The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Category: Short stories

Repost: Reasons why my mother was an asshole

Image credit to People We Remember

Repost from People We Remember, a site “about memorializing the poignant moments of those we’ve loved and lost along the fragile road that we call life.”

When I was 12 years old, I overheard my mother and sister talking about something. I couldn’t really figure exactly what they were saying but they were behaving all strange and secretive. It had to be important. It had to be significant. I had to know.

So I asked. “What are you talking about?”

To my surprise, they refused to tell me. “You don’t have to know. You don’t have to know just yet.” I persisted and persisted but they refused to tell me. I pled and whined but nothing, not a single word from either of them, and that made me incredibly suspicious.

What were they hiding from me? Why wouldn’t they tell me?

What news was so significant and yet, crucial that I didn’t know about it?

So in the middle of the night, laying on my bed and staring at my celling, I came to the conclusion that I was dying. I probably had some terminal illness, like cancer of the eyebrows or something and was going to die in a couple of months. They were just finding a way to tell me. They just wanted to shield me from the harsh truth. They just wanted me to die happy. They probably wanted me to take my PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) before I died.

So in the span of 2 days, I went through the 5 stages of grief.


This can’t be happening to me. I am only 12. They must have gotten it all wrong. They probably mixed me up with some other kid. It is probably Kenneth. Come on. That kid has so many moles on his face. One of them has got to be cancerous.


Why me? Why the hell me? I pay attention in class. I don’t talk and throw shit around! I don’t bully people! Why the fuck not Jun Jie? That boy calls me names all the time. I mean in what world does Perry even sound like Penis.


What if I study really hard? I promise I will score all As, even for Chinese. My Chinese will be better than that Indian kid who is constantly used as an example of how terrible my Chinese is.

Come on God, you can’t kill a kid with so much potential.


I might as well just stay home and watch cartoons. I might as well just not eat my fruits and vegetables. It’s not like constipation is going to affect me in a few days. Dead people don’t shit right?


Oh well, I mean life is full of sadness and disappointments. I might as well just go tell my mother that I know so she doesn’t have to worry about telling me anymore.

So I told my mother.

And she looked at me.

And laughed

And laughed

And laughed

Actually, she continued laughing all the way till Chinese New Year, where she told all my relatives that her son actually thought that he was going to die.

She hugged me from behind and said,

“What a silly boy.”

No one likes self-righteous people who can’t laugh at themselves.

No one likes self-righteous people who can’t laugh at their own son, especially when he is being an idiot.


My mother never believed in a reward system. Kids in school would get presents and money if they scored really well in their tests. I would not.

“You are supposed to do well. Why should I reward you for doing something that you are already supposed to do?”

That’s my mother’s reasoning. To a kid, that was plain bullshit. She was just being mean. She was being an asshole.

However, she did reward me for something. Whenever I did something good or righteous, she would reward me. I helped an old lady cross the road and I was allowed to choose whichever Lego set I wanted.

This led to me becoming quite an overly enthusiastic nice person. Old ladies who needed help crossing roads became like giant walking Lego sets to me.

After a while, the rewards stopped but the habit stayed with me. I guess my mother was on to something.

The world doesn’t need good intentions.

The world needs people who do nice things.

It doesn’t matter what reason or hidden agenda or Lego set you want, as long as you do nice things, that’s all that matters.


My mother was a liar.

Till the age of 15, I genuinely thought that my mother was an insanely picky eater.

She didn’t like:

Chicken Drumsticks

Fried Dumplings

Crab Meat







Basically, she didn’t like anything delicious. She would cook or buy them and later say that she didn’t like them or she wasn’t hungry.

So I ignorantly ate them all,

all of her love.


She constantly corrected my grammar.

Let’s face facts.

That was pretty annoying.


She died.

That was pretty annoying too.


I stared at the back of my dad’s head, trying to decipher what he felt about my little article about his dead wife; my dead mother.

After 5 minutes of silence and rapid scrolling, my dad turned and looked at me and smiled “You are the asshole.”


The struggles of crafting an email response

“Dearest Jessica,” he began typing.

Dearest Jessica? What is this, writing an email to your aunt, thought Bobby. Too severe.

“Yo Jessie,” he corrected.

No. Too flippant. This isn’t high school, he agonised. Also, what if she hates being called “Jessie?” He had a friend Thomas who hated being called “Tommy.” But Thomas is a guy and Jessica is a girl. Maybe girls are more partial to things like that? Furthermore, Jessie could be a guy’s name; what if she thinks I think of her as a dude, thought Bobby. No, I certainly want to show her that I appreciate her as a girl, and am not merely dude-zoning her.

A single bead of sweat started to coalesce on his forehead.

“Hey Jessica,”

Much better. What has it been, twenty minutes? Two words so far. That’s pretty good progress, Bobby thought. What now?

“Thanks for your kind attention, I greatly appreciate it.”

Too formal, too needy. Delete, delete, delete. Geez, if only he hadn’t paid so much attention during English lessons when they were teaching him how to craft a proper response letter. Now he’s perpetually stuck in curmudgeon mode.

“You are beautiful. Words fail me as I try describe your beauty — time and again I have had to delete sentences because they were not satisfactory. I ache each time I see your face because my shyness, my inferiority precludes any attempt to strike up conversation. Like a sublime sunset, you shine and light up those around you, but inevitably unattainable and on the other side of the world.

But it is okay, I seek not your approval; only to let you know that you are beautiful.

But I will not lavish empty words of praise on you; I would not throw out “perfect” and “divine” because we are all human, and we are more than our physical assets. Your slight gap between your teeth, your slow, crooked smile rends my apart, but just as much so your affection for dogs, your commitment to helping your fellow mates.

I would love to get to know you more, but that is more than I dare hope for. After all, who am I to take up your time?

We might work in the same office, and I see you every day, but we never exchange more than the obligatory cordial smile and nod. I’ve never been more self-conscious every time you’re around me — at the lifts, at the cafeteria; I worry about whether I look presentable around you even more than when I look in the mirror.

I don’t know how to talk to you. I fear my mouth would open and silence would gush out — worse, maybe even something offensive. Thus the wistful smile, the upwards push for the lips by two reluctant cheeks, guarding that which may be terrible. I want to talk to you, but I don’t know how.

So I opt for the written word, safe behind the power of edits, backspace and spell-check.

Yours sincerely,


And with that, he trashed the draft, and took a wank, lubricated by his own tears.

淋雨 To be caught in the rain




“我得向外飞。” 子儿说。

“为何?” 长辈问着,“危在外多,个个角落藏着不安,不定,不满,不幸。不如不走如何。”





而非听劝告,放下了一生的友情,放下了一生的便利,他身无长处地往外走。子儿默默地说,“你瞧着。无论你有多么的不信,是胜是亡,由我双腿创我自己的路,是我的选择。” 连伞都不带的他就那样踏出了门,相信他身上燃烧的火将会带他出路途的黑暗。




“这值得吗?” 子儿开始想,长辈播下的疑问的种被雨淋了,开始萌芽。“我还能继续吗?”



自责王加入了战场, “如果你当初没那么任性,也不会落到现在这下场。”



(note: This is another one of those “If you can’t read Chinese, you won’t be able to fully appreciate the nuances of the language” pieces. There are footnotes at the end to help with some of that.)


As they say: May the sons become dragons, may the daughters become phoenixes. But when they are ready to spread their wings to take flight, and that their journeys will inevitably disappoint those who heaped hopes on them, what then?

After a lifetime of antagonism, with a heart full of burning anger/passion, it is time to leave.

“I have to leave this place,” the son says.

“Why?” asked the elder, “Danger lies outside, and in every corner lurks vulnerability, instability, discontent, and misfortune. How about you don’t go?”1

“That’s impossible. And I can’t.”2

“Then where can you go?”

“To the West for sutras: experience, feasts.3 Any place is better than this.”

“Sutras? More like shock.4 Fawner of all things foreign, you will return eventually.”

Unheeding of advice, leaving behind a lifetime of friends, a lifetime of convenience, with the barest of necessities he departed. Silently, he said, “Hark, no matter your lack of confidence, even if I were to triumph or die, with my feet I carve this journey of my own choice.” And like that, without even taking an umbrella, he stepped out, believing that the fire that burns inside him will light him through the darkness of his journey.

The son who is yet to be a dragon is unable to fly on his own, thus he takes an aeroplane on his journey to the West. But what he did not envision was how wet the rain on his journey would be.

At first, the rain was imperceptible — the occasional raindrops, what does it matter? With a heart free of lead and each step on a Somersault Cloud, the wetness of the fine drizzle was stayed by the True Samadhi Fire5 carried within, keeping him warm and dry.

Before long, the drizzle turned into a downpour. The water flowers that drifted down from the heavens earlier turned into piercing arrows, pouring down in torrents. Halfway into the journey, the sight of the beginning is lost, the sight of the goal is lost; is the way lost? The clothing sticks to the skin, becoming armour no longer, and has let the rain pierce the skin, the heart. Slowly, pieces of sharp arrowheads erode the confidence to ash6, leaving behind conceit and pride.

“Is this all worth it?” the son begins to wonder, and the seeds of doubt planted by the elder, watered by the rain, begin to germinate. “Can I still carry on?”

The imps, spirits, demons and monsters encountered along the journey are from within, not without. The battle is in the mind, and the slain demons are scattered everywhere.

The Spirit of Self Doubt hefted its blade, “The optimism you held in the beginning was folly.”

The Demon King of Self-Blame joins the fray. “Were you not so obstinate, you would not have landed yourself in this quarry.”

The Monster of Despair sang softly, softly, “All ambition borne of fantasy is but emptiness.”

And as the battle rages on, I stand on the outside, being drenched in the rain.


1: “危在外多,个个角落藏着不安,不定,不满,不幸。不如不走如何。” “Danger lies outside, and in every corner lurks vulnerability, instability, discontent, and misfortune. How about you don’t go?” — There is stylistic repetition using the ‘not’ character in the Chinese text, 不, which is lost in translation. A stylistic translation would go: “Danger lies outside, and in every corner lurks not-safety, not-stability, not-contentment, not-fortune. Not-about not-go?” 不如不走 in the last part also uses the ‘not’ character, but translates as “How about you don’t go?”

2: “不行。我不能。” “That’s impossible. And I can’t.” — Similarly, it continues the usage of the ‘not’ character in response. A stylistic translation would go: “Not-possible. I am not-able.”

3: “去西取经:经验,精宴。” “To the West for sutras: experience, feasts.” — This is a play on and repetition of sounds. The romanisation would be “Qù xī qǔ jīng: jīng yàn, jīng yàn.” The sound for sutra shares the same sound as the first character of experience, and the first character of the compound word, exquisite (jīng). The purpose for highlighting this repetition become apparent in the next point.

4: “取经?取惊还差不多吧。” “Sutras? More like shock.” — A pun on the sound for sutra 经 (jīng), which is the same sound as shock 惊 (jīng).

5: Somersault Cloud and True Samadhi Fire is an artefact and a weapon in the Chinese classic, Journey to the West.

6: 渐渐,尖尖的箭尖把自信化成灰 Slowly, sharp arrowheads turn confidence to ash — This phrase is a brutal repetition of the sound “jian,” varying only its tones. The romanisation goes: “jiàn jiàn jiān jiān de jiàn jiān bǎ zì xìn huà chéng huī.” This utilises the sharp sounds of “j” to evoke the imagery of piercing.

The most blessed man in the world


The world’s most blessed man lives in New York.

He also happens to be homeless.

“Rugger” the blessed homeless man was about to cross the street. The traffic light turned yellow.

“You will be safe,” whispers a voice to him.

“The light shines brightly on you,” whispers another.

“Stop bothering me,” Rugger mutters to himself, swatting his hands at the air in an attempt to chase the voices away. A couple of passersby walked hurriedly away from him.

A car in the distance was trying to beat the red light, and sped up.  It dashed past the light, and harmlessly passed behind Rugger, who was still slowly crossing the road. The pedestrian light turned green.

There is a long line already at the soup kitchen, as the volunteers at dish out lunch. He approaches the front, and receives a sandwich. “Sorry, that was the last one. We’re out. You’ll have to go elsewhere for food,” said the volunteer to the person after Rugger. That person curses. Rugger eats his sandwich and readies himself for the day.

Rugger calls the steps of a church along Lexington his home.  Every day, he wakes up, and is immediately filled with a sense of un-direction – there is nothing pressing in his world that he has to do. Sure, he has to eat, and probably hustle for change, but they can be done sooner as later. Apparently it was already lunch time, but what does time mean to a person who has nothing to do?

Rugger looks around to be in his fifties; who can tell? Every day passes him by just like the day before, and the day before that, and tomorrow, and the day after. Rugger might have been called “John” or “Adam” once, but he doesn’t remember. Heck, he doesn’t even know why he’s called “Rugger.”

But unbeknownst to him, he is the world most blessed. He has perfect health, maybe not-so-perfect hygiene, but he has not fallen sick in years, and suffers not even from a toothache or acne.

“SICK AND HOMELESS. ANY HELP GOES A LONG WAY. GOD BLESS.” Rugger’s cardboard reads simply; some of his peers claimed to be down-and-out war veterans, or needing change to get out of town and back home when they’ve never even seen the light of war or have a home to go back to. Why bother to spin such fancy tales? It’s not like people are actually reading the signs closely. He gets just about as much change as anyone else, even with his minimal effort cardboard signs. Rugger falls asleep.

Sometimes, he wishes he would never wake up from when he goes to sleep. But even with sleeping out in on the steps, or on benches, even in the dead of winter, Rugger always wakes up the next day with nary a frostbite.

Waiting for coins to fall from above is not a solitary affair for Rugger – he is swamped by voices he keeps hearing even as a quarter occasionally drops into his cup.

“Favoured one, rest easy. Your journey will be smooth-sailing,” another whisper.

“Nothing will touch you.”

“No harm shall come to you.”

“Just let me sleep, you buggers,” uttered Rugger.

And in this vein, Rugger sits, having to endure these whispers of endearing protection.

He needed to take a leak. He got up, to a corner and peed at a scaffolding. He heard people yelling at him from the construction workers above. He ignored them, as they were gesticulating wildly at him. He was done, and left, and a bucket containing mixed cement fell at the spot he was at a couple seconds ago. It landed with a loud KRNK. Rugger did not even notice it, for he was slowly ambling back to his spot.

“You are destined for greatness, O blessed one,” says a voice to Rugger.

“Oh yeah?” said Rugger to no one in particular. “What’s so great about this?”

“You live! That is life’s greatest blessing!”

“What kind of blessing is this when every day is lived without purpose? I wake up, I eat, I sit, I shit. And then I go back to sleep and wake up to the same thing again next morning. You say I’m blessed, but I don’t see it.”

“Blessings are not seen with the eyes, they are felt by the mind. When you only look around you, you cannot see, because you do not know what you are supposed to see, yet you will keep casting your sights in the wrong direction hoping to catch a glimpse.”

“Whatever, you’re a whole lot of crap.” And with that, Rugger went back to sleep, for tomorrow to start itself anew.

Chasing Roads


Once upon a time, in Prague, a tram and a car stopped at the corner of a street called Otakarova. The traffic light was red and both vehicles were waiting for the light to turn green.

“You know, you have it really good,” says the tram, let’s call him Twenty-four, to the blue Skoda car who was waiting alongside him.

“What do you mean?” says the blue Skoda, whose name is Rush, because that’s what his owner named him. “Why do you say I have it really good?” asked Rush to Twenty-four, as his engine rumbled silently and he went put-put-put.

“You have so much freedom on the road. Look at you, after this traffic light turns green, you’re allowed to turn left, right or go straight ahead or anywhere you want to go!” says Twenty-four. “As for me, I go wherever the tracks are laid for me.”

Rush considered what Twenty-four said, and looked at the roads around him, and then he said, “But looking at the roads, you have options too! The tracks bend left, curve right, lead straight ahead.“

“I have choices?” Twenty-four scoffed. “While the tracks bend left, curve right and lead straight ahead, I cannot take any that I wish to. Do you see that small, red blinking light above the traffic lights?”

Rush swivelled its headlamps upwards, and saw that above the traffic lights was a smaller single light that had a red arrow, blinking steadily. It pointed straight ahead.

“Yes I see it. It points ahead,” says Rush.

“There you have it,” says Twenty-four, “that’s the path I will be going, no other ways about it. Many roads have been laid for me, and I don’t even get a say in which ones to take? All I can do is run on schedule and go where I’m supposed to.” At that, Twenty-four rang its bell, alarming a pedestrian who was attempting to run across the road in front of Twenty-four.

“But it’s not so bad, is it?” put-putted Rush, “You’re a great big tram! On the roads, you’re the king – everyone has to give way to you, maybe with the exception of ambulances and police cars. You have the right of way and if you crossed paths with me, I’m expected to maybe even go up on the pavements just to make way for you if the road is too narrow for both of us.”

Rush continued, “Also, look at the good you do for everyone! Hundreds of people, with your help, make it to work, to school, to wherever they need to go.”

“Hundreds of ungrateful people who litter and vandalise within me,” Twenty-four shot back.

“Hundreds more people who’re glad you bring shelter from the rain in the spring, and warmth from the biting cold of winter,” says Rush.

“Trekking dirt in from the rain, vagrants who sleep without meaning to go anywhere, just to be warm,” says Twenty-four. “I wish I could be like you, going anywhere I want to.”

“And I wish I could be like you, and not have to worry about changing lanes, giving way, looking out for pedestrians, etc,” said Rush.

Just then, the traffic light turned green.

“Well it was nice to meet you,” said Rush. “I’m going left now.”

“And I’m going straight ahead, as if I ever had a choice,” rang Twenty-four its bell angrily as it started to roll ahead.

And so they parted ways, with Rush put-putting off to left and Twenty-four moving straight ahead.


A couple of hours later, as Rush was returning back to that junction at Otakarova, and took the route that Twenty-four had taken earlier, he saw a tram lying on its side. There were many people around, some sitting on the sidewalk, some crying, others holding up a bandaged arm. As Rush drove past, snippets of conversation could be heard: “It was as if the tram was trying to go off its tracks or something. How scary!”