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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 9 “Paper Swans”

Posted by inspir3d on February 15, 2005

At age 23, I saw the world without the slightest trace of illusion. You could say such a man is cursed – in this world, we can all do with a bit of lies now and then to make an unbearable life more bearable.

A man who doesn’t choose to lie to himself and sees the world as it is and not how world expects to be seen – is like one of those sad characters in a Hong Kong movie who always seems to see and talk to ghost. While the rest is always left wondering, why is this man always talking to himself? Does he see something we all don’t see or hear?

Yes – in the known world, I occupied in the moment of my youth, there were all sorts of ghost in China town – loan sharks, con artist, two bit gangsters, prostitutes, pimps were all ghostly figures who seemed to float around quite openly in the streets even in broad daylight.

One simply needs to make peace with these ghostly figures by adopting the Cantonese philosophy of “kam ya koh ngan” (closing one eye) and – hopefully we can all live in harmony, I would often say to myself.

In this contorted way, I went about my business everyday as the man who collected money for the four houses, hardly even registering a vapor of disgust when I saw a mother coming out of a hotel with a young girl – who I knew she was pimping, though I could hardly turn away from her in disgust, because like I said, one needs to keep the harmony – even with ghosts.

Even prostitutes and pimps hardly made me flinch, I would often nod approvingly at these people in the way, one would pass a loving couple and say,

“the best thing in this world is to be loved and to love”.

Not even the sight of an elderly man going out with a girl who would one day leave him hanging penniless, cut and dried only to run off with her secret lover was capable of evoking anger or for matter the slightest emotion in my heart.

I would simply turn to this old fool and express,

“Even at you age life is just beginning, you deserve all the happiness love brings to you.”

On one occasion, the purity of my apathy was so refined, I even managed to sit through a murder, where the man seated next to me had his brains splattered with a cleaver – there I was munching on my wanton mee with extra chili sauce – my table cloth stained with bits and pieces of flesh, bone and brains, yet as absurd as it sounded, I even managed to stretch across this dead man’s table and borrow his salt shaker – only to continue as if nothing has happen – we change – we make compromises – we all have to find a way to survive.

So that evening on my way back from lectures, it surprised even me when I started feeling sad for the third wife. Sadness till then, had only been a distant island, like one of those picture postcards of some faraway beach in the Caribbean – though I have heard of it and probably seen or read about it countless times, it never really had the effect of permeating my heart which till then resembled a piece of industrial grade metal – my heart after all was not even my own – I for one did not own enough of myself to even consider my own heart my own property –I had stepped into a world where men such as myself could never afford to even be themselves.

Why did I even dream of a life with her? – in this dream, I conveniently forgot about the details such as the body guards and the old man. In this fantasy world, I even imagined “going straight” and getting a normal job as an engineer, where I would even be content to drive a second hand clap up car – we would save like normal couples for fridges, television sets, sofa’s, dinning tables and those sort of things – from time to time, when there was enough to spare, I would buy her a drop of gold and this would bring a smile to her.

Later on when my bosses saw, I was a man who could be entrusted to do bigger things (because I reasoned surely this world and that world cannot be so different – there will always be a place for serious men like me, who could always be depended to see things through) – and when we had saved up enough to buy our own house, complete with a yard, verandah and a white picket fence – I would probably have more time and even pick up a respectable hobby like photography – perhaps even pursue a master’s and eventually a doctoral degree – and while I studied through the night – she would content herself with reading or watching her favorite soap opera – occasionally, she would make me a cup of cocoa and we would simply sit down, talk and laugh the way ordinary decent folk turned the great wheel of life, page by page, chapter by chapter till this book would close quite happily.

Like the lies I told myself from time to time –mine dissolved whenever, I saw men in dark expensive suits like myself appearing over the horizon with guns in this dreamscape – menacing – dangerous – who all knew, the world is round and no matter how one runs, one can never really run – they could always be counted to square the accounts.

That night I dreamt of watching two paper swans sailing out to sea – though I was still dreaming, I remembered lowering my head and saying to myself – it was impossible, they will never make it, the waves are too big – I must be dreaming.

Darkness 2002


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