We waited under the buzz of a rotating fan,
sheets neatly printed against palms,
waiting for my annual summons to citizenship.
Dad led the way, preceding me by thirty year’s toil
under a hot tropical sun as we sat under
the crescent gaze of a woman with sharp brows
and a glorious headscarf striped across her forehead.
Passports were handed back awaiting stamps
of approval and the tentative claim
to become native again lasted well into the day.
Flicking through serried pages of childhood exploits
with no visible history, she looked deep beneath
my skin and seethed. ‘You don’t have the right stamp’.
Round eyes met almond eyes and the pegs didn’t fit,
which meant I was an illegal in England unless
‘you have a British passport’, she glowered,
blue white asterisks overlapping her blood-shot eyes.
Despite our heavy protests my rights
to Malaysia were revoked and I became alien
to this colonial enclave in an excolonial Empire.
Under the whirring fan, I saw my childhood
sucked out of this dual existence,
leaving me dry from the orange tipped sunsets
that tasted of innocence and the luscious peel
of mango that shrivelled up like a disused tongue.
A fruit sagging by the lull of evening.
Attendant now in my own country,
I retraced my way back into a realm inherited
by English hordes and partisans bereft
of nationhood and servility.
As we limped down Trafalgar a sudden shadow
threw its full length across my path.
Nelson himself stood proud across my brow,
signalling do or die invites and hailing his
newest recruit to hoist the colours.
Some familiar line from an old textbook
gripped me as he flashed a crooked grin,
the lesson of an age struck from me long ago:
how ‘England expects every man to do his duty’,
how truly mankind is press-ganged into service.
[This poem was first published in Cha and was discussed by Tammy Ho.]
Jason Eng Hun Lee is Lecturer at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by Jason.]