THE INTELLIGENT SINGAPOREAN

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 28 & 29 “When the road runs out” & “Somewhere deep in the jungles of Cambodia”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

“We all got conned, it was a bad mistake…….a terrible mistake…….we thought the old man who rules the four houses ordered us to beat you up…..that’s what we all thought…….we thought the order came directly from him…….you know how it is, we are all soldiers……..it’s not our place to ask questions……I don’t want to die……..I don’t want to die…..someone fixed us…….I don’t want to die……not like this.”

Those words rattled around like a pin ball in my head firing off a million cells – there I was sitting with a gun in my hand making a million calculations per second, connecting the dots when all I should be doing was keeping to the plan.

“If it wasn’t the old man who else could it be?” one part of my mind whispered. “Who else?”- “This can’t be happening!”- “It doesn’t make any sense.” – “he must be lying. Yes, this is ploy, he’s just buying time!”

With these thoughts swirling in my head, I tried to pick up the line again, but it was giving way to a broader and darker line that seemed almost to race past this faded line – it was the beginning of a new realization, one that was even more unnerving and sinister than any other word or sign that had passed between us that afternoon.

That sinister line in my head raced across the landscape in my mind at the speed of light only to suddenly stop abruptly – there where the road ends, the awful realization suddenly dawned on me in the full splendor of Technicolor, the man who was about to die that afternoon was telling the truth – there’s no doubt about it – that’s the way with people who know death is certain – they no longer have any incentive to lie.

It was bad enough that I was a Singaporean gangster in London, but a philosophical hit man who suddenly loses his line on the job – that was really bad – it was tragic.

(Reflections: See what I mean killing a man isn’t that simple as they make it out to be in the movies or the radio – a hundred and one things can go wrong – see, I told you so! Didn’t I? – Did I tell you once some idiot pointed a gun at me demanding I hand over my briefcase. As a yawned with the expression,

“Not another idiot with a rusty old gun, pleeeeeeeeze!”

His hands began to shake so violently, the gun went off blowing off his big toe – the same thing happened once to another famous hit man in China town who once walked into the provision shop to do the proprietor, only to walk out smiling exchanging greetings and carrying two cases of canned abalone, it turned out the guy he was supposed to do, happened to be his long lost third cousin removed from the old country – like I said in the last chapter, killing a man ain’t that easy – fate has a strange way of stepping in – it’s a random thing, like walking into a betting shop picking out a set of numbers straight from the top of your head only to for it to magically line up – if this was a scene from a continental film, the subtitles would probably read.

“Err, hey you’re not reading your lines like you’re supposed too.”

As I sat there with these thoughts swirling in my head – I realized things weren’t going they way, they were supposed too – like being suddenly blind sided – wham! Bang! –now that I realized the old man wasn’t the one who ordered my creaming, this man had to live slightly longer– “slightly longer” spoilt it all, the dying time thing, the part about how a assassin needs to be like a cook preparing, marinating, brushing – I had it all down to a science like taking a piss.

It’s a 1, 2 and 3 thing – (1) unzip (2) slip out Mr. Anaconda (3) Aim (4) Fire – only this time step (5) was the one where I found my foreskin snared on my zipper – like I said, a hundred and one things can go wrong– that mucked up the timing – it spoilt the rhythm – above all one question kept bouncing no end in my head.)

“If the old man who ruled the four houses didn’t order the beatings, who the hell ordered it?”

As I looked at the man opposite me repeating the words,

“I don’t want to die…………..I don’t want to die…….not like this……I don’t want to die.”

I found myself loosening my grip on the gun. His mantra repeated in a shrill hypnotic tone, had a strange effect on me, pulling me back – far back into the distant past, as if the dikes which once held back the waters of time had suddenly given way.

There I was again in the mud churned trenches somewhere in the jungle in Cambodia, the sound of shells tearing across the air before they shook the ground. Above the whop, whop, whop of helicopters swooping low as they sprayed the Vietnamese lines with machine gun fire. In the distance the clank, clank, clank of artillery fire being let loose. Cordite and sweat filled the air, columns of black smoke divided the horizon – I found myself in hell again!

Sitting there in the restaurant watching the man, I found my mind’s eye turning inwards. I saw the whole line of the trench, it was exactly like a scene out of “all quiet in the western front”, straight for twenty meters, then dog-toothed to prevent blast, then straight again. Beyond it, stretching out further to the distance to the South, a range of mountains, forming to create the impression of a royal Siamese gondola. For an instant it looked almost too peaceful to be real, like some mythical vessel floating placidly in a sea of green.

Then another incoming shell screamed in shaking the ground with a thunderous roar, the sandbags that made up the parapet had been blown clean away. A section of the trench caved in and barbed wire was all over the place hanging all over the churned smoking earth.

The sound groaning filled the air. Someone shouted, “Mama!” The medics were trying to clear debris to get to the wounded men. Men who always wore that vacant expression whenever you pulled them out from the mud – men who always wailed after being cut down by shrapnel – men who kept on knocking their heads against the wall repeating the words,

“I don’t want to die……..I don’t want to die………I don’t want to die.”

That day as the man before repeated the same words, I found myself to thinking about all the men who fell in some distant past – I remember one Kampuchean officer who stared at me leaning against the wall, his expression hardly betraying a glimmer of fear instead, he radiate peacefulness and as I approached him. I wanted him to get down, I remembered calling out to him,

“Dein pak ay hen – a hun tei neh – pro tie jung je kai!”

(take cover you idiot – it’s heavy artillery – what you doing there, propped up for like a sitting duck)!

I ticked off his details in my head as I crawled over to his side, he was around my age one of the first batches, the red beret trained in jungle warfare. I remembered vaguely how he wanted to start a small business fixing bicycles after the war ended, he liked to listen to Michael Jackson, a son was on the way, his wife had eyes shaped like a banyan leaf – as I came up close to him, I realized his head was cut away in section, so that the smooth skin and the handsome face remained on one side, but on the other were the ragged edges of skull from which the remains of his brain were dropping on to his scorched uniform.

At that moment, another incoming tore through the skies – this time, it was close, some one shouted, “Get down Captain!”– after the blast, the world became radiant white and silent, it was calm and peaceful – I had just turned 19 and like the other boys there that day, I found myself repeating the same words I heard that afternoon.

“I don’t want to die……..I don’t want to die………I don’t want to die.”

That afternoon as I sat there watching the man before me – his words cast a spell on me – I found myself suddenly standing all alone watching a wave of immense loss from the past sweeping into the present, as it fingered towards past the sands of time and touch me. I felt that unspeakable fire – that afternoon as I sat there with a gun in my hand watching the man, I mourned the lost of those who had fallen – I mourned the loss of my innocence – above all, I didn’t want to be a part of it any longer.

I realized then, I loved life, it didn’t even have to be my life or even the life of a loved one or even the life of someone I even knew – any life would do, even the life of a stranger who once beat into a pulp – the life of the man who sat before me weeping that afternoon.

I don’t expect you to understand these contradictions – they’re not supposed to make sense – like a the faint impression of the moon in daylight – it’s vague – hardly making any sense at all except to those who see the world through the eyes of a man who simply knows, he’s damaged goods.

I reached out for the cup the man held up and placed it on a set of chopsticks.

“I want to tell you this, I just had a divine revelation, but if you don’t stop whining. I going to change my mind and pop you one right here. Do you hear me? So get yourself together!”

The man poured tea three times into the cup, his hands shaking so violently threatening to tip the pot. Then holding up the cup to me again, he said:

“Brewed from the fire of magical arrows – benefactor.”

Raising the cup, I said.

“Let neither, heaven or earth come between what we have agreed upon.”

After the man had settled down and composed him, I leaned forward and asked.

“If it wasn’t the old man, tell me who was it?……….This better be good….I swear to God it better be very good!”

2002 darkness

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