“Morning Light” by Tammy Ho
Today is a Wednesday. A horseracing day for my father but just an ordinary Wednesday for me. Waking up to another dull day, the air is humid and suffocating. I am holding a cup of chamomile tea, sipping, watching my father in his deep sleep.
My father used to wake me up.
We lived in a much bigger house back then. The sound of the retro TV coming from the sides echoed along the corridors. Sometimes I could listen to the racing commentary from my bedroom. At dinner, we would sit around the big oak table. Me, the nosy child, would always be distracted by the words flashing, changing on the TV screen. I would point at the horses’ names and tried to say the Chinese characters out loud despite not having learnt them yet at school. I was only six.
For every wrong Chinese character I attempted to say aloud, my father would first laugh and then tell me the correct pronunciation. It was quite a joyful activity, for me, my Dad and the family, I suppose. A kid learning Chinese characters through a horseracing broadcast. “You two are going to turn out to be fine kids,” my Mother commented. This remark later grew into a curse that haunts me and my sister still, twenty years later.
“You got all kinds of greatness,” Willy Loman said to Biff.
My mother would recast her spell, less frequently and more mechanically, throughout the years. That might be her way of covering up the insecurities and fears inside her. Or perhaps that’s a spell that she believes give encouragement to me and my sister. I would prefer the latter to be the case. And at least for me, the spell has planted a seed inside me as I grew up believing I am good at things, I am “well-liked” and soon there will be bright shining doors waiting for my arrival.
I guess the spell worked, at least until now. On my mother’s side of the family, she has always been the respected eldest sister, alongside five younger siblings. I want to restrain myself from showing unnecessary pride but among our other cousins, my sister and I were the “lucky” ones who got our asses into local universities. While writing this, I realise that growing up was just a blink of the eye when all possible laughter was drowned out by algebraic equations that I will never use again. But who am I to talk about ageing when I am always the subject of discussion at every Sunday dinner?
“How is school?”
“What kind of career do you see yourself in?”
“I am sure a handsome fellow like you is good with girls,” said my cousin who is just two years older than me. I have lost count how many times I have heard this jealous reproach.
But today is a Wednesday. And my father has to wake up eventually.
The clock is probably more hardworking than he.
Our house is much smaller now and my sister and I share the same room. I can hear my father’s slippers scratching the floor as he makes his way to the little kitchen, still sleepy, drained of energy. Whenever I pass on the street men older than my father, I consciously make an effort to slow down my pace — I do not want to make them feel slow, unwanted, abandoned and old. And when I slow down I am more conscious of my agility, the flame in my walk, as I walk towards my destination. Really, who am I to talk about ageing.
I think the moment of revelation of entering adulthood is when you realise your parents are flawed as everyone else. Just as flawed as you are. Imperfect. You have grown so apart from your parents that sometimes this distance can be overwhelming. You start seeing them differently. You love them more. Or you hate them.
I don’t really know how I feel about all this. I only know that there is always something unhomely about home. See, what makes a home homely is the stability and certainty that it offers. But for me, home is never a stable entity or a stable space. Because none of us can escape time and ageing. Everything is changing, changed, and will change. There is no stability to it.
“I don’t want to change. I want Swiss cheese.”
My Dad has never been fond of change, not realising that changes have always happened one step ahead of him. The changes slowly creep into your bones and they eventually turn you into a different person. At the end of the day, I am still struggling to understand ageing and Swiss cheese.
Jeff Chow is a third-year student at the Department of English Language and Literature. When not reading, he is busy making puns. [Read all entries by Jeff.]