XXII | Age

Sunday morning,
I thought of texting Rowan

to apologise

but I found
that I don’t have her number.

So at the hottest time of the day,
I got out of bed and went to the nameless chicken rice shop.

Grey shutters covered the glass doors.

In big painted red letters a sign:


Monday, I see her in class,
staring at the teacher

with expressionless black eyes.

She never looks at me.
Never comes over.

We don’t talk
until it’s project work time.

And then I’m on the opposite side,
laptop screens between us.


Rizwan is arguing with Julie
about which approved proposal
we should choose.

‘Let’s vote,’ Rowan says.

Julie glares at Rizwan.

We vote.
A proposal is picked.

Now for field research.

‘Someone at my church leads volunteers at IMH,’
Rowan says.

Rizwan leans back in his chair,
punching the air above him.
          ‘Done! Early dismissal.’

I grin.

He groans.




‘I didn’t know you can volunteer here,
‘Aren’t people here dangerous?’
Julie comments.

‘We’re meeting those who in recovery,’
Rowan explains.


I’ve never been to
the Institute of Mental Health before

(nor have i googled it).

I only have a vague image
of a haunted house in my mind.

We walk pass a speaker
explaining pedestrian etiquette to an empty road.

There’s a neon-coloured playground nearby.

Endless carparks,
man-made lakes.


we stand in front of white colonial buildings,
coral-tiled roofs,

spreading out like a manor before us.

In the middle of everything,
there’s a futuristic-looking glass cube.

Every pavement leads to it.

Julie frowns at her map.

‘Did we get lost?’

‘What kind of resort is this?’

I check my map too.

‘We’re here,’ Rowan says.


She leads us
one of the colonial-looking buildings.

I wonder if we’re in one of her daydreams again.

They keep happening whenever Rowan’s around.

That’s when I see

the almost
wire mesh

that covers all the artfully opened windows.

On every doorpost,
there’s a discreet plastic card reader.


Nurses in blue
pull a card attached to their pocket
to the door.

It beeps.

Something unlocks.

We follow one of them
into an air-conditioned room.

Baby blue walls and landscape paintings.

Round tables and seats
are bolted to the ground.

The patients wear their own clothes.

A smiley short man introduces the volunteers.
The volunteers greet the patients

and we all split up to play Scrabble.


I want to approach a bored-looking young lady

but Rowan drags me
to an old man sitting alone,
staring at the wall.

It’s gonna be a long afternoon.

The man’s gaze
doesn’t shift from the wall

even when Rowan says hello.

I set up the Scrabble board

although I think

we won’t
end up

‘Would you like to play with us?’
Rowan asks nobody.

The man doesn’t reply

but his eyes move from the wall
to her face.

She meets his gaze with

coal-black expressionless eyes.

I put a dark green tray with seven letters
in front of him.

He looks at me.

I smile.

So awkward…


Rowan places the first word.

‘What’s your name?’

The man stares at the letters in his tray.

Another volunteer sits with the young lady,
sets up a Scrabble board for her.

This man,
hand shivering slightly,

picks up the tiny scrabble tiles,
slowly slides them into place.

He doesn’t look up.

‘Doesn’t matter. I should be dead already.’




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