her shoulder from Oni reminded Anna that it was time to leave the flags and head to her final destination. It was getting dark and Oni seemed anxious. The night brought out bandits and two were no match against a gang of desperate robbers.

The two made their way swiftly down the hill and finding the dirt road again, they followed it until they caught sight of the little houses of the town, sticking out like little white boxes scattered among black granite and bordered by trees to the east and the mountains to the north. The white walls of the buildings shimmered gold, bathed by rays of the setting sun. A small stream cut along the south end and ran through its centre feeding the villagers and keeping the life-stock fit and well. It was peaceful and serene just as Evan had described it to her. He had made it his home and now she would too.

“Beautiful?” Oni asked, walking alongside her as they walked down the road towards the edge of the village.

“Yes. Exactly as he told me.”

 

He led her to the school and the happy caretaker welcomed them. They could finally rest and drink hot tea. The school was a modest wooden building, with white walls and blue shuttered windows. It served as part school, part community centre for the village. Everything from dental clinics to sewing classes was organized within its four walls. There was also a yard where the children could play soccer or just run in the dirt and where Anna imagined Evan must have taught the children to play basketball.

Anna could understand why Evan loved the place. He had made his first trip to Nepal as a teenager, part of a group of young men and women looking for opportunities to serve improvised communities. He was the only one from that group of thirty who took the challenge a step ahead and set up the school. It was a project he was enthusiastic about, it was the one thing that would bring a twinkle to his eye each time it came round as a topic for discussion. Anna remembered those discussions, Evan had the knack of bringing up the topic of the school in every conversation he had with people.

Initially, she had found it embarrassing but eventually, seeing how passionate he was about it, it dawned upon her that he had found meaning to his life. This was his life’s work, to help a small community on the roof of the world. This was his life’s song and it was a song he sang loud and clear.

It was their last chat on the phone that had prompted her to make the trip to the school.

“I’m sending it via email, if I could get this darn satellite phone to work properly. You would receive it by tomorrow. Now remember what I told you to do with the file? Check the page setup, it should be B5, so the formatting doesn’t go haywire.”

“Don’t worry, Evan. I’ll get it done. I’ve done it before, remember? So leave it to me.”

“Ok, I trust you. Remember; make a copy of the file. This is the final draft. I may have only one shot at sending it whole. There’s a freak storm blowing into this area in a couple of days.”

Anna rolled her eyes, “I’ve got it covered. Ok? So when are you coming back?”

“I’m not sure but probably by next week.”

“And if you can’t?”

“Anna, I will come to you. I will.”

Anna gripped the phone, “Well, if you can’t, then I’ll go to you.”

“You would? Great! You would love it here. Just come. I’ll be here.”

She could hear him chuckle over the phone, happy that she would make an effort to visit him and it felt right. It felt right that she would come to him. For that night after the phone call as she lay in bed, underneath the checkered blanket her mum gave her for her birthday, Anna started to cry for she began to realized how much she missed him. Missed his face, missed his smile, missed the way she felt when he gazed into her eyes when he had something to tell her. She felt a twitching in her, a hollow feeling at the very thought he was so far from her. She had been a fool, afraid to really admit the fact.

Yes, I love you Evan. I’ve always loved you. I’ve come to you and I just want you to know how much you mean to me.

 

“Anna?”

“Yes?” It was Oni.

“Ready?”

“Yes, let’s go.”

 

A crooked old tree stood atop a hill, adjacent to the school. It’s branches ravaged by countless blizzards, it’s bark scarred yet it stood strong and resilient. It was here that Oni lead Anna to and in the cool of the evening as the sun set and cast a golden shade across everything on the land, it was here that Evan waited for her.

It was here that Anna journey would come to an end.

“It’s beautiful,” Anna turned towards Oni, who stood silent next to her.

The Twin Mountains before them and the village behind them, all could be seen from their vantage point. The green of the trees and grass and shimmering waters of the stream beautifully balanced the cold dark blue and white of the mountains.

“Evan’s favorite place.”

Anna nodded and taking a small book from the sling bag she was carrying, she bent forward and placed it at the base of the tree.

“Evan, I’m here and you would have wanted this,” she said, running her fingers over the name carved onto the tree trunk.

EVAN PAUL

“I’m sorry. I should have come earlier. I should have been here with you and I could have told you how I feel. Your book is ready; I brought a copy for you. Now, the world would know about your work here. How you’ve made a difference in people’s lives. I should have told you earlier but I was too afraid to say it. I love you. Love you all this time. I should have told you earlier.”

Oni turned to Anna and gently placed his hand on her shoulder, “Evan loved you too. Very much.”

“Then what fools we have been. We should have told each other. We should have just let each other know.”

“Anna, there are times two people can be in love with each other, bring great happiness to each other and complete each other without having to say one word. Their hearts and souls are in love even when they would believe they are just best friends. They don’t have to be a couple to be in love. The act of being there for one another, being strong when the other is weak or hurting when the other is hurt shows the depth of their love. It is a love as strong as the mountains yet are fluid as the stream. It is a love that is a mystery in itself. It is highly prized but only comes to a select few.”

Anna tucked a stray hair behind her ears and wiped her cheeks. Life was funny, in a serendipitous way she had found what she had longed for all her life. Someone to love yet she did not noticed he was right under her nose and when she finally decided to confront how she really felt, she had lost him forever.

“I’m here now and I believe Evan would have wanted me to carry on his work. To bear his passion and share the love he had for the people he helped,” she said softly.

“Evan would watch over you. His prayers are in the wind of the mountains and the winds blow strong. His prayers will always be with you. He will always be with you.”

Anna nodded and gaze lovingly at the tree where her best friend’s name was carved. Here under the tree, laid the man she loved, the one she had cried for the day she heard he had been killed in an accident on the mountain road they had walked along that very day. Here laid the man who found his place among the mountains and in her heart; he would have been overjoyed to see her there.

“I’ve come to you. Evan, I’ve come to you,” Anna whispered, while the mountain air blew against her face, her eyes closed and cheeks wet with tears and in the distance you can hear the fluttering of a prayer flag and the chiming of tiny bells.

 

THE END