XXVII | Before

I’ve known Brient
since we were babies.

That’s how close
our mothers were.

I told everyone at primary school that
he’s my older brother.

Because he was strong.

No one would mess with Brient.

He was the one
who messed with other people.

He messed with me too.

He’d steal my food,
take my toys and
occasionally (accidentally) break them.

We fought, as all brothers do.

When I was seven,
I almost fell down the stairs

because he wanted to be first.

His mother scolded him
until he cried.

That might have been

the last time

I saw him cry.

When we entered primary school,

he was a famous troublemaker

all the boys in the school
were scared of.

So when I said he was my brother,

they left me alone.

Brient didn’t mind
that I used his name

to stay out of trouble.

Those who tried to kacau me
got in trouble with him and his kakis.

I looked up to him.

Worshipped him.

I was his accomplice
whenever he planned something fun to do.

But I was a scaredy-cat
so he’d make fun of me.

I learned to keep a poker face on.

He was also friends with his rich neighbour’s kid.


The three of us wrecked havoc
in his neighbourhood.

Ming was a good listener,
so Brient often told him deep stuff

and that’s how I learnt about

his weak side.

I was nine,
Brient was eleven

when i found out his secret.

His mother was sick.

Sometimes, he’d sleep over at our house,
not because he “just wanted to”

but because his mother wouldn’t stop screaming.

She’d cry, throw things at him,
then stay motionless in bed all day.

I naively told him

—the first time I heard—

that she’d be alright
if he gave her a hug,

He thanked me

but I don’t think he ever did it.

One night,

I insisted on going with my mother
to visit him.

His mother was alone in the house,
staring at the kitchen counter top

last week’s dinner

in front of her.

Brient wasn’t there,
he was with his father,

or so his mother said.

(And his father was at his mistress’s house.)

They were going to divorce soon.

My mother tried to calm her down,
so we didn’t go home.

I remember falling asleep that night
In Brient’s bed,

hearing what he had been hearing
every night when he slept.


Maybe that was the night,
when I truly

understood why Brient was so strong.

I didn’t know how to comfort Brient
about the divorce

and he never spoke of it.

His stubbornness
made me I admire him more.

I wanted to be like him.

I was strong

only because I told people
Brient was my 大哥.

Then, he disappeared.

I called his phone.

But SingTel told me
the number I dialled is not in use.

I went to his house.

And found a stranger
living in his room.

My mother had rented out his bedroom 
so his mother would have income.

I was eleven

when we drifted apart
like tectonic plates.

I never heard from him again.
He never said goodbye.

I only found out
he had gone to live with his father

after confronting my mother.





is nothing like Brient.

For some reason,
I suddenly thought of him.

Aspen said he was two years older than Rowan.

He had been at BMT for a while

He likes to hum
when he helps his father cook the chicken rice.

He’s so unlike Rowan,
I wonder if he’s actually her



He grins at me like an idiot
when he catches me staring at him.

It makes me want to punch him.

His hair is shaved close to his scalp.
(A style that usually makes you look like a naked monkey.)
But it highlights his strong jawbone and bright eyes.

If he was more like Rowan,

would I be less pissed with him?


Aspen puts a plate of chicken rice in front of me.

‘Want chilli?’

A grunt.

We eat in a silence for a while.
Aspen doesn’t seem to mind.

I don’t know what to say.

After all,
I’m not here to see him.

I’m here for Rowan.




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