Yeow Kai Chai / A Reprieve, or A Sunday Afternoon at the Padang

They feel it, even before they see it coming over the horizon.

For a few hours, the view is clear, offering a glimpse of a vista beyond the marina, although no one can deny the other presence. Three dogs, eight boats and 48 people in a sprezzatura of afternoon bliss. From this vantage point, it is remarkable no one is really looking at anyone else in the eye, despite proximity. Most face sideways, in the direction of the waters, probably drawn in by the shiny, silvery behemoth rising from the other side, a crystal palace reflecting wave after shimmering wave of light…

Over here, us, stretched out on the green lawn, individuated so that each dot, each photon, is a single hue. Gradations of green, red and blue refracted off one’s glasses, and once in a while, the humidity gets too much. Wipe your brow and those fogged-up progressive lens, and squint. What you can’t see can hurt you. Approximately 3,456,000 particles are being sucked up by one’s lungs as one speaks…. these tiny devils escape the nasal hair. Every few hours, the index rises and falls, its calculation derived from ozone, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter measuring 10 micrometres or less (PM10). Plot the hourly ups and downs in an interactive graphic, where each incremental change could be tracked with a swipe. In forecasting the movement and spatial diffusion of smoke haze particles, the meteorologist is employing intricate mathematical algorithms, in order to predict the downwind concentration of haze particles from numerous sources, among which are folk eking out a livelihood on the land across the sea, slashing and burning to make way for the next harvest. Such moral introspection is rich, and neither is the one with the sickle absolved from it.

In another time, a queue snakes through the field, around tall angsanas and spruced-up heritage buildings, spilling over stone bridges, carrying flowers and cards, forming a heart map for the passing giant. One could plant oneself as a character in an augmented reality, and move through this fête galante, as if right there, right now, reliving history till eternity. Still, it won’t be the same as actually being there in the flesh, at that moment. Close in and each dot, each pore becomes larger. The irregularity is apparent. The outline is jagged, like that of a nimbus, a boil, or a comet; the human slipping out of the realist armature, as the pointillist takes over. Each neuron bristles with love, hate, sweat, pride, immanent beauty, and the price for speaking your mind. Hidden, the mind is ultimately an unpaintable thing. What flits between lobes, these houses with undetected residents?. . .


An excerpt from Yeow Kai Chai’s “A Reprieve, or A Sunday Afternoon at the Padang,” featured in TCR 3.26: Pacific poetries.

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