i tend to struggle with how i feel about my religion.
when you’re born and raised in such a religious family that puts relations to God above anything else, it becomes somewhat hard to part with it.
part of me wants to move on and renounce the religion. part of me is not willing to take that risk and do that. part of me, still, is scared of what might come in the future and how the people around me react to it. i am not strong.
i’ve spent 17 years of my life tied to religion, and as dramatic as it sounds, i started having doubts about who i really wanted to be when i was 18. i wanted to be able to love freely, regardless of gender and identity, opposed to what was being taught by my religion. and when you’ve been taught so much about the values your religion insists on, it has always been hard for me to do two things at once knowing one is wrong in terms of religion and the other, is right because it is a basic human right. for me, i am unable to be a religious person and love a woman as a woman myself. for me, i am unable to pray according to when i feel like it while also wearing the hijab still. for me, i am unable to be a good daughter to my religious parents while also living a life that is ideal for me. i have goals in life that certainly do not follow with what i have been taught since i was young, and it is hard for me to accept the fact that i can do both of those things at once.
some of my friends fetishizing same sex couples certainly added fuel to the fire, and i simply cannot see myself as a hypocrite like them who know that male love male relationships are wrong in the religion however they still love media relating to it. they do not support the lgbtq community in any way. they want them oppressed and stripped off their rights however they see their love as some sort of enjoyment for them. and i cannot tolerate that.
for now, as much as possible, i would like to dissociate myself from my religion as much as possible, though it is not possible in a country which my religion has been announced as the official religion of the country. and while it is hard to explain to the people around me, i hope people understand that i’ve had a deep understanding of my religion to feel so much guilt when doing something opposed to what i have been taught, when i definitely should not feel that way.
oh, your grace.
Fill my lungs with your grace,
the love of my life,
we shall breathe stardust
as we intertwine our hands,
ascend with a dance,
Your breath grazes my ear.
You pull me in as if I were in a trance
and we shall fade away into the night
of the thirteenth month’s dance.
i’m always, always here.
you don't know how easy it is for someone to break at the presence of these words. when they breathe them in, the way their shoulders start to shake at how overwhelming it is for them. the way these words pierce through their heart and causes all their walls to crumble, breaking down the facade they put on in order to remain strong. you don't know how relief washes over them when they feel the tears well up and flow down their eyes, pouring and pouring and pouring like the downpour that shows no signs of letting up, flooding the body and mind with emotions they've been hiding for so long. it sends shivers down the spine, it flows through the veins, and when they exhale;
everything seems to be fine all over again, somehow.
Hello, 2015 me. you were so childish, then. it was a confusing period of time where you struggled with the way you looked, hated the extra flesh on your cheeks, hated the way you never grew taller compared to your other friends. you hated how unattractive you looked; the tanned skin and the worrying complexion. with a smile, you silently worried about what people thought of your appearance.
It’s been a while, 2016 me. you became more confident then, but never as confident whenever you were compared to the people around you. your grades were not as bad but you envied people who had much, much more. you wished a boy liked you for your looks even though at that time you were yet to realize you were more than that. you hoped your appearance was enough to fit the standards of other people. you put up a front and pretended that you were confident with yourself, but the insecurities would come whispering once in a while, loud enough to yourself but sooner, loud enough for others to hear as well.
2017 me, you evolved into something unexpected. you did things that you regret now, all because you wanted to make yourself cooler. you wanted to do the same things your other friends did, have things your other friends had, said things you didn’t really mean because you wanted people to have a nice impression on you. you worry about the thoughts of strangers who barely even know you, you try to justify the things you’ve done without realizing that you were actually hurting yourself in the very end.
Dear 2018 me, how much you have changed. yet you still felt as if you lacked so much despite juggling tasks that were given to you. unnecessary thoughts clouded your head and you continuously create false accusations, dialogues repeatedly simulating in your head. you put the blame on other people while worrying not to taint your own name, but you never learn, do you?
It has not been long, 2019 me, but were you really stressed? or were you just faking it? did you really put in so much effort to achieve success in your exams? did you really live up to the expectations of other people around you; your family, your teachers, your school? did you really try hard enough, as hard as your other friends? was it all just an act? do you really deserve the shoes people put you in, now?
2020 me, you don’t need to feel as if you are not enough. you don’t need the reassurance, you don’t need the validation from people. you have bloomed, you have learnt many things and you have worked hard. you don’t have to be as slim as the models you wished you would look like, or as fair skinned you wished you would transform into. you don’t need to change your personality to fit in with society. you don’t need someone to tell you that you are enough, because you will learn to love yourself. you will learn that you are enough and appreciated even if nobody tells you so. you will love yourself as much as you love other people. so quickly; blow a kiss to say goodbye to your past selves, and break free from the chains of validation that binds you!
with you (a thousand blessings)
“ Within a thousand blessings, soon enough, a thousand tears are shed; and we are left to either regret or be grateful of what we had.
A story of a young man who saves a crane, and what his kindness came to be.“
IN cold, cold winter, there was no life around. No traces of voices to be heard, no traces of joy to be found.
In cold, cold winter, people were struggling. Days were frigid enough to cause one's muscles to tense and nights howled with raging winds and heavy snow, enough to wake one from their sleep.
In cold, cold winter, nothing is easy, the farmer had thought to himself. His garment was thin, sewn out of cheap fabric that he managed to trade from the money he had gained from two week's worth of hard work, sacrificing three day's worth of food. Even still, he was grateful for what he had, and never complained of what he managed to earn out of it. With the bamboo basket he carried on his back, he walked along the snowy path that led him back home, legs freezing and fingers numb.
Nothing was to be heard aside from the crunching of snow underneath his feet, not until he heard the scraping of snow and the flap of a wing. The young farmer turns to look around, his legs following the sound of the wings.
Behind the bare trees was a crane, a magnificent creature, a deity of happiness. He had never seen one in his life, never seen such a beautiful creature to exist. Wings large and whiter than snow, satin-like feathers that shone even in the peak hours of dusk. The crane is still now, aware of his presence. Had it not been the kind heart of the young farmer, the bird would have become his dinner, his breakfast, his lunch and his dinner again, for the next following days.
He approaches the crane and spots the rope that tied one of its robust legs to the tree. Perhaps it was a trap for wild rabbits, he bent down to untangle the rope. His knees hurt and his fingers were close to frostbite, but nothing could beat the satisfaction he felt while witnessing the crane that flapped its free wings and soared into the sky, the beat of its wings that resonated louder than the sound of his own heart.
Returning home, the farmer eats of what he had left; a bowl of rice and slept.
He had always woken up in the middle of the night, sometimes from the rattling of the roof or the whistle of the wind that passed through the cracks of his shabby home, but never has he woken up to the sound of someone knocking on his front door.
The young farmer struggles to get up. Shivering, he forces himself to walk to the door, finally awake when he realizes there was a figure outside, a silhouette of a human. He takes anything; a blunt knife, a rusty arrow, anything sharp that he owned and braces himself to open the door, for anything, or anyone that would attack him.
There was nothing to kill, and there was nothing to defend. In front of his doorstep was a beautiful young woman, skin as white as snow and fingertips red from the cold. He does not let his guard down, however, and stares at her suspiciously.
Tell me your name, and what you want from me.
When the girl finally looks up to meet his eyes, he was enchanted; as if pulled into a world he had never been in before. The young woman was so enchanting, more gracious than any of the young maidens he had seen in the town, more alluring than any of the women offered in the finest brothels. Her eyes that looked back to meet his; he swore he saw the stars twinkle inside them, as if it contained a whole vast galaxy, or perhaps even more.
Please allow me to stay here for the night, Her voice would remind one of spring. Flowers, like plum blossoms or canola, and more buds that bloomed in spring. He acknowledges that, too engulfed in her beauty to send her away.
The next morning he prepared some rice for her and offered her his best leftovers that were kept only when he really needed them, and left for work. When he returned, she was still there waiting for him by the door.
Young lady, please tell me your name. I must learn about you. He asks as he watches her from afar.
I do not have a name. She answers in the same sweet voice. She does not talk much; and does so when only asked to. Perhaps you could give me one.
Very well, the young man decides. I shall call you Miyuki. It was snowing quite heavily when we first met.
Miyuki, now with a name, turns to hide her blush.
Miyuki, I am a man with nothing to offer, you must not stay with me.
Tell me your name.
Akio, he answers, heart beating fast as the young woman repeats his name several times, familiarizing herself with it. Soon enough, it glides smoothly off her tongue, and it makes Akio's heart pound faster than ever before.
Several days had passed since the two learnt more of each other, and Akio had fallen in love with her, just like any other man would. Not because of her pure beauty, but also because of her kind heart that supported him, all while living through the poor conditions of his household.
On one cold night, clear of snow the sky was, when the moon finally shone and lit up their home, Akio had proposed to her, confessing his love for her kind soul and her honest heart. Miyuki, who had fallen for the hardworking man accepted his marriage, and the two lived together ever since then.
Spring came, prominent from the blossom petals that stuck to her hair, and the greenery that slowly resurrected to life after a long, long sleep. Miyuki greeted the birds and the flowers around her every morning, and Akio wishes he could stay at home and watch her more, smiling to himself over how beautiful she was. Now that it was warmer, both Akio and Miyuki were able to work, and with that, they were able to gain more than before, enough for a poor couple to continue living.
Sometimes, Miyuki brought the tea she had picked and dried herself home, a gift given to her by the villagers. In the evening they would watch the sun set under the cherry blossom tree, and as the sun illuminates her soft skin, more petals fall onto her hair. Akio reaches out to brush them off her but leaves it, stroking her cheek instead.
He thought that she looked beautiful that way.
Seasons come and seasons go. The cherry blossoms that greeted her home now gone, replaced by the shocking sight of her husband's body spread out under the tree, blood trickling from his mouth. She rushes to his side, and carefully brings him inside their home, tucking him into the thin mattress that they owned.
She could not sleep a wink, but the night passed by within spring dreams and lullabies of dawn. Akio had gotten up earlier than she did, and was getting ready to go out.
My dear husband, you are sick. You must rest, Gently, she reaches for his arm, persuading him not to go.
If I don't, we will not be able to earn enough.
I will try and ask from the merchant. You must rest, Akio.
So he does, and Miyuki goes out of her way into town, finding the medicine that she needed. The merchant gave it to her at a cheaper price, knowing the young woman long enough to recognize and acknowledge her kindness, but Miyuki knew there was never a next time. The medicine now in her hands, she calculates the amount of money they had left in their savings on the way home.
Miyuki sits down next to Akio and gave him the medicine to drink.
We do not have any money to afford my medicine, my love. Please, let me go to work tomorrow. Akio reaches for her hand outside the cotton blanket. Her hands felt cold, but Akio's were colder.
Miyuki grasps her husband's rough hands. You must not. I will weave for us, my love, so please give me some time.
She walks to the room at the furthest corner of the house and slides the door open, turning to Akio once again.Whatever you do, you must not open this door, nor must you enter this room.
Several hours had passed by, and when Miyuki exits the room, Akio was fast asleep. She clutches the newly woven cloth in her hands, now sore and swollen from continuous weaving. The wife slips into the mattress and closes her eyelids, waiting for dawn to struck.
In the morning, she leaves for town and brought the roll of fabric to the merchant. With such fine details and shiny thread, she was able to sell it to the merchant with a high price. Then she finds her husband's medicine, and then she finds some food to feed on.
But nothing lasts forever, not even their wealth. Akio's condition was getting worse by day, and even after the doctor had visited him to prescribe an herb, nothing was changing.
My love, we cannot afford my medicine without any money. Please, let me work. Akio weakly pleads, a sad look in his eyes. But nothing was more melancholic than the eyes of his own wife, the eyes that stared down at him and pleaded for him not to go. I love you with all my heart. I cannot bear to see you like this, Miyuki says as tears formed in her eyes. That was the very first time Akio had seen her cry, and he relishes the feeling of falling in love with her all over again.
My love, you have done so much for me. When you weave, your fingers are hurt, those beautiful fingers of yours. Will you not let me work, then?
I would offer any part of my body to God, sacrifice my limbs and bones for you if it means that you are able to stay alive and heal.
She embraces her husband into a hug. Slowly, he felt his left shoulder dampen with her tears, and he strokes her small back gently. Her love for him was true, and he had never felt happier and sorry than the moment he was in now.
I will weave, and you must not come into this room no matter what happens. She had given him the same advice as before. Although his curiosity had arisen, he trusted his beloved wife and waited for her. The next morning, with the same swollen fingers she holds a beautiful roll of cloth, woven with fine details of gold. Akio had meant to ask how she had woven the cloth out of nothing, but she had left to buy his medicine.
Days pass by, and as winter arrives at their doorstep once again, they have no savings left and no food to eat. Work in winter was restricted, and it meant that her only choice left was to weave.
Miyuki and Akio stayed in the weaving room that night; the only room with a fireplace. My love, tonight I will weave for us two. You must not look behind you until dawn arrives and I wake up in your arms. Miyuki places her hand on Akio’s cheek, her husband leaning into her touch. I trust you, my love.
But Akio could not sleep. He could not when the sound of fabric being woven bothered him. How did she produce it? He had always wondered so. He had always wondered why she had never allowed him to see her weaving before. The curiosity had befallen over him, and without thinking twice he peeks over his shoulder to see the back of his wife who was wearing.
But it was not the small back of his wife he had known. It was a crane, plucking her very last feather as tears streamed down her face, and she uses it to complete the final row of fabric that she had woven. When she turned around, she was shocked to see Akio staring at her, an expected look on his face.
My dear husband, I have told you not to look!
My love, tell me; who are you?
Miyuki bit her lower lip.
I am the crane you saved during the winter we first met. Because you were kind to me, I transformed into a beautiful woman, in hopes that I could repay you with happiness. Miyuki answers, lifting an arm so that he could see. I have plucked my very last feather for you, my love; for I love you with all my heart.
What will become of you now, Miyuki? Akio asks, voice trembling.
You have seen my true form. I must not return to your arms ever again. Akio’s heart shattered with her words. She remained in the form of a crane, and exited their home; her very first home without a single look back. That was Akio’s final goodbye to her, and he has not seen her ever since then.
Akio lived his life being resentful of himself. He loved Miyuki dearly and that was the only thing he could think about, if only I had not turned around, if only I trusted her, if only I...
If only, if only, if only.....(until his very last breath)
Soon after he opened his eyes, he saw her familiar small figure turned against him. Flower petals stuck to her hair, a melodious voice that serenaded the birds. With tears of joy, Akio reaches out to her, finally reuniting with his loved one.
My love, I have returned for you.
home. (where the heart is)
The place we call home often seems to be taken for granted.
I never had one. Or at least, not a permanent one. The vivid days of my childhood were often more about mother, brother and I roaming around to find a shelter that could feed. It wasn’t easy - not when you have coarse and shaggy fur, not when you have an injured hind leg. It wasn't easy to limp around from a traumatic car accident. To this day, I still find my fur standing whenever a car passes by, and I’m not even that young anymore.
Day and night, it was just us against the rain, the shine and the people. Some were kind, and they fed us with their leftover fried chicken bones (which were obviously too tough for kittens to eat at that time) and some gave us the heads of their fish from their fish curry. The kedai mamak that we lived nearby when I was close to twelve months old was pretty much heaven compared to other locations that we’ve been to. On luxurious days, if God wanted to grant us even more, the people fed us expensive cat food instead of food scraps, which, most of the time, Mother nudged for us to eat. She could’ve eaten, yet she still prefers the scraps of fish remains from the local kedai mamak.
My brother was a few months younger than me, and an immature one is what I could tell you. He would go on and on, without stopping, about wanting humans to adopt us.
“There are people out there who are nice enough, you just never know!” he whispers enthusiastically as we crammed ourselves into a tiny, damp box in the alley where we lived in. his whiskers brushed against mine, but it was never more unpleasant than having to listen to him talk about wanting humans to adopt us.
“Mother doesn’t like it when you talk about humans.”
“Yes, but imagine! All three of us snuggled up in the blankets or a sofa in this cold weather watching the rain outside. Mother would be the happiest to take a nap in that state.”
“Hush now - she’s coming!”
Our conversation had ended there, but I knew that it was only his words. Everyday, when mother was not around, I happened to be the witness of my brother’s green eyes that sparkled whenever he spotted kind, young adults who would stop by and feed the other stray cats from the other territories. It never felt good having to see him getting his hopes up from the beings that, in the first place, where the ones who threw mother and both of us out in the streets. But he was probably too young to remember.
When I lost my brother, it wasn’t that hard to swallow the fact that I had just lost a sibling. He had been hit by a car while crossing the street, trying to approach the human who fed the other cats. It wouldn’t go well even if he reached there anyway; those cats were never fond of ones that weren’t from their own pack.
So when Mother got home to see the traces of his body on the street, flattened by the weight of such a monstrous vehicle and damaged from the speed of it that held no guilt, I thought I could almost hear his cry once he saw it coming. But of course, as if nothing had happened, I approached Mother and let her groom the dust off my fur. She dropped the piece of fish that we would share that night - all three of us - but now it seemed too much for two.
With that said, Mother and I continued to roam around trying to find a place to stay. It didn’t feel nice to stay in a place where you could get a first hand view of your loved one’s death, and it didn’t feel nice to unconsciously grieve over them each moment that passes by. So we packed up and left. This time, we lived in a deserted construction site, far from humans and far from vehicles. Of course there were several dogs around, but they didn’t really mean much harm to us.
It was a little difficult to find food, and considering that I had already became a fully grown adult, Mother had let me hunt on my own. Not that it was much of a hunt, anyway. It took a while to walk from home to find restaurants where I could wait for the perfect timing to pounce for food. By evening, Mother and I brought our own shares and the day passes by like any other for us two, lonely, homeless felines.
When I turned three, Mother had suddenly become ill. It was from the severe cough that she faced, and at times it blocked her breathing. She would sneeze endlessly, and it worries me knowing that we do not have anyone else to rely on whenever it comes to a sickness. Turning ourselves up in front of a shelter would be a bad idea because they would never handle us the same way some other shelters were known for (with clean cages, or daily food, or even a decent bath). So without saying much, I continued to look for food for Mother and I.
Mother left when I had brought home a whole piece of fish - mackerel; a luxury - back for her to eat, in hopes that good food would make her feel better. But nothing made it better, not when you return home to see the thin figure of your own mother sprawled on the sandy ground in our home with concrete walls and a plank as a roof. Nothing made it better when you can only do nothing except drop the fish you brought in front of her dead body, unsure of what to do.
I did not eat that day.
I left the construction site. It was a very confusing period of time where I don’t really recall what had happened back in those days. I never had a home, and I’ve lost the two entities that were the closest to one, so it felt like life would just go on endlessly. I would think about purposely getting hit by a car so that I wouldn’t have to live like this any longer, but cars scare me as much as they do when my brother felt when he was about to get hit.
I felt the warmth of a touch one rainy day. It was the hand of a human child, who seemed harmless as she stared back into my eyes. I hissed, cowering away from her while telling her not to get into my space. But then her eyes welled up, and it was the first time I had seen a human child cry.
Her mother came to pick her up and she was gone.
Although treated that way, she would never stop pestering me from day to day as soon as the sound of a bell rang. I had never been this close to humans who took interest in me, so it was only normal for me to scratch her when she touches me at the places where I’ve only just groomed. It was a hassle to do it again, but I think her palm felt good against my fur at one point, and I’ve warmed up to her completely.
One day, she came to me, crying. I purred as I stroked my head against her hand, an attempt at asking why.
“Papa has to leave for work, so now we’re all moving. What do I do? I can’t see you anymore.” she sobs while wiping her tears away with her other hand. I can only stare without much of a response. What could I do? I had been through such phases twice in my life, where the entities that you love come and go as they are supposed to. Now, when a human whom I had gotten attached to was leaving, who was I to ask her to stay?
“Goodbye now.” she looks at me one last time before running over to her mother, and I finally realized that I already stood on all fours, as if ready to trail after her.
In fact, I did. Perhaps it was the loneliness that forced me to do it, or the longing to be loved by someone or even love someone. Perhaps I had gotten attached to her more than I should have, and perhaps that was something Mother would scold me for doing.
But Mother, had I not embraced the attachment towards that human child, I wouldn’t have a home now. It feels nice to wake up under the blankets of the human child, and it feels nice to have her family greet me in the morning. It feels warm to eat along with them while they have their meal at the dining table, and it makes me feel assured whenever I climb onto her bed when her mother switches off the lights - as if she was protecting me and I was doing the same - whenever she whimpers and tosses and turns from a nightmare I would snuggle up to her closer and licked her cheek out of affection.
Mother, I have a home now; a place where I can feel so much with this one family. They named me and fed me, and they broke my expectations towards humans who would only treat cleaner and prettier felines when they brought me to the doctor and gave me medicine.
“Benji, come here boy! Who wants some food?”
My ears twitch at the sound of her voice. I glance at the rain one more time before hopping off the windowsill.
Conversations of a Murder
This is a conversation between the woman in the blue headscarf and the boy in tattered clothes.
“Assalamualaikum, akak. I’m sorry to bother you, but do you have any small change you could donate to me? I don’t have any money for my transportation back home.”
“Where are you from, adik? Where are your parents?”
“They are working. They forgot to give me my duit belanja today before I went to school.”
“Oh dear. Okay, wait for a second.”
“Akak, why are you giving me RM50? This is too much!”
“It’s okay, dik. It’s a blessing. Now go home.”
This is a conversation between the son in tattered clothes and his exhausted father.
“Assalamualaikum, bapak. I brought home today’s collection of money-”
“This is all? You’re hiding some from me is it?”
“No, bapak. I would never hide-”
“Do you think I don’t know? You and your damn tricks ah - now you playing them on me is it! Now that you’re all grown up you think you can leave the house and do whatever you want is it?”
“No- please bapak, please stop-”
“You useless son! All you do is make trouble for our family! Get out and don’t come home until I get my share of a hundred ringgit today!”
This is a conversation between the bruised son and the man in the black jacket.
“Uncle, my teacher told us that smoking is bad for our health.”
“You young one easy to say la. When you grow up, it’s hard to stop already.”
“Uncle, what would you do if you think your parents hate you?”
“Why? They beat you up again is it?”
“No, I’m just asking on behalf of my friend-”
“You think I’m stupid? I know your father hits you. No need to lie one.”
“You know, if they hit me so bad like this I would hit them back leh. Punch once or twice. Kick him in the balls. Make him feel what I go through for once. Walao - cannot stand la people like this. Sorry for talking bad about your father.”
This is a conversation between a vengeful son and his devastated mother.
“Akif! What have you done!”
“It wasn’t my fault ibu, it wasn’t my fault-”
“You out of your mind ah? What have you done to your father!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so-”
“Put that knife back down now, Akif, put it down right now! Don’t come near me!”
“I’m sorry, ibu, I-”
“Let go of me!”
“Honestly, I’ve always hated both of you, ibu.”
This is a conversation between a boy in bloody clothes, and the woman in the blue headscarf.
“Assalamualaikum, akak. Do you have some change to spare?”
words in italics are either malay words or malay slang.
*akak - term used to address an older girl
*duit belanja - allowance
*dik - shortform of adik, used to address a younger child
*bapak - father
*ibu - mother