VII | Something To Ask

My eyes open

and suddenly
the smell of vomit


‘What have you been doing all night?’
I ask her,

pinching my nose
and sitting up.

streams in

through the curtainless window

with a familiar intensity.

It’s Singapore after all.

The nurses
are sitting

where I last saw them.

The plain one smiles.


Good morning, Fifi.


Tammie is leaning against my bed,
her head balanced
on top of her hands.


It’s inconvenient

having the bathroom

having the stairs
in a winding spiral,

having to wear
disposable underwear.

I watch Tammie
wash herself up
but even after,

the stench of vomit

clings to her.

Moonlight Sonata plays again
and the ritual

from the night before

repeats over again.

The difference
this time

is that there are five pills
(instead of a dozen)

just like
it’s supposed to be.


I choose to make

a sandwich,

just so I can relish
holding a knife again,

even if it’s plastic.

It’s not because

I want to hurt others.

Don’t get me wrong,
I’m not

in the asylum
for something like that.


I think?


It’s the other way

I’ve been hurt

more times
than the number of my fingers.

I show Tammie
my hand,

fingers outstretched.

My right hand
only has

four fingers.

My little finger
is just

a stump.


What happened?


I cut my sandwich
in two
and take a bite.

A man sits next to me
at the dining table.

I recognise him

as one of the few

who continued

staring into space
after medicine time
last night.

His eyes
are ringed

with bruises
and he has a long scar

from his wrist
up to

the inside of his elbow.

(I see it
when he stirs his cereal.)

His eyes
catch me staring.




‘I’m Gavin,’ he says.

‘Fifi,’ I reply.

He turns back to his cereal
like i’m no longer


now that I have a name.

Milk trickles
down his chin.

He wipes it

with the scarred hand.

I try to focus
on my sandwich

and block out
everything else

but I recognise something

about Gavin.

Even though
I’m sure
I’ve never met him



That’s not true.

You could have
passed him

walking down a street

or taken the same
public bus together.


‘That’s not possible,’
he says to me

in a voice remarkably soft

for a guy.


I said that out loud.


He gives me

a weak smile.

‘I’ve been here
‘much longer than

‘you’ve been alive.’

I turn to Tammie
who’s smiling apologetically again.

‘What medicine
‘are you taking?’ I ask.

His eyes
change colour,

flicker over to the nurses behind me,

and he puts a finger
to his mouth

along with his spoon.

He shakes his head
almost imperceptibly.

If I wasn’t as
sensitive as I am,
I might have

missed it.

I turn to Tammie
to see if she’s noticed

but she’s


to get a cup
of coffee.

I finish my sandwich.

‘Who’s the doctor?’
I ask instead.

‘I haven’t met the doctor
‘even though
‘I’m a new patient here.

‘Will I see him today?’


It could be a her.


Tammie sips her coffee.

The smell of vomit
makes the coffee’s aroma


‘Most psychiatrists are male though,’
I reply.

Gavin shrugs.

‘The doctor only sees us
‘once a month

‘so it’ll be a long time

‘before you get to meet her.’

My eyebrows
instinctively go up.

‘Mn, the psychiatrist here
‘is female.

‘You’ve already seen her.’


More than once.


‘She’s the one
‘who brought you in.’




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