Links to the Chronicles!

•May 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment


Read all the installments of ‘In The Hollows Of His Elbows’ in a much more legible format at this address. i believe we are up to part 7 of 12.



In The Hollows Of His Elbows – 1

•May 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

1 – Taman Seputeh

The Kuala Lumpur traffic stirred like mudslide runoff churning down an estuary, the humidity above it thick, sluggish and rotten sweet; rancid condensed milk leaking from a can. Torpid air, whisked by a futile stand-fan, mulled soporifically, clogging the car-park of Taman Seputeh Towers. A fusion of ripe fecundity and merciless sun had turned the concrete scrap into a desert of baked car fumes, blown with junk.
Picking daging from between his teeth with an elastic band, Jauhari Bahktiar bin Johan shifted his weight on the plastic chair to take the pressure off his haemorrhoids. Sweat ran down the bridge of his nose and dripped on to the name badge pinned to his security officer’s uniform.
The sun was far above the ground, slung high in the bleached sky, and midday traffic was chuntering past on the highway, a glut of mid afternoon chancers trying to catch the narrow lull between the lunch and evening rush hours. All around, concrete flyovers carried the workers of KL to and from their offices and mamaks, and the plaintive call of the muezzin going unheeded, like a snooze button automatically repeating, alerting no-one and signalling only the passage of time.
Jauhari checked his internal clock, and then allowed himself his carefully rationed glance at the plastic watch he’d bought two mornings before at the pasar karat. Six more hours to go. In another fifteen minutes, he’d permit himself to leave the guardhouse and patrol around the building, looking for the phantom interlopers that he had been advised to search for during his brief orientation, twelve months before. Usually, his route took him along the periphery of the condominium, past the dank rows of sparse vegetation, and then back through the lowest levels of the towers, counting off the array of nine, neat black TV dishes bolted above the carpark entrance. Systematically, he would check the storeroom, the tandas, and the two elevators. The circuit took about seven minutes, if he loitered at the farthest corner, from where you could see out over the highway to the monstrous bulk of Midvalley Megamall beyond, then back to the other extreme, where the deserted playground lay like the skeletal ruins of some ancient civilization that enjoyed bold colours. Occasionally he spotted a tree shrew, or the dessicated remains of an unlucky frog.
Azali Gemok was strolling back across the concrete towards him, the bulge of his gut straining under the blue security shirt, carrying a teh tarik tapau in one brown paw. As he approached, Jauhari finished cleaning his teeth, and fired the rubber band at the approaching bulk. Unamused, Azali lumbered forth.
“Too playful you ah,” he murmured.
Jauhari cackled, a noise like dry twigs snapping, and went instinctively to his pocket, finding it empty. With some disappointment, he remembered he had quit. Systematically, he inhaled, feeling his battered lungs creaking like fault air-con as they tried to fill with air, wheezing in the back of his throat as he relaxed and exhaled. He imagined the veins and air sacs black and suffocated with tar, his bronchial tubes scarred and damaged, and the urge to smoke subsided.
As if to rub it in, Azali took a saat from his red packet and popped it debonairly between his rubbery lips, sparking and sucking like a Malay film villain, swollen jackfruit cheeks momentarily gaunt and hollow as he drew deep. The reek of gunpowder and tobacco stung Jauhari’s nostrils with bitter nostalgia, and he found himself whisking the smoke away like a pesky mosquito.
Azali smiled, pig-eyes sparkling under rolls of fat.
“Aiyoh, you forget so quickly Jauhari. How long you stop smoke now?”
“Two days.” Jauhari found himself wanting to slap Azali’s cigarette back inside his mulut and hold his overworked jaw shut whilst in burned in his mouth. Instead he folded his legs and arms protectively over himself and leaned back, hiding a wince as his haemorrhoid caught the plastic seat.
“Good for you, brader. Looks better not to smoke on duty.” Azali smiled, smoke drifting from his nostrils. He didn’t seem bothered about being caught smoking, but then his uncle ran the security firm that employed them to sit twelve hours a day on the car-park door, checking the sparse traffic of tenants that drove in and out to the highway from the muddy yellow block of flats.
Jauhari looked up at the high sweep of the twelve storey building, painted yellow and gold, small black windows and air con vents dotting its side. Inwardly, he counted the money he was earning sitting here hour by hour. Another three days and he would have enough to pay this month’s rent. Another week and a half and he could cover all the bills. After that, maybe even enough to repair his debilitated Wira.
Lowering himself tentatively on to a creaking plastic chair, Azali flicked open the Malay Mail and flicked ash over it. The headline read in bold type: ‘Your Child Porn Star’.
“Terrible what’s happening to kids these days, ah? Internet and ‘sexting’ and corruption. All these kids from bad families, drifting away from Islam, getting into all these trouble. All these Western influences. Hollywood films and liberal attitudes. I worry about my kids getting involved with a bad crowd. The Indonesians bring it all over with them.”
“I’d be more worried about your kids eating themselves to death.”
“Nothing. Ya, kids these days, uh?”
Before he could stop himself, Jauhari looked at his watch, revealing a mere four minutes had eased by.
Remembering something, Azali took his phone out of his pocket, and excitedly thumbed through it. “Here, tengok sini.”
He passed the phone to Jauhari, some grainy images playing on it and the brash, tinny sound of a 3gp recording playing out.
The images were of a stairwell, a girl of about thirteen squatting and covering her head as three older girls, all Malay, gabbled shrilly and gathered around her. They were taunting her with incoherent squawks. Occasionally they would erupt into patterns, beating and kicking her – in the head, the face, the stomach. The ineffectual blows of children on children – vicious but harmless. The humiliation was greater than the physical pain. They tugged on the girl’s clothes, and as they pulled off her tee-shirt she struggled to cover her dignity, holding with mute futility on to her undershirt over her childish breasts as they tried to strip her down.
Jauhari brushed some of Azali’s ash off his leg and handed the phone back still playing. Azali eyed it right to the end, the garbled shrieks mounting to hysterics of static.
“Terrible, ah? Girls these days. Out of control.”
More sweat was running down his back, pinning him to the chair back. The fan lethargically stuttered around and he caught a swift breeze from what could escape around Azali’s bulk.
One good shove and surely that chair would buckle, thought Jauhari, spying out the exact spot to push to plunge Azali Gemok on to the hot concrete. Instead, he started playing the old game, the pastime he and the big guard had developed:
“I worry more about having a murderer as a PM. What kind of example is that?”
“Suspected murderer. Najib hasn’t been implicated or charged. Anyway, what would you rather have, a murderer or a homosexual?”
Inwardly, Jauhari fought an urge to flip Azali on to his back and pin him to the hot concrete with his foot on his head. Azali was baiting him. He knew that Jauhari pretended to support Anwar Ibrahim – the opposition leader – and they had argued on numerous times about Najib’s seedy background and connections with the murder of the Mongolian national Altantuya. It passed the hours, a merry, repetitive, pointless cycle.
“Tahu takpa.” Jauhari closed the conversation, closing his eyes, refusing to be sucked in, ignoring Azali’s slurping and smoking. It was just another way of passing the time. Instead, he again counted the money, counted the hours, adding up payments and debts, and trying not to convert everything into how much heroin he could buy in Chow Kit.
Looking again, nine minutes till he could go for a stroll.
As the old urge flared inside of him, he ran his fingers consciously over the pin-prick scars in the hollows of his elbows. It was coming up on two years since his last fix. Nearly thirty-three now. A year out of the pusat serenti, means it must be a year sat in this car-park, sweating and waiting for nothing with Azali Gemok.
A year sat in front of the MidValley Megamall: filled with shops and products he could never afford to buy, food he would have to work five hours to enjoy, people wandering around on aimless, empty pilgrimages. When his car was too awkward to start, he sometimes walked through on his way to KL Sentral to get the monorail back to Titiwangsa, enjoying the artificial cool and the vacant expressions of the hordes of shoppers who mutely stumbled around, staring in windows, wondering what to buy. He again pondered the familiar thought of how much forest must have stood there before, how many monkeys living in the tall old trees. Where were they now?
All over KL, hollowed out tombs of concrete stood awaiting tenants that never came and leases that were never spent, and the monkeys that used to live there were driven to await starvation on the roadsides, fed scraps by blandly curious passersby. He thought of his ibu, in a tudung, chasing away cheeky monkeys from the house, and felt again a sorrow at how much time had passed since he had seen her. She’d called once when he had gotten his job, texted occasionally. It must be hard for her.
Azali was undoing the string of his teh tarik, hanging the plastic sack filled with milky brown tea between his legs like a distended scrotum, poking a straw in the top.
Selfish bastard.
“You might have fetched me one.” Jauhari said. His mobile whirred against his thigh. Taking it out, he was surprised to read his home number – his family home number, not his house – flashing on the screen. His parents were calling him at work. He broke into an unconscious, surprised smile of genuine delight. Here was something to speed the time by. He wondered what they wanted, hoping they both wished to chat to him, maybe even pass him on to his sisters. Azali was good enough not to be a stickler when it came to phone calls at work, and the boss wouldn’t be around during the heat of the day. Excitedly, he answered.
“Hello? Apa khabar?”
The tone of his mother’s voice immediately dashed his optimism. He’d heard the strained tones of her speech, the tearful, half-controlled, half-despairing gulps, a dozen times from inside a prison cell, but this time he couldn’t be the cause of it, he was sure. He’d been good hadn’t he? He had a job, he was clean, he wasn’t even smoking. So, it must be dad, or someone else, or something terrible had happened. In the seconds it took for his mother to compose a sentence, false starting several times, he had run a dozen grim scenarios through his mind, and she’d had to repeat herself to get through to him what was upsetting her so much.
“Jauhari, can you come? Something terrible has happened. It’s Ily. Ily is dead, little Ily is dead … can you come? Balik Jauhari, balik sekarang …”

From The Desk of Jareth Cutestory

•May 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Too many weird rolling nights in the bass dross of this tropical rot: face greasy and eyes black-rimmed after so much vitriolic swinging between useless frenzy and lethargy.

Crossdressing Austrians, dopesmoking Indian lesbians, psytrance fire-parties attended by roving police maniacs, execrable early 90s retro-discos in the superclubs of Ampang row, strange liver-pickling days in the sludge of KL.

In between all this, he attends rehab workshops ostensibly as a facilitator, runs drama classes in schools and edits the truth from his life as someone might hide porn and drugs in the woods to keep them out of the house.

Malaysia is rancid condensed milk leaking from a rusty can: dribbling out slow, the time here seems almost useless, congealed, dead. Yet back in England a far worse fate awaits, the return is much worse than leaving, and in those vales of Albion ghosts of old age and death await me. My own mortality creeps behind me waiting to trip me up.

Dream Poem

•February 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

Sweet leaf
Singing a nonsense song of infinite melody,
A raga of inexplicable language,
Flirting madness,
Dance through my synapses.

Micro & Macro Cosmic Debris

•February 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I munched into my canapé, sugar and bitter mushroom tangling on my taste buds. It was now fully dark, and the tealights around the bar were blown by a warm night wind.
“So it goes like this,” Ghandi continued, enraptured by his own expressions. “In this reality, we have two extremes. First, zoom outwards. Imagine yourself ten metres above the ground, looking down on this little beach bar. See the boat, and the coast, and all of us sat around talking. Then go up, just start rising up, until you can see the whole beach, the forest, road, the mountains inland. Up and up till the coast curves around, you’re above the peak of the mountain, and keep going. Now the coast connects up, you can see the whole island, but keep going! Soon, it’s a dot in the sea, then the coastline of Thailand. Keep going up and up till you can see Vietnam, the Phillipines, the China Sea, Japan. All of it, growing and growing yet shrinking and shrinking too. Soon you can see Indonesia, India, Australia, the whole south-east archipelagos. Go, go, go! Picking up speed, through the atmosphere, until you see the whole planet, but don’t stop there. Go out out out past the Moon, past Mars, past the asteroids, past the gas giants. Zoom zoom! All the way out till you see all the planets rotating around one another. Really go fast now, shoot out past the outer rims, into the clear black nothing, our sun disappearing into the distance, shrinking away till it becomes a dot amidst a million million others. If you keep going far enough, you’ll reach the edge of the galaxy. If you keep going even further, you’ll begin to see other galaxies too, until you keep going far enough, you’ll see all these galaxies, spinning around one another, just a glimmer in the vast, black nothing.
“That’s the macrocosm. The hyper-big.”
He pointed a scrawny finger into his own eye.
“Now come back down here. Zoom into my eye. Down through the skin and jelly and tissue. Down through the cells and stringy bits. Down into the cells themselves, the chromosomes, the nucleus, the mitochondria. Go into these, into the chemical formula. Break them all up into their composite chemicals, carbon particles, hydrogen molecules, then go within these, down to the atom. It may look like a sphere, but go deeper. It shatters into electrons, protons, neutrons. The spaces between these are molecularly vast, yet infinitesimally minute at the same time. Yet within these, it breaks up again, and again, until you realise there is a whole universe within all of us.
“The microcosm. The hyper-small. The space between molecules means we aren’t composed mainly of water, but of emptiness, of a space-like void. Yet both extremes, both endpoints, are governed by the same rules, the same ‘laws’, as we so simply call them. Really they are just constructs to allow us to better comprehend the incomprehensible. Belief, belief is the key that shapes our reality.
“And the best bit is, we, us simple, little monkeys drinking on a beach. We are the junction between the infinitely big and the infinitely small. The cross-over, the interchange, the fusion, the meeting point. We are the instigators and the victims of galactic and atomic forces.”
“We are stardust, we are golden … “ a spontaneous chorus, taken up by the company, swang into the night air. “And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
“In this way, perhaps disasters, wars, plagues, starvation, could be seen as psychic epidemics, great mental upheavals of emotional and addictive suffering, sweeping through the collective unconscious, a tsunami of despair sweeping the populaces of the world. We great psychic apes! If we only realised what power we have on the world, realise that thoughts are things, thoughts are as real and effective at actions, more so, because they pump out all this invisible energy that is tireless, limitless, all-pervading. We are part of the same fabric of reality, a great limitless white cloth with little circles on it that we call ‘people’. But we’re all part of the same cloth and the circles are only drawn on in washable ink …when we die it’s all washed away and we are all one again. We have a responsibility to the whole world, to remain positive, to think right, not to pollute the psychic airwaves with our negativity.”
As if by magic, Yeoh revealed a paper pirate’s hat he saved for such moments. Plonking it on his head, he leaped on to a log and slapped his thigh.
“Ladies and gents, all aboard the SS Bob Marley. Departure in five minutes! All aboard!”
As the crew began to assemble, I made to move for my personal preparations. Christine grabbed my arm.
The touch was electric, it shot hot messages up into my cortex, her bare hand on my bare arm like Morse code in my brain. It said a thousand things whilst saying nothing.
“Are you not coming with us?”
“I’ll be joining you in a bit.”
“But how will you get to the boat?”
I smiled, and with a whooshing sound, thrust my arm up towards the stars.
She laughed. “You’re a rocketman! Like Elton John!”
We laughed and I fell in love with her, all the while feeling Nadia watching me greedily. Or was it jealously?

Bill Hicks On Acid Knife Fighting

•February 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“… remember when we killed that guy, and then Earl couldn’t find his hat? Huk huk huk!”


•February 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Dusk settled over the Gulf of Thailand like a stoned haze on to a reclining hippy. As the sun warped the sky with vibrant peach and tangerine dreams, the clouds revelling in spectacular transient variations, people gathered mystically on the beachside and stared contemplatively out over meditative waves. I imagined that as one we one breathed in as the surf rolled up, paused with a brief mantra, and then exhaled, blowing them back into themselves.
Sunsets are wondrous things. They happen everyday, but no two are ever the same. Similar, yes, but always they set on an altered version of reality. The sunsets are similar, like the events that take place beneath them, but each in its own way will only ever happen once.
“Once, I had a dream about a beach,” I was saying to the bright-eyed blonde, Christine, who was dabbling at her mojito with a plastic straw. “There were dozens and dozens on people, all gathered up and down, stretching away into the distances. We were all staring out into the horizon, but I had forgotten why. I kept walking up and down, asking people what we were looking for, until I met a strange little fellow who said to me:
“We are waiting for Avaloketishvara, Chenzerig, Atisha, Manjushri, Vajrasattva, Shakyamuni, Vajrayogini, Je Tsong Khapa … He went on and on, a mantra of names and variations of names, but they were all the same person, all the same emanation but in different forms.”
“How did it end?”
“How do dreams ever end? I don’t remember, I think a nuclear bomb exploded. Yeah, that was it. A great flaming firey mushroom cloud erupted on the horizon, and everyone cheered.”
Christine laughed, her face igniting in flashy beauty and joy. I have always loved a laughing, smiling woman. Often I used the line on women that I found nothing more attractive than a smile. Anyone is beautiful if they are honestly and genuinely smiling. That’s a real beautiful thing.
“Dreams are beautiful things,” she went on. “Someone told me once that when recounting a dream, if you can’t remember all the details, you should just invent them, and they’d be just as valid. I guess because they all come – ideas and dreams and fiction – they all come from the same part of the brain. That weird subconscious incalculable ninety percent of our brain that we don’t use, as they say. I quite liked that, because who would ever know? They didn’t have that dream, they could never confirm or disconfirm it, so who’s to lose? I liked the idea so much that I even spent a time – whilst travelling – where I began to do the same for my own life. My real life. I’d meet people and tell them all manner of things, just because I could, and it entertained them, and me.”
In the moments she talked, I watched her face, studying the contours of eyebrow, cheek, lip, how they worked together to create a range of expressions that told most of the story. Here, I could see, was a person of great love, of some experience. Lines under the eyes betrayed late nights and drinking, but the skin was healthy and tanned, the teeth white and square, neat from an orthodontist’s training at a young age. Flailing hands emphasised statements and belied a theatrical background, and her voice swung around in a sing-song dance demanding to be taken as entertaining, as interesting, as worth being heard. At times, it shrilly broke, revealing the inner tension, or the excitement, she obviously felt in contact with another human being. As she began speaking, she would inhale sharply, through her teeth, as if worried she wouldn’t have enough breath in her lungs to get it all out in one go.
“What kind of things?”
“Oh, I don’t know. That I was raised by circus performers and lost my virginity to a clown at the age of fourteen. That I once lived in a garret in Paris with two poets who fought constantly over who would be my lover, then they fell in love with each other and dumped me. God, some of the elaborate yarns I’d weave! All to get a little attention. Pathetic really. The worst thing was, after you do that for a while, you start to erode what actually has happened in your life.
“I mean, all we are is a collection of stories and secrets that we carry around, exchanging with people for affirmations of what? Humanity? Trust? Compassion maybe. Empathy. Just that desire to feel understood, to compare experiences to others and say ‘yes!’ I too have experienced that emotion, that situation. The people we meet we rate on our rapport, on what stories we share, which secrets we hold back. We’re barely even aware of it as a process, but it’s constant, unrelenting.
“So if you start making those stories up, everything starts to get weird. If you’re not telling people real things that happened to you, you can slip into your own fantasy world. You can lose the plot completely. And everyone’s got to have a plot to their life. Something happening. A story arc.”
“Goals! Goals! Goals! Real achievements! Like a process, an aim, an ideology even. I’ve always thought that there was something more, something missing. Like in dreams, like they’re a piece of the puzzle, but written in a different language that we forget when we wake up. Maybe, once, all our lives were like those dreams. Like the dreams of animals.” I yelped like a frisky puppy, already feeling that thrill of mutual understanding. We were animated and engaged, connecting with eyes, gesturing with hands, lively and responsive, firing on all cylinders, tongues loosened by alcohol and gestures made emphatic through cigarette smoking.
At that moment, Them Belly Full came on the stereo and I couldn’t help but leap up and dance across the bar to the pile of mushroom canapés. I scooped up the tray, and sidestepping along to the music, returned with a waiter like flourish to serve them up to our little group.
I collected some baht from the willing, noting with interest how Christine watched Nadia select two and pass one to her. Ghandi was talking her and Yeoh’s ear off.
“You see, people are like planets! We’re all pulled into orbit by each other’s gravitational urge. Let me guess, you, you’re a Leo. That’s the Sun, you’re a social hub: flashy, glitzy, great at connecting social groups, at holding all the different people together. Whilst you and you, you’ve got to be water signs, Scorpios maybe. Scorpios are all about the emotional depths. They spend years trying to navigate the the the tides of their emotional urges. They are often overwhelmed! Compare them with Virgos, the superrational, superthoughtful, logical balance on the otherside of Libra, who falls into the middle. Anyway. Whatever. I digress. We’re all drawn to each other in the same way the planets are, looping and coiling around each other. Without one another, the whole thing falls apart and we’re just lonely, isolated comets in the void …”