XXXV | Root

The man, the woman
—I can’t think of them

as Kumar’s parents.

We stand
like awkward

on the deserted street,

faces lit

by one yellow street lamp
and the red backlight of the motorcycle.

I’ve heard about them,


we (my friends and I)
don’t talk about them much.

Most of us

aren’t close
to our parents,

don’t have good relationships with them.

So we don’t bring them up.

Kumar is one of those
who occasionally mentions them.

He’s complained

his father sucks at business
but keeps trying new things.

His mother does her best to help
but the people she introduces to his father

are not all that reliable.

‘We have debts,’
the man says.

He turns away slightly.

The woman looks down.

‘W-We owe some people money,’
she continues.

‘And we haven’t paid them back.’

The man makes a tsk noise.

She ignores him.
‘But today, after Kumar went out
‘to…run some errands,

‘they…they came
‘and said they’ve collected payment.’

A pause.

She turns to the man.

He refuses to look at her.
Arms tighten across his chest.

His fingers tremble.

‘It’s not the only time,’
I guess.

The woman nods.

‘I didn’t know…
‘I didn’t think…

‘that Kumar…would…’

Rage flares,
warms my chest.

I remember what Kumar said.

I piece the story all by myself.

‘And what?
‘You thought all those friends of yours
‘were so kind

‘they cancelled your debts like that?

‘Are you what? Five?’

The man’s eyes are furious.
He’s about to yell at me.

Yell, lah, yell!

Start a fight!

Then I can file a police report
without worrying about Kumar.

But he only

rakes his hand
through his hair.

His face contorts,

and I realise

he’s trying

not to cry.

A growl escapes from his throat.

A tear rolls down
the woman’s cheek.

She wipes it away

‘Even the loan sharks…
‘didn’t bother us.

Another tear leaked out.

‘Why didn’t they splash paint on our door?
‘Why didn’t they hang up the dead pigs like in those stories…

‘Why did Kumar—’

She burst into tears.

The man closes his eyes,
takes a deep breath.

And I understand everything.

Kumar repaid their debts
with his body.

He’s got the looks.

We’ve always joked
that it’s wasted on someone like him
who’s got no brains.

Who knew…

I’d regret those rash words.

We were just joking.
So why do I feel so guilty?

My hands turn into fists.

I want to punch Kumar
for trying to be a hero.

Why didn’t he use his brains?

By the time

I unfurl my fingers,

they’ve gone numb.


I look up at the couple


before me.

‘I’ll take care of him,’
I say at last.

‘So clear up this mess.
‘I’ll keep him out of sight.’




The motorcycle

screeches away

like a crying ghost.

I’m alone
with the donkey.

It doesn’t speak.

It’s completely silent.

No crickets.
No other vehicles.

I laugh.

‘Doesn’t this kind of thing
‘only happen on TV?’

A warm snout
brushes past my hand.

Eeyore looks up at me.

‘There’s still a lot you don’t know,’
it says quietly.

‘I don’t

‘want to know


This is a #*%&ing prank.

This is the truth
she wants to me to see?

Even without her,

I would have found out eventually.

You’d be even later.


It’s not like I didn’t know
what a #*%&ing wreck this world is.

I already knew.

In the real world,


is the kind of


that happens.


But not me.

I won’t make this sort of mistake.

I won’t let myself suffer like this.

Make these sort of impossible decisions.
It won’t happen.

I don’t want
to see anymore.

It’s not because
I’m shaken
by the truth

or anything like that.

It’s because I know

there’s nothing
I can do about this now.

If I had known,
if Kumar had told me…

If the world was different…

Welcome to the real world.

It’s Rowan’s fault.

Everything started going wrong
after I met Rowan.

Because of her,

I started to think

useless things.

Why did I let myself
get dragged into her world?

Jerry warned me.
Even Ming.




I return to Rowan’s place.

She and Aspen
sat in the small living room,

talking in low voices.

She’s living a cozy, comfy life
with her creepy brother and father.

A happy family.

What right does she have
to tell me

that other people are suffering?

The one
who should feel like crap

is her.

I watch her expressionless face.

Her cold attitude towards everything.

I think about Aspen
who knew Kumar would need help

but he asked me
to dabao chicken rice.

They even bickered along the way.

‘If you knew,
‘why didn’t you do something?’

My voice is loud,

I’m frustrated.
I know I look uncool.

My head’s in a mess.

I need to burn up the energy
that’s accumulated in my body.

‘Kumar’s asleep,’
she says.

Her expressionless eyes irk me.

‘If you know all these things,
‘you should have done something!’

‘Kumar is—,’
she says.


Aspen puts a hand on my shoulder.

I push him away.

‘We’re not God,’
he says.

‘We can only do this much.’

His voice shakes
—because he’s scared?


‘Then why didn’t your God
‘do something about this?’


‘Are you trying to convert me right now?
‘Aeh, Rowan,

‘God isn’t real.
‘Go to IMH and get your head checked.

‘How can an all-powerful god do nothing about suffering?

‘Why would he come to earth as Jesus?
‘You said he died for us?

‘#*%& you. What kind of god solves problems by dying?

‘He’s not powerful after all.
‘We’re all still suffering, aren’t we?’

I take a deep breath.

Aspen is frowning.
He’s itching to respond.

‘You listen to me.
‘I’m cursing your God
‘right in your face

‘but even he can’t do anything about it!’

Rowan pulls Aspen

to sit back down

on the sofa.

Her coal-black eyes

are still


Her brother is angry.

He wants to fight.

I’m not even halfway through
all I have to say.

A soulless bastard like that
in charge
of this filthy world?

Such a “divine being”

shouldn’t even

be thought about.


There’s a scream
from the bedroom.


‘You say this reality is the truth,
‘And yet you still believe this God?’

Aspen goes to check on Kumar.

Rowan walks up to me.

I can smell her shampoo.
Her breath.
Chicken rice.

Her coal-black eyes

are expressionless.

But they burn.
Make my eyes water.

‘God is real,
‘whether you believe him or not.

‘He doesn’t need your approval.

‘If you don’t want to believe,
‘then don’t.

‘But that’s not possible,
‘is it, Clyde?

‘You do believe.

‘Because who else can you blame
‘for all this suffering?

‘Are you

‘going to be the one

‘to save everyone?’




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