What followed was a long stare between me and General Aung.
They say your eyes are the window to one’s soul and looking at the dark corneas of the man in front of me, It’s like I’m starring into the abyss or the depths of space.
My little triumph is beginning to look like a mistake to me. Despite all that I’ve done, we are still at the mercy of the General and his men.
“You are free to choose who to stay or go.” Aung said to me. “ However, you shall remain here for the rest of the 30 hours you have left.”
General Aung walked away from me and gave everyone a glimpse of his explosive anger when he lifted and toppled the table of food with one hand.
The outburst startled the kids and a couple of them started crying immediately.
I honestly thought he is going to go back on his words of letting 10 kids and 2 adults go, he shouted something to Terry in his native tongue as he exited the warehouse.
Terry waited for Aung to be out of sight before turning back to face me.
“10 adults, 2 kids. You have 5 minutes to choose who.” Terry said before turning to speak with a few of the men in the warehouse.
I don’t know what he is saying but I could tell they are no longer taking things lightly after the stunt I pulled. I get the feeling they are trying to beef up security or something to make sure no one slips out.
Turning around to look at the group, I was immediately greeted with a bunch of hopeful looks.
Everyone wants to get out of here but who do I choose?
I have to be logical about this.
You could see it in the eyes of the adults, Sam and Alvin knew right off the bat they are out of the selection. I could tell they want to give the chance to the kids too.
Bobby and Conor have got themselves off the ground and despite their bruised and beaten state, I could see the anger in their eyes. The looks of men who are not going to take this lying down.
They were beaten up pretty bad.
A gentle shake of their head from Bobby and Conor when I look at them told me there’s no need to worry about them.
The kids are the priority.
I want to get Daphne out but the moment I looked at her, she mouthed to me she wants to stay for the story with a stare that says there’s no way she is leaving.
Walking closer to the class on excursion, I lowered myself to the ground to speak with them.
“Alright everyone, I know you are scared, but Uncle Jerry will fix this ok? I will get everyone out of here safely back home ok?” I paused and let my words sink in. “We can’t all leave together; we have to take turns.”
“You guys are in Kindergarten 2 right ? you’re let me see, 6 years old?” A few of the nodded while one boy pointed out they have a few Kindergarten 1 kids among them too.
I looked at the teacher and she gestured to a bunch of the younger kids by her side. They look so innocent and lost with their small backpacks and water bottle slung around their tiny frame.
I nodded to let Mindy know I am aware of them and that I will definitely prioritize the younger ones in my selection.
I turned to see Terry redeploying the men to different sections of the warehouse.
Lowering my voices, I asked the K2 children how many of them have started taking swimming lessons.
A handful of them shot up their hands and I gestured for them to come over to me. I checked to make sure they can swim with the aid of a float.
“Guys, listen. “ I said as if they are adults. “we need to find a way to escape and I’m not going to rule out swimming. You have some experience in the water, I’ll need you guys to help me out a while longer over here is that ok?”
The swimmers nodded and I looked at Sam who immediately herded them over to his side with Alvin’s help.
Taking away the swimmers, there are still 13 kids.
I asked if anyone has their birthday in January and 2 hands shot up.
“February?” I asked again and 2 more joined the January babies.
I’ll have to choose 3 out of those 4 to stay for the simple reason that they are older than the rest.
“Guys, you are older than the rest of your classmates. I know it’s only a few months but to me, you are the big brothers and sisters of the class. I’ll need your help for a while longer over here while we let the younger ones go.”
Looking at the only girl in the lot of 4, I asked if she is ok to help take care of the rest that will be leaving.
“What’s your name little girl?”
“I’m Claire.” She replied.
“Alright Claire, we have enough, you can join your friends over there. I’ll have you on the bus in no time.” I barely finished my statement when 2 of the boys started crying.
They started sobbing away upon knowing they have to stay behind.
“Guys, guys, guys, calm down. Come on.” I said to the 2 boys whose face has already scrunched up like a wrinkled melon.
Looking over at Terry, I was worried he would hear what I am trying to say to the kids.
“I can swim.” Said another girl from the younger group of 5 year old.
“Hurry UP! What is taking so long !” Terry shouted at us suddenly and the 2 boys started crying.
“It’s ok, it’s ok. Everything is ok. Don’t cry.” I said and Daphne came over to try and pacify the kids
Claire went over to the other girl who said she could swim and pulled her over to Sam and Alvin.
“Let them go, we’ll stay.” Claire said as she squeezes herself and her young friend into the group huddled behind Alvin and Sam.
I did a quick visual count.
I have 7 swimmers who are 6 year old, and 1 that is 5. That leaves 2 non-swimmers. That’s not too bad, I’m sure if it comes down to paddling out into open waters for help, we can juggle 2 kids among the adults.
Terry shouted for a few of his friends to come over.
“We’re not waiting anymore.” He barked as I gestured for Mindy to get up together with the group of 10 kids that are leaving.
“Choo…Choo… you… you’ll leave with them.”
Choo is the obvious choice here. I’m guessing he’s about the same age as Tan but having him here might distract Sulyani from what she is here to do. Besides, Tan was supposed to kill someone had I not stop him in time.
In times of emergency, I guess it would be nice to have someone who had it in him to stab someone close by.
Tan pulled Choo over and I heard him telling Choo to let his granddaughter know about him if he gets out.
“Tell her not to worry about me. I’ll be ok.” Tan whispered sharply.
Mindy is the only teacher left and I need her to handle the kids, including the young ones for the next 30 hours. The rest of us will figure out what to do with those still in the warehouse.
I gave a quick glance at the remaining group left and as far as the adults are concerned, I could see no objection to my choice of who leaves and who stays.
No one stopped me when I followed the group of 12 out of the warehouse by helping Choo and Mindy carry one of the kids, I went to the back of the line to make sure everyone exited safely.
At the same time, I took the opportunity to check out the security arrangement that has been set up. Aung has at least 30 men from what I could see scattered throughout the 2 sites.
While some remained on guard, some are busy unloading stuff from the container truck.
I saw another familiar face when I head over to Sam’s nursery.
Set up under a cluster of palm trees and black netting, is Larry. The creepy guy watching me pee in Lisa’s bathroom. He did not see me as he continued meddling with the numerous radio sets and signal equipment. It appears as if he’s monitoring the numerous channels in used by law enforcements.
The black netting Sam used for this plants provided the perfect camouflage for the setup. Looking down from above, you will see nothing by rows after rows of sheltered plants.
I saw Aung speaking to one of his men standing by the bus that brought the kids in. Mindy, pleaded with the men to let the kids use the bathroom one last time. Several kids followed Mindy towards Sam’s bathroom while Choo looked after the rest.
Shortly after that, Aung came over to me.
“I am a man of my word, however I am not a fool either.” Aung said as everyone who could leave loaded up the bus.
Two of his men will be following the bus that will be driven by Aung’s men.
“The bus will keep moving, no one leaves. No toilet, no food, nothing. 29 hours later, my men will let them go.”
“I can see you redid the interior and exterior for the bus”
“Nuggets of information from my fortune teller.” Aung said without elaborating.
The company logo of the bus has been painted over and replaced with something else. While there is no time to repaint the whole bus, several streaks of colours have been added to what otherwise is a boring grey bus.
The slight change in it’s paintwork would make identifying it difficult along the roads.
I heard a loud clang of metal and realized someone is just done changing the license plate too, the original number plate is now thrown unceremoniously onto the floor by the side.
“what guarantees will I have that they will be unharmed?”
“None. Only my word, take it or leave it.” Aung said before walking away with a smug look on his face.
“what’s the difference then if they stayed right here ? “
“I can tell you Jerry, in 29 hours, this place is the last place you want to be in. hahha.” Aung’s voice trailed off as he walked further away.
I put down the boy I was carrying and walked briskly towards Sam’s office where I kept the biscuits and crackers.
A couple of men stopped me but I told them I’m just getting water and food for the kids. It’s more than 24 hours for fuck sake. They exchanged a look before letting me and Choo through.
I ordered 5 cartons of water. With each carton holding 9 x 1.5 litres of water, I have 45 bottles in all. Those still on site can always drink tap water, I’m more worried about those that will be on the bus.
They’re going to be in a moving prison for more than a day.
Then again, if I give them too much, I will have less of the plastic bottles Xiuwen wants me to keep.
It’s not hard to put 2 and 2 together by then.
The empty bottles are going to be used as floats from what I can see. If I can tied enough of those together, they should be able to carry the weight of a 6 year old and help them paddle to safety. It’s a risk getting them into the open water but it beats staying here with the madmen.
Trying to do the sums in my head, I struggled with how much to ration them.
At 1.2 litres per kid per day, that would take up 12 litres. Include Mindy and Choo who probably need 2 litres, that will be 16 in all. I loaded 2 cartons of water into the bus and told Choo to ration the water and biscuits.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of them.” Choo said before lowering his voice. “My..my daughter…”
I shook my head and told him not to say anything.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure she will be ok, I’ll keep an eye out for her.” I said.
“Let her know I’m safe, so she can concentrate on her work.” Choo whispered to me.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Looking at the bus from the inside, I realized the curtains were all drawn. Not only that, the windows were stuck with black trash bags, blocking out the vision from both sides.
In the short time between me winning the challenge and choosing the kids, there’s no way they can prepare the bus in that manner. Inside the bus, the men chose where each of the hostages will be sitting.
They put one kid by each window seat propped up on boxes, raising their height profile.
Anyone can tell they are going to use them as shields against any attempts at rescue. Aung knew the bus had to be prep for transportation from the start.
He just didn’t expect I would win the challenge.
Terry directed for the container truck blocking the exit to move and I watched the bus depart from Sam’s nursery.
“If you try anything here, we will kill everyone on the bus. If they try anything on the bus, we will kill everyone here.” Terry warned with a grin. “either way, we win.”
Not wanting to engage Terry in a conversation, I just looked at the departing bus.
I was led back to the warehouse and I updated the guys that the bus has departed.
Returning to the makeshift prison, I tried to find out more about what happened from Bobby and Conor.
“They came the first time in the morning.” Conor said.” Cut all the phone lines, killed the internet and took our phones.”
“I thought they wanted money and I offered them the safe.” Bobby said. “ But they’re not here for money.”
“You guys resisted ? that’s why you were beaten up?” I asked.
“No..” Conor replied. “ We did not resist, they made us fight.”
According to Bobby and Conor, while waiting for the rest of the crew and the General to arrive, the men were bored. They made Bobby and Conor fight with their men.
“What the fuck…?” I mumbled.
“They’re sick fucks I tell you. Fucking Chee byes.. ( Cunts ) “ Conor spat.
“This is….this is from one fight?” I asked.
Bobby revealed that they treated it like some sort of a game. A combat sport.
“Lethwei, they call it. Or Burmese Boxing.” Bobby added.
It’s considered to be one of the most brutal martial arts in the world, the sport is done bare knuckled with only tape and gauze. Fighters are allowed to strike with their fists, elbows, knees and feet, even headbutts are permitted.
Needless to say, Bobby and Conor did not last long for the men’s amusement.
“how badly are you guys hurt?” I asked.
Bobby told me he is aching all over and his ribs are killing him while Conor showed me 2 fingers of his that are bent way out of shape.
“I think Bobby cracked some ribs, I’m aching too but I should be ok other than the fingers” Conor said.
I settled down beside Bobby and asked him if there’s any way we can get out of there besides charging through the guards.
Bobby lowered his voice to a mere whisper.
“There is a narrow walkway behind the shelf on our back.” He said.
I pretended to stretch and look at the shelves filled with boxes.
Bobby told me it leads to this exit door that opens directly to a dirt path at the back of the warehouse.
“From there, it’s a straight ramp down to the sea.”
The men checked every door in the warehouse when they took over, the door Bobby is referring to has been bolted shut with a padlock from the start so they left it alone.
“They took my bunch of keys for the place, but I have kept a spare.” Bobby told me on the lit up exit sign above the door, a spare key has been place on the lightbox in case of emergency.
I pretended to lie down alongside the shelves to get some rest and took the opportunity to check out the walkway through the tightly packed boxes.
This might work.
We were left alone for the next few hours and everyone is starting to get hungry.
I was allowed to get the biscuits and water from Sam’s office. Alvin and I transported the stuff over a few trips.
“what the fuck is going on Jerry ? What’s this thing about being able to tell the future?” Alvin asked as we loaded up the water onto a trolley
“It’s hard to explain but I was given a newspaper that sort of predicts what will come true and one thing led to another.” I said. “ It sounds incredible and unbelievable but, but everything seemed to be happening.”
I gave Alvin a quick summary and he just looked at me as if I’m mad.
“I don’t expect you to believe me.” I said.
“How is this possible?” he asked.
“It’s not possible, people can’t know the future. But, but here we are.”
“You mean you know there will be a terrorist attack today?”
“I don’t, this is the frustrating thing, I don’t get the full picture of what is going to happen, sometimes I just get bits of it and I have to figure the rest out.” Gesturing to the water and snacks, I told Alvin I only ordered them the day before.
“Let’s just focus on getting out of here alive first.” Alvin said as he loaded the last of the water onto the trolley.
We ate quietly and everyone just waited. I’m not sure what we are waiting for but we just sat around while the guards around us took turns for their breaks.
As night falls, the kids slowly drifted to sleep. I asked to turn off the lights around our area so the children can rest properly. Conor was allowed to head to the switch and soon, a section of the warehouse is plunged into darkness.
However, the powerful lights from other lamps still on is bright enough to make sure all of us could still be seen by the guards.
I started reading the labels on the boxes and I ripped opened a few of them.
Initially the guards shouted at me, demanding to know what I’m doing, but when they say I was just looking for something to cover the kids as the temperature dropped, they left me alone.
While opening the boxes, I made a mental note of the ones that is going to come in useful.
A shipment of curtains and clothing is soon spread out among the hostages. It’s not much but that little bit of comfort does wonders for one’s morale no matter how low it may be dipping to.
It was coming to midnight when Aung came into the warehouse.
“Thanks to you Jerry, I have the police on a wild goose chase.” Aung said.
I could pretty much figure out what he meant even without him elaborating.
An entire class of kids missing from their excursion, surely it will spark off a massive manhunt throughout the country. Worried parents will be slamming at the desk and doors of the police station.
The school bus will be their first target and I guess by now, everyone will be focusing on the bus that is driving around the island, if they can identify it that is.
“You watched the show ‘Speed’ before Jerry?” Aung asked. “ I love that show. It gets my heart pumping, makes me excited. Hahha.”
“It’s too much hassle to rig up a bus that cannot go too fast or too slow. Singapore has a shitload of traffic lights. The bus will probably blow the moment it reach a junction.” Aung took a seat in the chair his men brough and faced all of the prisoners. “just replace the driver with my own men and it’s done.”
“it’s a matter of time before they realise you only have half the kids on that bus.” I said.
“You are right, but I will have accomplished what I want to do by then.”
“And what is that?”
“none of your business. Jerry.” Aung smirked and I saw him steal a glance at his watch. “Bring everyone in here except the guards.”
Within minutes, all of Aung’s men are gathered in the warehouse. This time round, I saw Sulyani and Chan as well. Both of them avoided looking over at me and I too, did my part by looking away.
All of the kids are asleep. They used their bags as makeshift pillows while the curtains I opened up functioned as blankets.
With the 10 kids sleeping in the middle, the rest of us formed a circle around them.
I faced the front, looking directly at Aung while Alvin took up position to my left. Sam got my right, followed by Daphne, Tan, Bobby and Conor.
“I have no intention of sleeping tonight, let’s have some entertainment shall me.” Aung said and his men knew exactly what he meant.
A circle was formed in front of Aung’s chair and several of his soldiers spoke in their native tongue before one man stepped into the middle.
He’s about the same build as me. Removing his top, I could see his ripped muscles.
“what the fuck are they thinking…” Sam mumbled.
As the soldier started to warm up, Aung pointed to our group, asking for one of us to step up into the ring.
“Are you kidding ? We’re not soldiers. We’re civilians!” I retorted.
“I can always choose, if you guys don’t want to make the decision yourself. I might just choose one of the kid hahah.”
Everyone exchanged looks and it became evident I’m the obvious choice.
Conor look like shit with bruises all over his face. His lip is swollen and his left eye could barely open. I’m one of the youngest one in the group, I can’t exactly expect my boss Alvin to go out there can i.
Not that it would affect my annual appraisal or anything.
Tan, although I’m sure he will stab and kill his way out of this is too old to be doing this.
“fuck this.” I got up and Alvin held onto my hand.
“Jerry, don’t.” he said.
“come on, stay standing long enough, and I promise all the kids get a nice hot breakfast in the morning.” Aung said.
I stepped up and walked into the ring surrounded by Aung’s men.
This is going to end badly. I have shit knowledge and experience when it comes to a fight and I’m sure it’s already starting to show in my body language.
Several of Aung’s men laughed as they look at how I stand with both of my fist up in front of me.
The soldier that I will be fighting rotated his arms and did his stretching.
I thought about how Conor is looking and I subconsciously touched my own cheek. I can’t imagine myself looking like that in a few minutes time.
“Hnin, 201 Battalion , 1st company, 1st platoon, rifleman.” The soldier identified himself while taking up a fighting position.
All eyes are on me like they expected some grand introduction on what I can do.
“Jerry, Nparks, Senior Manager, Planning and Development.” I blurted out and from the corner of my eye, I saw Chan and Sulyani’s jaw dropped an inch.
“Survive 3 minutes Jerry, and I consider it a pass. Hahah. Begin!” Aung gave the order and before I could do anything, Hnin feigned a kick before delivering the real one into the center of my chest.
I fell immediately onto my butt after staggering back 3 steps.
Before I had time to check if I was still breathing, I felt a hard blow to the side of my face.
When I opened my eyes, I could hear people laughing and clapping with plenty of ‘boos’ thrown in. The disorientation I was feeling is like I’ve spent the last hour sitting in a spinning tea cup ride at the amusement centre or something.
“Come on… Jerry.. hahha. “ Aung laughed. “I expected more from you.”
I pushed myself off the ground and when I touched my own cheek, I could feel this numbness like I just visited the dentist. I could taste blood inside my mouth too.
How the fuck do people fight like that?
Seeing that I was up on my feet, Hnin came in for another strike with his arms this time. I raised my arms to block his strike but his hit was so hard that it sent me staggering towards the cheering soldiers on the side.
They pushed me back into the fight and Hnin lifted his leg, angling his knees in a downward smite.
His extended limb connected with my chest and I was immediately presented with a view of all the lamps illuminating the warehouse.
At the rate things are going, he might as well have been fighting a 6 year old.
Struggling to breathe, I turned to my side and several of the kids were awaked. They were looking at me in shock.
I mouthed to them that I’m ok and I tried to get back up. It’s just 3 minutes, I should be able to hold out till then.
Hnin charged towards me and just when I thought I’m going to get knocked down again. I saw an arm punch through the fray. It blocked Hnin’s strike, stopping him in his tracks.
Looking up, I saw Sam in the ring.
“Alright. Alright. Hahahaha. A New contender.” Aung and his men cheered.
“Stop embarrassing yourself Jerry” Sam said as he warmed up his body. “stay back.”
“Be careful Sam.”
“I grew up in the streets Jerry. I pai kia ( gangster ), last time I cheong and fight with billiard que one.” Sam gave me a grin.
“Hnin, 201 Battalion , 1st company, 1st platoon, rifleman.” Hinn looked visibly more excited facing Sam than he me.
Sam stood with a relaxed posture and orientated the left of his body to Hnin.
“Sam, CEO, Chief entertainment officer of Sam’s Nusery. I own the fucking nursery you guys are trespassing on.” Sam declared before making the first move on Hnin.”arghhh!”
What followed was a flurry of movements, of hits and kicks. There’s no grace of any kind in Sam’s movement. It was an all-out brawl. With his large frame, Sam is capable of taking a few hits and still strike Hnin.
The two entangled together and in less than a minute, the onlookers stepped in to separate the 2 men. In that short span of time, both men manage to inflict quite a bit of hits on each other’s face.
Hnin kicked and struggled to break loose from his friends holding him, eager to hit Sam again while Sam did the same.
“Fuck you ! You Chao Chee Bye! ( You cunt ) Come on!” Sam shouted.
Aung spoke in his native tongue and Hnin was let go while the others tried to hold Sam down. Sam put up a valiant fight but bulk and size is no match for numbers. Within seconds, he was left cowering on the ground, trying to protect his head from the blows raining on his body from all over.
I dashed in and pushed several men aside and Alvin joined me in breaking up the group.
“enough!” Aung said, looking thoroughly amused.
Alvin and I dragged Sam aside and I looked at Aung who seemed contented reading messages off is phone.
“What is the fucking point of all this!” I shouted at Aung. “ What the fuck do you want with us!”
“watch your language Jerry, there are kids around.” Aung laughed.
Larry, who was manning the comms ran into the warehouse suddenly and there was a grim expression on his face. Aung got up immediately and went over to him. Something must be happening.
They had a short exchange and Aung looked over at everyone in the warehouse.
When he came back, he had his weapon out.
He pointed it at Sulyani and Chan.
“Hey, hey, hey, what the hell?” Chan spat.
“someone sent out an encrypted message 20 minutes ago.”Aung said.
“We helped you move your stuff and get your men into the country!” Chan said angrily while Sulyani held him back.
“General, the only reason Chan and I are still here is because we are waiting for our money! Money that you are withholding” Sulyani said. “As soon as you pay us, we will go.”
“my men will not betray me, you 2 are the only outsiders here. ”Aung said.
“You think we want to be here? The agreement was just to get your men and your stuff in. You are the one keeping us here. We just want the money!” Sulyani raised her voice at Aung, if I didn’t know who she really is, I might really just be convinced that she meant it.
Aung spoke to Larry in his native tongue, and he replied shortly while tapping away on a laptop.
“We will decrypt the message, then we’ll know if you deserve to get paid.” Aung’s men let Sulyani and Chan away, keeping them separated from us.
If Sulyani and Chan did send something out, it could mean help is on the way. Then again, once the message has been decrypted, it could mean certain death for them too.
The crowd of men dispersed, leaving only 2 guards seated a distance away from the prisoners.
12th January 2019
At 1am in the morning, it started to rain. I could hear the rumble of thunder in the warehouse. The sound of rain falling on the metal roof of the warehouse gets amplified in the confined space. I could not bring myself to look at Daphne. It could happen anytime.
The 2 guards chatted with each other and i started to crawl towards each adult in the group, telling them my plan.
Returning back to my spot, I kept an eye on the guards as I slowly wriggled and crawled my way towards the boxes at the back shelves. I’m going to try and unlock the door, paving the route for our escape.
I’ll position myself by the boxes I want to move while the others will distract the guards one after another.
It was then I realized there’s a pair of eyes staring at me.
The youngest girl who offered to stay because she could swim.
“Hey…it’s ok. Everything will be ok.” I said.” Don’t worry ok? Uncle Jerry will fix this.”
“You’re hurt uncle Jerry.” She whispered.
“It’s just some scratches, I’ll be ok.” I pulled her makeshift blanket higher to cover her and asked her to get some rest.
“I can’t sleep. I miss my bed.”
“I miss my bed too.” I said with a smile.
“My Mummy and Daddy will be angry.” She said with a frown.
“I’m sure they’ll understand, we’re all kept here against our will.” I said and I noticed a guard heading our way.
He gave a visual check of the number of people before heading back to his position. He is on his feet, I’m waiting for him to sit down so I can give Daphne the signal to go over and block his line of sight.
“My Mummy will be angry at my Daddy.” She said.
“My Daddy chose the school, I think I am unlucky.” She said.
“don’t say that. Nobody wants this to happen.”
“Mummy is going to scold Daddy for sure.” She quipped just as a loud thunder rumbled the very structure of the warehouse we are in. A couple of kids woke up and started crying.
Daphne helped to pacify them and I saw the guards shot us a look before resuming his chat.
“don’t worry ok, I’m sure help is on the way.” I reassured the little girl, gesturing to the darkened warehouse made worse by the storm outside, I told her there’s no need to be afraid.
“I’m not afraid of the dark, or the thunder.” She replied as smugly as a 5 year old could be.
“I can tell you’re a very brave girl.” I smiled as I cast another look at the guard. He’s pulling his pants and positioning his body in front of the chair, it looks like he’s going to take a seat soon.
The little girl pointed to the soldiers guarding us with a quick jab of her thumb.
“When my Daddy comes, they will be the one who is going to be afraid of the dark.”
I smiled and patted her head, asking her to get some rest.
“What is your name?” I asked.
She took her time adjusting her Peppa pig school bag under her head, making herself comfortable just as the guard took a seat in his chair.
Upon seeing the guard seated, Daphne and I exchanged a look before she got up on her feet.
As Daphne walked towards the guards, I exhaled and got ready to move.
“Good luck Uncle Jerry, my name is Lynette.”
Lynette buried herself under the blanket and turned away from me.
She’s a sweet kid, perhaps too young to understand the gravity of the situation facing us.
With Daphne blocking the guard’s line of sight, I shifted a large box, freeing up enough crawl space for me to go through the shelves. Careful not to hit anything, I quickly adjusted the box back to it’s original spot as I laid flat on my tummy while looking in between the boxes to see if my little stunt has been discovered.
Daphne walked away towards the bathroom and the guards continued talking among themselves. Looking at my watch, I noted the timing in my head.
5 minutes, I told Daphne to give me 5 minutes before she comes back.
I got up and pressed my body against the wall, walking quickly towards the exit door Bobby talked about. I could see the dim white light of the exit sign clearly in the darkened walkway.
Stopping again by the door, I heard another loud crack of thunder. The warehouse rumbled and I could feel my heart rumbling as well.
I saw another flash of lighting before a louder crack of thunder shook the very door panel I was leaning against.
Using the rolling boom of the thunder, I jumped and my hands tried to feel for the key on the top of the exit sign. I felt it on the first jump but I failed to grab it.
Bending my knees in preparation for the next attempt, I waited for the flash of lightning before I leapt up into the loud rumble of a thunder that seemed determined to shake the very structure down to it’s foundation.
This time round, I grabbed the key and I went straight for the padlock. The old heavy lock squeaked loudly when I tried to turn the key, forcing me to wait for another clap of thunder.
When the bolt came loose, I quickly undid the lock and placed it on the floor.
I thought of opening the door to check the situation outside but I stopped myself in time.
Opening the door will giveaway my position right away and the guards will know exactly what we’re trying to do. Howling wind and angry rain isn’t exactly subtle.
I’ll have to get as many kids behind the shelves and ready to escape before opening the door.
There’s still plenty of preparation to be done. Crawling back to the place I entered, I waited for Daphne to be back from the bathroom. Using the cutter I brought from office, I sliced opened the box near the bottom.
Inside the boxes are phone cases and screen protectors. Packed into large bundles, the combined weight makes it hard to move it around. I started pulling them out as quietly as I can, reducing the weight of the box that is going to see quite a bit of movement.
I checked my watch and saw that I have another 2 minutes give and take before Daphne comes back.
Crawling on my belly, I turned to the other direction where the narrow walkway leads. I put the stuff I took out on the floor. Feeling for other boxes and crates that are light enough for me to pull out, I started building a barrier.
It looks more like a child’s pillow fort but if it buys a few extra seconds from the pursuing soldiers, it’s worth the effort.
“There’s no more paper in the toilet.” Daphne said loudly as she walked back in order to give me some advance warning.
Quickly making my way back to the crawl space, I waited for her to block the views of the guards before making my move.
Using that small window of opportunity while she talked to them, I shifted the boxes and crawled back into the group.
I barely had time to adjust the boxes back into place when the guard stood up to cast a quick glance over at us.
My heart was thumping as I held my breath, trying to pretend I was asleep.
Seeing that all was normal, the guard settled back down.
With Daphne back, I gave the signal for the adults to proceed to the next part of our plan.
Pretending to shift our resting position, I got the larger sized adults to come to the front. If we all shifted at the same time, it will look suspicious.
So we did it slowly over 15 minutes.
Sam, Bobby and Conor sat up and hugged their knees at the front of the circle in a staggered position, while Alvin and I turned to our sides and pretended to sleep with our bodies facing the guards.
The lights in our zone have been dimmed while the brighter area is where the guards are. The spill of the light hitting our elevated bodies cast a dark shadow behind, giving Daphne and Tan the cover they need for the next part of our plan.
We have opened several boxes of goods in Bobby’s warehouse. When initially we appeared to be looking for something soft to lie on or to use as blankets, I was in fact looking for stuff we can use.
There is a box of adult pants which came in handy. We undid all of the plastic wrappers earlier when we were trying to set up the sleeping space for the children. Unwrapping anything now will surely draw too much attention.
“Be as soft as you can.” I whispered to Daphne and Tan who is tying up the bottom of the pants in knots.
I’m getting them to make an improvised float. By tying up the leg holes, we can slip in the empty 1.5 litre bottle to where the legs are supposed to go. Tie it up again at the waist, you will have a make shift floatation device that kids are taught to do with their pyjamas during swim class.
Only in this case, we did it with empty plastic bottles instead of blowing into them.
That’s not the only thing we are doing. Using fabrics from the curtains, Daphne and Tan will also be shaping them to mimic a kid sleeping underneath.
That way, we can do a one to one replacement for every child we smuggle through the shelves and into the escape corridor.
It’s impossible to save all 10 at one go, I’ll try to save as many as I can but I know I have to send at least 5 out.
Why 5 ?
Because based on what I can see, Sam, Alvin, Bobby, Conor and I, we can each carry a kid and run if it comes to that. Tan and Daphne will go to the waters with the 5 swimmers. With the floats and 2 adults, they should be able to swim to safety under the cover of darkness.
The waterway is always busy, some passing boats will surely pick them up.
If there are more than 5 kids left in the warehouse after the 1st group made their escape, one of us will have to carry 2 kids and run.
There’s a chance we may get away with pulling 1-2 kid out, but to have too many being substituted by fake profiles whose head cannot even be seen, the guards might realise what we are doing before the escape begins.
It may not be the best plan, but it’s what I can think of under those circumstances.
Once Daphne and Tan has ‘shaped up’ a sleeping child and a sleeping adult, they wake a child up quietly. Daphne, being the only woman, if she were to disappear suddenly, it would be a dead giveaway. She will have to be the last to go once we get the kids ready.
Tan has a smaller build and they have already shaped the fake profile in his size right at the back. He is also the oldest among the adults.
Daphne leaned close to whisper the plan to a kid and I prayed he understand what we are trying to do. I watch the boy rub the sleep from his eyes as he nodded his head.
Half crawling and wriggling, Tan guided the boy to the box where I made my entry to the walkway. I gave him a thumbs up with my hand behind my back as I kept my eye on the guard.
Holding my breath, I heard the soft shuffle of a box being moved.
Moments later, I felt Daphne tap me on my leg, giving me the signal that Tan and the boy made it.
Daphne continued doing what she did earlier.
Making an improvised float together with shaping a sleeping child. We cannot make too many floats at one go, neither can we shape too many fake profiles. It will have to be a one-to-one replacement.
I wished I could help but I need to keep an eye on the guards.
The 2nd child made it across in no time and things are only going to get more difficult from there. There is always a chance the guards might decide to come over for a closer inspection.
Just before we started on the 3rd kid, one of the guards stood up to stretch his body, casting a glance over at us.
Sam, took the opportunity to tear open a bag of crackers loudly, spilling the individually packed biscuits all over his lap.
He opened one up and munched loudly while starring at the guard.
Conor stretched and cursed as his bruised and batter body sent aches and jolts of pain.
Aung’s men looked away and continued talking.
Daphne has got down on her tummy with her legs spread apart, making contact with Alvin and me. I knew instantly what it meant, and I saw Alvin give me a nod.
He understood her intentions too.
Keeping our eyes peeled at the guards, Alvin and I can give Daphne’s feet or calves a quick squeeze to warn her if needed.
The rain hitting the metal roof of the warehouse helped masked out the occasionally snap of plastic from the bottles Daphne is handling.
It took us close to 30 minutes to get the 3rd child across to Tan, partly because 2 of the kids we tried to wake up are fussing too much. One of them is Lynette.
She mumbled and groaned as she turned away, snuggling deeper into her makeshift blanket.
Just when we are about to start on the 4th, one of the guards stood up and I saw him put a cigarette to his lips. He started walking over and I quickly warned Daphne to stop everything she is doing.
All of the adults are wide awake and tensions are high. One wrong move and everything will be gone to waste.
“Eh brother.” Sam called out to the smoker, distracting his attention. “ I also need a smoke.”
“Me too” Bobby said.
“Me three.” Conor added.
“Me four” Alvin chirped in.
There was a deep frown on the guard’s expression as he looked at the 4 prisoners pulling out their crumpled cigarettes from their pockets.
“Come on….just a smoke. I’m dying here man.” Alvin said.
“You want you smoke here!” The guard said.
Alvin gestured to the kids behind him.
“Come on. Not in front of them. And you took our lighters.”
“Fuck off. No smoking for you.” He grunted angrily, annoyed that his smoke break is getting interrupted.
Gesturing to his bored friend to keep an eye on us, the man walked towards the exit of the warehouse to light up.
Sam took out a cigarette and just sniffed it before groaning.
“You look like you are sniffing worn underwear or something.” Bobby commented, taking the opportunity to throw a jab at his neighbour who he has a boundary issue with.
“ahhhhh… how would you know ? Unless you did it before?” Sam countered without losing his cool before giving a sick expression with his tongue slightly out while licking his cigarette.
I could tell Bobby wanted to come back with another insult or jab but he ended up laughing and so did Sam.
And just like that, the animosity between a pair of feuding neighbours is gone.
“Shut up!” The guard said loud enough as he folded his arm and put up his leg.
The banter stopped and as soon as he looked away, Daphne began to move again.
With one guard gone, we took the opportunity to push the 4th kid through.
The next push will be the riskiest.
It involves getting Daphne and one other kid across at the same time.
When the smoking guard came back, he is not alone. He brought along another 2 guys presumably to take over their shift.
Everyone held their breath as the 4 men hung around for a couple of minutes before parting ways.
The new set of guards did not chat at all. They just settled into their seat and looked at us.
One of them played with the ends of his shoelaces while resting his ankle on his other knee, while the other just stared blankly in our direction.
“We need to do something.” Alvin whispered. “Distract their attention or something.”
“This 2 looked a lot more alert compared to the ones before.” Sam mumbled and one of the guard sat upright, staring at our direction as if he noticed us mumbling to each other.
“He’s watching us. Hush…”I whispered.
Suddenly, the guard stood up and started walking over in an aggressive manner.
I braced myself and got ready to hold him back, if need be, I will shout for Tan to leave with the 4 kids he has.
A cry of pain rang out in the warehouse followed by shouts and grunts.
The guard turned around to see the commotion.
A group of men have Chan and Sulyani restrained and are pushing them towards us.
“Oh Fuck off. Get your hands off me!” Chan shouted before getting punched in the face.
Sulyani struggled to break loose but was punched both in her stomach and kidney.
Walking behind them is Larry with a laptop in his hands.
Pulling out a gun, Larry pointed it at us.
“Which of you here understands Malay?”
No one said a word and Larry fired a shot into a pallet of suitcases.
The loud boom echoed within the warehouse and woke all of the sleeping kids. The cries were instantaneous as almost all of them jumped from their sleep.
The children got up and grabbed the closest adult and Lynette clung onto me as she cried from the loud gunshout.
We immediately tried to form a barrier around the kids, both to comfort them and to block out the missing ones.
“You!” Larry pointed the gun at me.” You come here.!”
“I can’t read Malay, I’m Chinese.” I said.
“COME over HERE!”
I stood up and went over, passing Lynette over to Daphne.
I felt the still warm muzzle of the weapon touched my head as Larry showed me the text on the screen.
“I don’t understand Malay dude, you mean I don’t look Chinese to you?” I said only to get a painful jab of the gun nozzle against my temple.
“Read this, what does it say? Just read it.” I looked at the text and cast a look of surprise at Larry.
“What is this? “ I asked.
“The encrypted message that they tried to send out but it was blocked and intercepted.” Larry snapped.” What does it say?”
“It doesn’t mean anything, it’s a song.” I replied.
“This, this message you are showing me. It’s a song.” I insisted.
“Bullshit! Read it! What does it say?”
I looked at my friends staring at me and I read the message off his screen.
“Di mana dia anak kambing saya (where is he, my little goat)” I said the words without singing.
“What does it mean?” Larry asked with his weapon pointing at me. “Someone answer me right now or I will put a bullet through his head”
“The song is about someone asking where is his goat. Come on. You can google this!” I retorted.
“No. this part. It has Chan’s name!. Chan Mali Chan! What does it mean?” Larry started waving his gun in an aggressive manner in my face.
“Chan Mali Chan? i..i have no idea what that means.” I said as I turned to my friends for help.
“you’re lying! What is Chan trying to say?”
“He’s not! We can all sing that song. It’s a folk song!” Alvin shouted.
“Shut Up!” Larry returned that shout with his gun pointing at Alvin.
“Di mana dia anak kambing saya~~” Sam and Bobby started singing.
“Anak Kambing Saya yang makan duan talas~~”
Terry appeared and he too has a gun in his hands.
Larry looked at the adults, all of us chipping in to sing a old folk song from our childhood days.
“What is the message?” Terry asked.
“It’s a song.” Larry replied.
“Bullshit. Why would they send a song? Have you tried searching for it?” Terry said.
Larry said something in English before switching to his native tongue but I could roughly make out what he is trying to say from the beginning of his sentence.
Something about staying offline.
“It’s a song. Which part of it do you not understand.?” Chan shouted at Larry.
“And why did you try to send the song?” Larry spat.
“It’s not me! You just assumed it’s me because my name is in it! Chan is both a surname and a name, it can mean anything.”
“Chan means more than you can possibly imagine.” Terry said.
Larry and Terry exchanged a look before looking at Chan and Sulyani.
Larry and Terry deliberated over themselves before I could see them making up their mind to confirm it. Just a simple search on the internet will clear up the misunderstanding.
“Do it, go online and search it.” Terry said.
“Just do it, better to find out if they are lying to us now.”
Larry meddled with his phone before while Terry helped him hold onto the laptop. Moments later, the folk song we are all familiar with started playing in the warehouse.
‘Di mana dia anak kambing saya~’
‘Anak Kambing Saya yang makan duan talas~~’
The duo checked the laptop a couple of times, no doubt running the search through multiple engines just to be sure.
“Chan mali Chan~”
It felt weird listening to the song playing in the background as the soldiers deliberated their decision.
Terry was the one who spoke first.
“do you think we are stupid?” Terry said. “ Only the 2 of you are free to walk around, and only the 2 of you don’t belong with us. No one but you guys will send something like this! Not our men !”
The shock did not even get registered in me as the report of the gunfire nearly ruptured my eardrums.
The next thing I knew, Chan was flat on the ground with blood spilling out the centre of his chest. Sulyani grabbed onto Chan and applied pressure on his wounds as the noxious fumes of spent gunpowder reached my nose.
The horrific sight petrified everyone in the warehouse and I could feel my heart sink, like someone tied a heavy weight to it and dropped it into the sea.
The kids that saw what happened screamed, Sam, Alvin, Bobby and Conor instinctively shielded the crying kids by lowering themselves in front of them.
Chan’s lips shivered and vibrated like he was in shock. I could literally see the colour drain from his face as blood literally erupted from both the front and back of his gunshot wound.
Sulyani’s fingers were dyed a dark shade of red as she screamed.
“arGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! NO! no..no…no… NO!!!”
Sulyani kept screaming as she tried to put pressure on the wound, but her palms cannot stop the tsunami of blood that keeps spurting out.
There are no last words, no violent convulsions. Life just drained away like someone flicked a switch. I looked at Chan’s eyelid flutter before they closed permanently.
Chan was gone in less than a minute but the blood kept oozing out, spreading in a slow radial pattern around his lifeless body.
“All of you will join him soon!” Terry said just as Aung came into the warehouse.
Sulyani held onto the body of her partner and I didn’t know what to do. I can’t even bring myself to say anything or comfort her.
I’m just at an absolute lost.
Terry updated Aung on the message that was sent out.
“It’s a folk song. We verified it on the internet”
Terry barely finished that sentence when an infuriated Aung gave him a slap.
“You IDOIT! Why did you go online!”
It was at this point Sulyani started laughing.
A slow eerie laugh of a broken soldier hugging her fallen friend.
“You are right…. You are RIGHT.I tried to send that message, but it wouldn’t go through. And you…..You, searching on the internet for that helped me get my message through.” Sulyani taunted.
“stop it!” I tried to stop Sulyani from speaking out of spite but she shoved me away from her. “ You…you…..!”
Sulyani pointed her bloodied hands at Terry.
“You helped me send out my message.”
Terry raised his weapon at Sulyani but was stopped by Aung.
“We have better uses for them now.” Aung said “ Move on to the next phase.”
Aung, visibly upset at the new developments looked at his watch and I looked at mine at the same time.
It’s 2.30am in the morning.
Aung pulled out a walkie talkie and spoke into it.
His calmness returned too quickly after such a major fuck up by his men.
It gives me a feeling that as much as he hated the boo boo, he has planned for it just in case it happens.
In a sign of things getting escalated, 2 more guys came over, carrying a large crate in between them. Another 2 more pushed a trolley each.
More men filled into the warehouse and from within the crate, they brought out rifles and body armor.
While previously I only saw them carrying pistols, this time round, they are bringing out the big guns.
“oh my god.” I muttered as I looked at the soldiers gearing up with rifles, some of which came with attached grenade launcher.
These men came prepared for a fight.
The warehouse, which has been quiet for the most part is now filled with the disturbing click and snap of bolts as the men cleared their weapons and loaded the magazines.
“I really wished it didn’t come to this Jerry, but you people leave us no choice.” Aung said.
“What are you talking about?” I said.
Aung directed his men who have geared up to start their deployment around the site. I watched a section of men ran right out into the rain as they disappeared into the night.
It was at that moment when all the men are busy with their gear, I realized no one is watching us.
I gestured to Daphne who was already positioned by the box to cross over to the walkway. I motioned for her to go.
She grabbed the closet sobbing boy to her and started moving the box on the shelf.
I shifted my position to try and cover Daphne’s exit.
The shuffling of the boxes, her clumsy crawl, I’m surprised no one heard the commotion.
“what the fuck do you want Aung! “ I shouted with my hands behind my back, waving desperately to Daphne and Tan to go.
I’m confident they knew what they have to do. I’ve already told them to move immediately once they have the kids with them but I still can’t help giving them the push to hurry along.
Aung shot me a look before checking his watch again but he did not reply me.
A loud metallic snap of the exit door opening soon reached my ears.
The moment the exit door was opened, the howling wind brought with it the tropical storm that has been raging outside into the warehouse.
Impossible to go unnoticed, Aung and his men immediately realized what is going on as the exit door slammed shut.
Several armed men ran over and a few more ran the detour to get to the walkway at the back of the shelves. It didn’t take long for the 1st soldier to trip over the boxes and stuff I stacked all over the floor and I could hear him cursing as his friend nearly tripped over his body.
The soldiers on our side started pushing and kicking the boxes aside before finding the spot we have been using to make our escape the past few hours.
I charged towards the shelves. Bobby and Conor reacted as well, the 3 of us shoved and pushed goods and boxes that we can move through to the other end.
Kicking, shoving and pushing, we rained what we could on the soldiers attempting to go after Daphne and Tan who made it out but our efforts were futile.
Within seconds, we were literally hammered to the ground by the sheer number of men holding us back.
2 soldiers made it out through the exit door and I prayed Tan and Daphne is already in the water.
I felt a hard smack across my head, and I just collapsed face down as warm blood started rolling down my cheek.
I pulled myself up to see a crying and frantic Lynette coming over to me.
“I’m ok… I’m ok.” I said as I looked anxiously at the door.
“Get the lights!” Terry shouted and within seconds, powerful overhead lamps illuminated the whole warehouse.
Moments later, when I saw the 2 men re-enter the warehouse, totally drenched, they shook their head at the General and I heaved a sigh of relief.
One of them threw a makeshift float at our feet.
“You just murdered your friends Jerry.” Aung said calmly. “In this weather, you made them go out to sea?”
“I rather they take their chance out there, than stay with here with assholes like you.”
The General looked at his watch again.
All his men are fully geared up.
These are not your run of the mill terrorists.
They’re all well-equipped soldiers, following the orders of a mad general.
“get rid of the liability Terry.” Aung said coldly. “save the bullet, we’ll need every one of those later.”
Terry dragged Sulyani away from Chan’s body with his arm around her neck.
He’s choking her.
Sulyani’s feet kicked against the ground as she fought for her life. Her bloodied hands left marks and scratches on Terry’s strong arm but no matter how she struggled, he held on to her, choking the very life from her body.
“STOP!” I shouted and tried to go to her assistance only to be shoved back with the rest of my group.
All of the kids are crying while the adults did what we could to pacify them.
Nothing could describe the anguish and frustration that is filling up inside me. Lynette clung onto me like a koala as I carried her off the floor.
“Please stop. There’s no need to do this. We’ll do what you want…. Let her go!”
Aung gave Terry a look but said nothing. I could see Sulyani’s literally slipping away.
“No… NO please NO!” my pleas fell on deaf ears as Terry tightened his grip.
Sulyani is fighting, I could see her fighting. That determined look in her eyes as she stared defiantly at Aung.
“How would a folksong about goats and lambs help you?” Aung asked as his men helped him with a body armor before handing him a rifle.
Sulyani, bloodied by Chan’s blood on her hands, strangled by Terry, literally spat at Aung and his men like an enraged beast with her last breath.
“Because ….. the lions are coming….. coming to feed on lambs and goats like you!”
I felt a tear roll down the side of my cheek as Sulyani’s eyelids fluttered for a brief second before closing permanently.
Terry kept up his tight hold around Sulyani’s neck as Aung laughed.
“NOooooo!” I felt to my knees as Sulyani’s body fell face first onto the ground like a puppet with it’s strings severed.
“My men and I have hunted many animals before.” Aung said as he slapped a fresh magazine into his weapon while his men loaded more into the pouches on his vest.
Aung pulled the charging handle of his rifle, chambering a round into his weapon before slinging it around his body.
“I have looked at countless wild animals in their eyes before I kill them” Aung said as he looked at his watch again.
An angry clap of thunder preceded by a series of rapid flashes of lightning shook the warehouse, sending vibrations into the walls and roof of the structure.
Looking at Sulyani’s lifeless body with disdain, Aung added;
“I look forward to meeting your lions.”
Everything seemed to go mute on me as I looked at Sulyani faced down on the ground. I could still clearly remember the day we spent together. The meal we had, her smile, the way she laughed.
Flashbacks of the 1st time we met, how I saved her life, how we got to know each other, memories appeared in front of me like someone showing me a series of flash cards while hurrying me to look at it.
I felt sick in the gut as the realization of how fragile life is hit me.
One moment you can be alive and well and the next moment, you are gone.
We live in a sick world.
A world where mad men run amok, creating chaos and tormenting simple folks like us for their agenda.
The sudden jolt of Lynette hugging onto me shook me from my stupor as I got up on my feet.
Amidst screams from the kids and shoving from the soldiers, all of us were dragged out from the holding area we were in for the past day. I turned and looked at Sulyani and Chan’s body. They were just left on the floor as if they were nothing.
Like no value was assigned to the life that was brutally taken away.
Just earlier in the day, Choo was telling me to reassure Sulyani that he will be ok, I didn’t even get to speak with her. I cannot imagine telling Choo what happened to his daughter. I don’t even have the words for it.
There was no time for grief. My thoughts are but a jumbled mess and I knew I was in shock. My breathing grew irregular, one moment I’m breathing rapidly, then I suddenly stopped inhaling until my lungs are screaming for oxygen.
I bit down hard on my teeth, forcing myself to snap out of it.
We were brought to the outside of the warehouse and I could feel Lynette hugging tighter onto me. Sam, Alvin, Bobby, Conor, each carrying a kid joined me as we were made to take the connection to Sam’s nursery.
As we moved, I noticed Aung deploying his men around the site. He sent some of them into the warehouse, a few across the road, another group into another neighboring unit.
It’s like he knew something is going to happen soon as he stole another peek at his watch.
Aung disappeared with Larry by his side into the dark as they walked towards the main road.
Exiting the warehouse and into the torrential storm, I felt my heart sink as I looked at the rain pouring down upon us. It’s such a heavy downpour that I could barely see 10 meters in front of me.
“what are you doing!” Sam shouted. “ Where the fuck are you taking us!”
“ the kids for fuck sake! The kids!” Alvin protested as we were pushed deeper into the rain. “You want the kids to go in the rain!”
None of Aung’s men complained as they stepped out from the shelter of the warehouse. The rain did not bother them, not one bit.
Using the butt of their rifle, the shoved all of us out.
When the cold rain whipped onto my face and body, I felt a shudder running from the back of my neck to my spine.
The muddy ground soaked into my shoes with each step I took.
The exterior lights were switched off for both sites, plunging the area into pitch darkness. There is barely any ambient light left and we were led by a soldier in front holding on to a small torch.
Looking out to the main road, I noticed that the few lamp posts close to Sam’s nursery and Bobby’s warehouse are also out of order.
Aung’s men probably disabled them.
The closest lit street lamp looks like a small speck of candle far away.
Lynette’s fingers clenched around my shirt as I felt her shiver in the cold and rain.
Water entered my eyes and it’s hard to make out anything in front of me as we were shoved from the warehouse towards Sam’s nursery.
I tried to hug and stroke Lynette’s arm to keep her warm but with all our bodies drenched, the comfort that you would have got from skin contact is all but gone.
The temperature dropped more than I expected in the storm.
It was cold, and the prevailing breeze from the sea made it worse. Each step I took felt heavy, weighed down by the rain soaking into my clothing. My clothes and pants stuck to my body and the rain felt like thousands of pin pricks hitting onto bare skin.
We were herded like cattle towards the last few racks of Sam’s plants by the longkang fishing pond.
I could catch a glimpse of the childcare teacher floating face down. She’s still there and I tried not to picture the fishes feeding off her dead skin.
“Stay HERE!” A guard shove Bobby into place before the rest of us were spaced out.
Bobby took the 1st spot, with the boundary wall separating his warehouse and the nursery on his left as he was made to face the water.
Alvin was then shove into place next. This was followed by Sam.
Conor took the next spot before I was made to take up the extreme right position.
All 5 adults, each carrying a child were made to face the sea.
We were barely 15 meters away from the water’s edge and it looked like the tide is coming in.
Angry waves crashed onto the concrete slopes, bringing with it the usual wastes we see along coastlines. I saw an empty water bottle being swept onto the slope and I felt another sickening crunch in my gut.
Across the narrow straits, I could see Malaysia. The dim street lamps and light from buildings are barely visible but you could tell it’s right there.
Looking towards the sea, I thought about what Aung said earlier. That I just sent Daphne and Tan to their deaths along with the kids they are tasked to look after.
The howling wind and the choppy sea looked menacing. We’re not even talking about the hidden under currents. I don’t think the flimsy floats are going to last in waters like that. I can only hope they lasted long enough for some passing boat to help them, or for the group to swim to safety.
I hoped they are ok, they have to be ok.
My lips trembled as I fought back tears that stem from raw unfiltered fear.
If anything happens to the group I sent out to sea, I will be the one responsible for their deaths.
“what are we doing ! What the fuck do you want with us!” Bobby shouted with his head turned to face the front of the nursery.
Looking behind me, I realized the guards that brought us to the edge of the nursery is gone.
I cannot see them anymore. They have retreated back to their positions near the gate.
Looking at the rest of my group spaced out at 3 meters intervals, I finally realized what this is.
We’re going to be executed.
That’s what this is.
All of us lined up in front of a firing squad.
Sam, seeing that no one is around, tried to run but a loud report from a rifle sent all of us onto the ground.
The kids screamed and my eardrums almost ruptured as Lynette shouted by the side of my ears.
Another shot was fired, and I could see the pot of orchid to my left explode into smithereens. Bits of clay, charcoal and ruptured roots laid on the floor by my feet. Another pot of orchid exploded by Sam’s ear and we hugged the ground, covering the kids with our own body.
“Stand UP!” A voice shouted from the dark.
None of us moved and the voice shouted again, defying the howl of the angry wind.
This is madness. They are shooting at us and they expect us to stand up?
A series of 3 shots shattered the wooden planks in front of me, splintering the wet wood and weakening the structure. Barely a second later, the entire row of plants on it fell to the ground.
There was another loud bang and Conor’s scream ruptured the consistent howl of the wind around us.
Conor rolled on the ground in pain to my side.
The bullet went through his left shoulder and split another pot of orchid that is already lying on the ground.
I can’t make out the blood in the dark but the smell.
That strong smell of blood is impossible to miss.
“aRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Conor writhed on the wet muddy ground as the boy he was carrying crawled towards him in shock.
I tried to reach for him but he rolled violently on the ground away from me.
“Conor!, Conor!” I tried to go over to him but a pot of plant right by my head shattered as hot lead punched through the fragile container. I could feel bits of soil splatter onto my face as I crawled back to my position. “Conor stay down, don’t move! Don’t move!”
I alternated my attention between a bleeding Conor and a terrified Lynette on her fours covered with bit of soil and mud as the relentless rain continued pelting down on us.
“STAND UP” Came the shout again from the dark. “STAND UP OR WE WILL SHOOT!”
Still, none of us got up.
Everyone is terrified and I could hear Bobby shouting.
“Stop shooting! There are kids here !” Alvin shouted into the dark as another shot rang out.
Soaking wet and freezing, I looked around the nursery and I saw the large pile of compost.
“arGHHHH, it fucking hurts…arghhhh! Jerry… help me… help me! Arhghhhhh!”
I was trying to think of something when another loud bang brought with it the pungent smell of gunpowder.
Conor’s screams were cut shot like someone hit the mute button on him.
He stopped moving immediately.
“Conor! Conor!” I shouted “ NO!”
Looking into the dark, I can’t see anyone.
“STOP it, Stop IT!” I shouted at the shotting soldiers while trying to stay down. “I want to talk to General Aung!”
Aung and his men are nowhere to be seen and it’s obvious I was being ignored.
The time for talking is long over.
“STAND UP, or we will SHOOT!” The same voice shouted over to us.
Seeing that Conor is no longer responsive, the little boy Conor first came over to me but before I could grab hold of him, he decided to change direction.
The boy started running towards the entrance of the nursery, crying and shouting for his mother as he ran.
“NO stay here!” I shouted and I could feel my fingers grazing the back of his drenched top.
“Mummy…. I want my mummy!… I want…”
There was another shot and I literally see the impact of the hit throw the kid against a table of orchids.
A splatter of blood slapped me in my face before the rain washed it all away.
The lifeless body of the child laid in front of me as I watched the muddy water turn a shade of red as I choked back tears in horror.
Lynette’s hands pressed against her own ears as she looked at her dead classmate. Crawling over to her, I tried heading towards the compost pile only to see the pot of orchids shatter beside me. The porcelain pot exploded, throwing charcoal bits about as gunfire tore through.
I could hear the cracks of speeding rounds breaking the sound barrier near my head. The rounds are flying by close.
The flower pots around us started exploding as Aung’s men shot up the surroundings. We were all reduced to our knees as we cowered close to the muddy ground.
Lynette was sobbing away as I covered her body with mine.
“It’s ok, it’s ok. Everything will be ok.” I lied.
“what the fuck do you want!” Bobby shouted in despair.
“STAND UP!” Came the reply.
“FUCK YOU!” Bobby shouted
They could have shot us where we were but they wanted us up.
I turned and looked at the dark sea and I tried to make sense of what is going on.
They shot Conor when he was on the ground, it meant they had a clear line of sight to where we are all huddled up. Yet they are aiming for the flower pots and forcing us to get up.
They’re not executing us. They’re going to use us shields for whatever is coming.
“STAND UP, or we will SHOOT!”
“FUCK YOU…. FUCK ALL OF YOU! ARGHHHHH!” Bobby grabbed a pot of plants and threw it into the dark.
His valiant effort yielded nothing except spilled soil and a soon to be dead basil plant.
I heard some shouting as Aung’s soldier begin to advance on us.
They’re coming, they’re going to force us to get up.
Within seconds, I saw the approaching men with their rifles raised.
I felt anger and the rise of raw animalistic rage rising inside me. At that moment, I am no longer a sane adult capable of making rational decisions.
The unjust I was feeling was kept suppressed by how tightly Lynette is holding onto me. That overwhelming rage made me reach for the cutter I kept in my socks.
I looked down at the approaching muzzle of the rifle and in that instance, the fear I had been feeling throughout the whole ordeal is gone. The fight or flight response has taken over by then. The acute stress triggered the sudden release of hormones, setting off a chain reaction of increased heartrate, blood pressure and intensified breathing.
I will not allow them to do this to us.
I will not allow them to treat us in that manner.
“Get behind me Lynette.” I said and she reacted immediately, far more cooperative than I expected for a 5 year old.
My thumb slid the cutter out and I put Lynette behind me.
In split second that everything went down, my eyes locked with that of the approaching soldier.
Bringing my hand up, he saw the cutter I have, and he raised his weapon at the same time.
I can see from his eyes that he is going to pull the trigger, and I have no doubt he saw the same murderous look in mine, one that is determined to slide open his throat.
Grabbing onto the muzzle of his weapon, I angle it up and felt it go off several times. The heat from the barrel seared the very skin of my palm as I jabbed the cutter towards his throat.
He backed off in time and kicked me back.
I saw him try to take aim again at me but I watched his head disappear before my very eyes into a mess of blood and bone.
As the soldier collapsed onto his knees, an angry boom echoed from behind me.
I heard another loud boom, a low roar that eclipsed the very thunder in the storm. That roar did not come from the rapid expansion of air surrounding the path of a lightning bolt. It came from that of a high powered round leaving the chamber of a rifle.
A loud crack snapped by my right as the super sonic bullet broke the sound barrier, slamming into it’s intended target to my front.
There was a moment of confusion, and I heard a loud announcement from the sea behind me.
It was short and curt order and I dove to the floor, grabbing Lynette as I sought cover behind the compost mound.
Aung’s men recovered and regrouped in no time, within seconds of hearing that warning, they opened fire towards the sea.
“arGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Bobby shouted as I curled up into a tight ball while hugging a crying Lynette as lead flew over our head.
Tracer rounds from both sides streak across the industrial site.
The crack and muzzle flashes lit up the entire area for close to 30 seconds. It felt a lot longer especially with the ringing in my ears.
The intensity of the firing dropped a notch as half of Aung’s men reloaded while the others kept up with short burst of firing into the sea. The storm got heavier, as if it too were upset by what it witness that night.
I sucked in a mouthful of water and air when I saw the blaze of gunfire cut into Sam’s nursery like a laser. Tracer rounds ripped into plants that were still standing, it cut and sliced a path through the nursery like a jedi waving his light Sabre.
The carnage from that 5 second burst silenced all the sporadic firing earlier.
A flash of lightning lit up Sam’s nursery and I saw a several of Aung’s men cut cleanly into 2 or more pieces.
I covered Lynette’s eyes and told her to look away.
I could hear Aung’s men regrouping as the shouted in their native tongue to each other.
Moments later, they started shooting at us again.
There is another flash of lightning and I saw Bobby running with the kid in his hand.
“Bobby get down!” I shouted but it was too late.
I saw the spurts and spray of blood mixing into the rain before I registered the series of rounds fired at him.
Both Bobby and the child stopped moving immediately.
“arGHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I shouted in anguish as I cursed angrily into the night.
“JERRY You fucking stay down you hear me!” Alvin shouted in my direction. “ Don’t you fucking get up!”
“Are you ok Alvin?”
“Yes I am, stay down!”
“I will, you too! SAM…SAM where are you….?” I shouted.
“I’m here…. I’m here…. I’m on the ground…. I’m on the ground!” he replied breathlessly.
Gunfire erupted all around us again as Aung’s men shot both at us and towards the sea.
Several rounds lodged into the compost pile, chipping away at the small mound of rotting plant material. It was then I realized the compost pile is not just a mound of soil and fertilizers.
There’s something inside. My hand reached for it and I touched concrete. Brushing away the outer layer, I realized there is a solid concrete wall in front of me.
Sam by then had crawled over to my side with the boy he was shielding.
It turned out that Sam had built the concrete mound to put the rotting materials, however, as more and more gets added to the pile, it covered the entire structure with the bottom layer getting compacted, making it the perfect cover.
Sam looked at the concrete I exposed and commented.
“Well, they say composting saves money and landfill space, never figured they’ll save our lives too.”
“I can’t believe you are joking right now.”
“I’m not” Sam replied as he dug into the compost pile and pulled out a rusty shovel. “I knew it was in here somewhere.”
With bullets flying overhead, there is nothing we can do but stay under cover.
“How the fuck can this happen in the country? This is crazy.” Sam cursed as he removed a broken handle off the shovel.
“And we’ll need men crazy enough to get us out of this.” I replied.
A series of angry flashes streaked across the red skies followed by thunder so near that it shook the very ground we were on.
Sam gestured towards the water with an upward nod of his chin.
“Do those count?”
I turned towards the sea and the latest crash of waves brought with it men appearing out of the water like the dead rising from the graves. The flash of lightning revealed a glimpse of their night vision goggles.
In groups of 5 they rose.
They rose like a necromancer has cast a spell summoning them from the depths of the sea.
The curtain of rain lit up with muzzle flashes as the divers, dark as the soul of the devil rose from the water.
Just like the rain did not bother Aung’s men, the hail of gun fire did not bother the ones rising from the sea.
They fired their weapon and advanced, unyielding in the face of adversity.
Their rifles recoiled with purpose, and the muzzle flashes never stopped.
As swiftly as they emerged onto dry land, they disappeared again into the dark, fanning out in different direction. The only tell tale sign they are still there are the muzzle flash from their weapon.
One man stood out from the rest as he advanced faster than the others with total disregard for his life.
He ran straight towards us and the rounds splintering the still standing plant racks told us he did not go unnoticed.
The man slid on one knee, raising his MP5 submachine gun at the same time.
The 9mm rounds bore through planks and flowerpots, finding their target in the torso of one of Aung’s men whom we did not even realized was that close to us.
The man took 2 steps forward and ejected the magazine of his weapon, before he could reload, he dropped the weapon and in one swift motion, pulled out his pistol and continued advancing.
By then, he was barely 5 meters away from us. He never stopped, there was no hesitation as he squeezed off his weapon.
With each round he fired, he came closer and closer.
He came close enough for spent shells to fall onto my body.
Dropping his pistol, he charged straight for the dark while pulling out his knife from his sheath.
“arGHHHH!” The man with his face painted in streaks of black drove his knife upwards the same time one of Aung’s men lunged at him.
When the 2 bodies landed in between Sam and I, both of us had a shock.
“what the fuck!” Sam exclaimed as the soldier told us to turn the kids away.
Lynette already has her hands over her ears with her eyes pressed shut, I placed my hands around her ears, and while I could shield her from the horror that is happening beside me, I could not block my ears from hearing what is happening.
Turning around, I saw Aung’s man on the ground holding onto the blade of the large knife which is already an inch deep into his stomach.
Aung’s men tried to stop the knife from going deeper but the soldier on top of him hammered the back of the knife handle, driving it deeper and deeper. With each fist, I watched the metal slowly disappear into the body
The rain could not mask the sound of agony from Aung’s man as the blade impaled into his body.
The soldier twisted the knife before pulling it out, the gaping wound erupted with blood and bile for a couple of seconds, turning the compost site into a muddy shade of red.
The gun fight around us never stopped.
Bullets are still flying around us. The soldier reloaded his weapon and kept it raised for a good 5 seconds before lowering it.
Another flash of lightning revealed more men rising out of the water.
It was then I saw the giant of a man carrying a shield coming towards us.
“Lynette… Lynette!” The soldier that killed several of Aung’s men pulled me back to reveal the girl I was protecting.
He knows her. It’s like he came specially for her.
Several soldiers came over to us and the shields they carried were barely in place when I could clearly hear the rounds hitting and ricocheting off them.
The soldier removed his goggles and reached for the shivering girl.
With his face painted in streaks and the dark, Lynette took a while to respond as she could not recognize him.
When she finally did, she cried harder than before as she opened up her hands to the soldier.
“Uncle James…” she cried as she held onto him, seeking comfort in his hug.
The soldier immediately checked Lynette, making sure she is ok, he brushed her messy hair from her face and beneath the war paint on his face, I could see the unmistakable sigh of relief.
He is however not her father.
Lynette called her uncle.
James spoke onto his throat mic, delivering the piece of news whoever is on the other end is waiting for.
“I have her. Lynette. I have her…” He said as he held tightly onto the little girl
Someone handed James a pair of noise cancelling headphones and he reassured her everything will be ok.
“It’s ok, it’ll all be over soon ok?”
Lynette nodded as James helped her put on her headphones.
“Boon!” James called out to his friend and the giant of a man whistled, sending a shrill across the battlefield.
A green flare was fired on shore and was immediately met with 3 more fired from the sea. The flare lit up the battlefield and if not for the situation we were in, it would have been a beautiful sight to take in.
The glowing light descending onto the ground like visitors from outer space attempting to land.
Everything happened so fast. A couple of assault boats punched up the slope from the sea as we were all made to get up on our feet. I could see all 3 remaining kids being bundled up.
We hid behind the shields as the soldiers brought up our rear.
Whenever someone fired at us, it would immediately be replied by a overpowering hail of bullets. Eventually the firing stopped.
“Alvin!… Alvin… where are you? “ I called out and I realized he is nowhere to be seen.
I told the soldiers there is one more.
“we have no time, we need to go now. We’ll find him later”
The soldier tried to drag me into the boat but I pushed him away.
“Jerry, get back here ! “ Sam shouted at me.
“I have to get Alvin!”
“Uncle Jerry!” Lynette shouted at me from the boat and I gave her a smile.
“Stay safe Lynette.” I called out as I ran back towards the nursery.
The engine of the boats fired up and within seconds, they pulled away from the shore.
The gun fight intensified on the warehouse side as the remaining soldiers pressed on with their attack.
The action had all but died down in Sam’s nursery.
I kept my body low as I called out for Alvin. Stepping over body parts and dead soldiers, I kept calling for my boss.
“Alvin…. Alvin where the fuck are you!”
I tripped over something and fell, my hand plunging into the gapping wound of a opened rib.
It’s contents are nowhere to be seen.
“Alvin!” I called out again but there was no reply.
As I got close to the entrance of the nursery, I realized Aung’s men had made some fortification to the site.
They had set up sandbags and barriers, they were firing behind them.
I stepped over spent shells and dead bodies.
Body parts, fingers, bits of scalp and hair were strewn all over sandbags and flower pot. I even saw a finger sitting nicely in a pitcher plant who miraculously survived the Armageddon.
I got closer to Sam’s container office and I made my way over to it.
A sudden picked up in gun fire over at Bobby’s warehouse made me stopped moving as I pressed my back against the used shipping container.
When it died down a notch, I scurried over to the door and opened it.
“Alvin…Alvin are you in here…?” I called out.
I was about to venture in when I heard a shout behind me.
The air in my lungs were knocked out as Terry charged into me, driving me into Sam’s work desk.
I fell backwards, toppling over the monitor.
The lights may be off but the small lamp from Sam’s fengshui fountain is more than enough to illuminate the interior of the small office.
Terry pulled his gun on me and squeezed the trigger.
My heart skipped a beat but I heard a click and no round came out. It jammed.
I threw a tray of documents at Terry, knocking the weapon out of his hand.
I got up to see an enraged Terry pulling out a knife.
“I’m going to dig your heart out. ARghhh!”
Terry came at me and I ripped Sam’s keyboard from his desk.
Slamming the keyboard towards Terry, I dislodged several keys but I effectively blocked his stab.
“arGHHHH!” Terry tried to stab me again and if not for the toppled chair by his feet, he would have succeeded.
I used the opportunity to smash the keyboard into his face in a series of 3 strikes.
Terry kicked away the toppled chair and I grabbed onto an ornamental glass ball, hurling it into his face. It connected with his nose and I heard a sickening crunch.
Grabbing what I could find, I threw it all at Terry who had one hand on his bleeding nose while the other waving the knife in a menacing manner towards me.
Terry’s knife slashed across my chest without me realizing it until I felt the sore of the cut. It’s not deep but it opened up my shirt and drew blood.
Grabbing a ream of paper, I blocked his subsequent stabs and found the opportunity to slam the ream into his face. While he is disorientated, I smashed his nose again, smearing the ream of paper with his blood.
“arGHHHHH! Fuck you!” He shouted and kicked me backwards.
I landed on Sam’s glass coffee table hard. I barely rolled off when the pointed edge of Terry’s knife jammed straight into the tempered glass, sending a splinter of spider web like cracks across the surface.
I wanted to kick Terry in the nuts but I missed, just as well because my foot landed on his forearm, sending the knife he was holding into a corner of the dark office.
Terry jumped and mounted me, I lost balance and fell back first onto a waste paper basket. I dodged the first punch and I got a hit onto his nose again, rearranging his already ruptured cartilage.
The next thing I knew, Terry was raining blows on me and I covered my head with my arms.
“aeGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Terry shouted as he kept raining blows on me.
Drawing back my legs, I used my knee to push him back, when I have enough leverage, I used the other feet and kicked him on his chest, sending him back onto the damaged coffee table.
Terry landed hard, dislodging the glass from the frame before sinking down the middle. The weakened glass shattered into a thousand small pieces.
Every muscle in my body is aching and I reached for the closest thing I could grab. It’s a laptop.
Swinging the laptop into Terry’s face as he got up, I sent him back down into the hollowed-out frame of the table.
Panting and searching for something else I can use, I saw Terry crawling towards his knife.
I saw a DVD on the floor. I grabbed it and folded it against the ground, the DVD cracked and shattered into several large pieces, each with edges as sharp as a broken glass.
Terry’s hand found the grip of the knife but as he turned around, I drove the piece of DVD into his left eye.
Blood squirted into my mouth as I disarmed the knife from his hand.
“ArGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Terry screamed as he held onto his eye with the piece of plastic sticking out.
I grabbed Sam’s fengshui fountain and lifted it. It’s got to be at least 40kg by my estimate.
“arGHHHHH… FUCK YOU!” I shouted as I threw the fountain at Terry’s head.
The stone landed on point and Terry stopped moving after that.
I panted and sank to the ground.
What have I done?
Crawling on my hands and knees, I left the container office and continued my search for Alvin.
I went from body to body but there was no sign of him.
“Alvin….Alvin!” I shouted, too tired to worry if anyone heard me.
The rain got lighter suddenly, it’s like someone turning off the tap. The heavy downpour turned to a heavy drizzle.
The lights around the nursery and warehouse came back on and it was then I realized how many bodies there were on the floor.
I tried to look for Aung or someone else I recognized but most of the faces were so badly disfigured.
“Show me your hands! Show me your hands or we will shoot!”
I saw several laser dots on my body and I immediately raised my hands and identified myself.
“Alvin, my…my colleague….Alvin is missing…”
I was searched thoroughly and after the soldiers verified my identity, they brought me to a corner and gave me some water.
The rain has stopped by then and I realized I was hyperventilating with the bottle of water in my hand. More men arrived, by the road this time instead of the sea.
I watched in horror as the soldiers brought body bags after body bags over, laying them by my side.
The smaller ones held the kids. The bigger ones for the adults.
With trembling fingers, I opened the bags one after another.
I saw Chan, I saw Sulyani.
I saw Bobby, and I saw Conor.
I saw Alvin, and there’s more.
My heart shattered and I felt all of my lifeforce being drained from my soul when I opened another to see the pale lifeless face of Daphne.
My head connected with the ground as I screamed into the soil.
Why is this happening?
I was supposed to save them, I ended up killing them.
The next thing I knew, I was being forcibly strapped onto a trolley by paramedics.
“Let me go ! Let me go right now!” I struggled as several paramedics tried to calm me down. I was crying and shouting like a kid throwing a tantrum.
“tell me how many…. Please… please… tell me how many… how many of the kids drowned…. Please!” I struggled so hard that I might as well be a zombie trying to come back to life on the gurney.
Someone stabbed me with something in my leg while another tried to insert an IV into my vein.
“I can’t find his vein, he’s too dehydrated.” He said while another of his friend asked to try.
“please… please tell me… please tell me!”
Looking at the ceiling of the ambulance, I suddenly felt weak and sleepy. My breathing slowed and I had a feeling like I was getting drunk in a pub.
I could see the flashing lights and the sirens seemed to get softer in the distance.
I don’t want to close my eyes.
Not like this.
Not like this.
It’s a lie. Suwen and Xiumei told me I could save them.
I was suppose to save as many as I could.
Why did they die?
I felt my exhausted lungs exhaled and my eyelids got too heavy to keep opened.
And then everything went dark.
I opened my eyes to a brightly lit room.
The smell of disinfectant is strong and overpowering.
I wriggled my toes and tried to move my body. I don’t think I was hurt badly but I could feel the bruises all over.
My left hand is all wrapped up and I could feel the sting from the muzzle burn. I could see bandages on parts of my body where I didn’t even know I was hurt at.
Vision is a bit blur but after looking out the window for a while, it cleared up properly.
The window overlooked at dull and grey building with glass façade. I can hear the occasional car pass by the road below but it’s pretty much a peaceful spot.
I felt for the call button and clicked it. A nurse entered the ward and asked me how am I feeling.
“Hi Mr Jerry, how are you feeling?” She said while checking my temperature and blood pressure.
“I’m fine. The kids. Are the kids ok? My friends. Are my friends here?” I asked but the nurse said she could not answer any of my questions.
“I was told to inform the officers once you are awake. They can answer your questions. Are you hungry ? Can I get you some food?”
I could feel the rumble in my stomach but even then, I had no appetite.
Seeing that I could not answer her, she offered to bring me some soup.
I looked around the side tables for my belongings and I realized that my clothes, phone, wallet, everything is missing.
A doctor came into the room to give me the once over before telling me that someone will come and talk to me shortly. Other than that, he has nothing more he could tell me.
“My parents, I need to let them know I’m here.” I said.
“Don’t worry about that, the officers in charge will take care of it. Just rest.” The doctor said.
I switched on the TV and looked at the latest news. Changing from channel to channel, I realized there are no mention of what just happened.
Aside from an industrial fire resulting from lightning strike due to the heavy storm, there are no mentions of the chaos and terror that happened. Even the exact location of the fire is not mentioned, the news just reported it to be up north before switching to news about the increase in rental for the Chinese New year Bazar in Chinatown.
“fuck this.” I muttered under my breath and tried to stand up.
An attendant came in with my soup and placed it on the table.
“Thank you.” I said but did not get a reply.
The attendant walked out quickly and I noticed she is armed with a pistol around his waist.
I pulled the drip from my hand and tried to balance on my feet. Looking at the soup, I decided to drink it. I needed the energy.
I need to get some answers.
Walking to the door, I opened it a crack to peer out into the corridor, I was expecting to see a typically hospital corridor with staff and other patients about, instead, I was greeted by a long concrete corridor.
I pulled the door wide opened and stepped out. Before I could figure out where I was, I felt something on my thigh as if a kid just punched me with his small fist.
Looking down, I saw a dart with red furry feathers sticking out of my thigh.
“What the fuu..” I felt someone grab onto me and while I was conscious during the drag back to bed, I could not open my eyes.
I could not speak either.
My body did not feel like my own as I was tucked back into bed.
The next time I wake up, my left wrist was being handcuffed to the side rail. The room is pitch dark, not a sliver of light came in through the window.
Feeling for the call button again, I tried to call for someone.
“Hi Jerry” A voice rang out from a dark corner of the room, startling me and making me jump.
“Who are you!” I said while looking towards the direction of the voice. “Where am i?”
The man did not answer me, and I could not make out his figure at all as he remained in the shadows.
“You are in a safe place.” He said.
“Are you the officer in charge of this case?” I asked. “ The kids….are the kids ok? My friends….where are they?…the children from the school excursion, are the ok ? tell me! Are they ok!”
“Some are fine.” He replied, letting his answer sink in. “thanks to you.”
“How many…” I asked. “How many died?”
I could feel there is some hesitation on his end initially, but he still gave it to me straight without mincing his words.
“2 drowned, 6 killed…we lost 8 of them in all”
“Jesus…”I mumbled without realizing, “The bus…the people on the bus…what happened to them?”
“The 2 adults on the bus died trying to protect the kids.”
Looking up at the dark ceiling, I tried to hold back my tears.
“Why…why is this happening?” I asked, a question that received no reply.
I heard the creak of the door opening and I jumped, my body tensed up and I was immediately on edge.
From the shadows, I could make out the figure of a child.
“Lynette? Is that you ? Are you ok?” I asked.
Behind Lynette, there is another figure, I could roughly make out the shape of a woman.
Lynette approached me and seeing her alive and well helped sooth the still raw wounds of knowing how many kids had died.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry I could not save all your friends.” My voice broke as I spoke with trembling lips. “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you, Uncle Jerry, Thank you… for keeping me safe.” She said while pressing a small, braided keychain into my hand. “I have to go now.”
“Where are you going? Where are they taking you?” I asked.
“I’ll be safe don’t worry.” She said with a maturity I expect only from adults.
Gripping the braided keychain with her name on it in my right fist, I watched Lynette take the hands of the two shadowy figure before disappearing behind the door.
She must be someone important.
It suddenly dawned on me that I’ll probably never see her again.
I felt asleep with the keychain in my hand.
When my eyes opened again, I realized I was in a different ward.
Sam is lying on the bed beside me staring at the TV.
There’s a tray of half-eaten food in front of him.
We exchanged looks but said nothing. We simply don’t know what to say.
He gave me a nod to indicate he is fine and I returned one.
Two officers from the Ministry of Home Affairs came into the ward shortly and introduced themselves.
“I am Fizal and this is my colleague Randy.”
They informed us that they will assist us in our transition back to our regular lives. The damages to Sam’s nursery will be taken care off and he will be compensated for the loss of his plants and equipment.
“A cash payment of…” Rizal paused before showing that document only to Sam, “This amount will be disbursed to your company account, in return we hope you can cooperate by not disseminating information that will cause alarm.”
“what is this…” Sam asked. “ you…you’re giving me money? Don’t you want to know what happened? Shouldn’t you be asking me what happened? Shouldn’t you be taking ym statement or something?”
“We know what happened Sam, right now, we just want to contain the situation, so we do not cause widespread panic.” Fizal said calmly.
Giving Sam time to digest what was just said, the officers turned towards me.
“Jerry, you are an employee of a statutory board. As a public servant, you are expected to uphold the confidentiality of this matter.” Fizal said. “I am sorry for the loss of your colleague, Alvin.”
He paused and referred to the file he is holding before adding that I will be taking over Alvin’s role in the office.
“Human resource will be in touch with you on the details. Do either of you have any questions?” He asked.
I stared at the two man in disbelief.
“You are also not allowed to contact any of the victims or family…” Fizal added but was interrupted by me.
“Alvin is both my boss and my friend you dick.”
Fizal stopped reading off his file and exhaled slowly.
“Alvin, Sam and you, the 3 of your work together, there will be an exception for your guys. As far as the story goes, it is a routine meeting to resolve a boundary issue in the industrial park. There was an accident, resulting in Alvin’s death and your injuries.”
“His family deserves to know!” I jabbed an angry finger at Fizal. “ They deserve to know!”
Sam too looked like he was on the verge of snapping at them.
“His wife and kids deserve to know he died not because of an accident at work. He was trying to protect the kids. Don’t you dare take that away from them!”
“Alvin’s family, will be separately briefed by my colleagues, so will the rest of the victims.” Fizal said. “It’s a difficult time and everyone needs space to grief. I hope you understand.”
We are allowed to attend Alvin’s wake, but not the others.
“Sulyani is my friend, Her father Choo, is also my friend. Bobby and Conor, they are all my friends. I saved Sulyani and Chan from a car accident.” I tried to explain calmly but I could tell I was on the verge of snapping.
“Sulyani and Chan died as officers in the course of action. They will be honored in the manner for all officers that passed on in active duty. I know Sulyani on a personal capacity as well Jerry, she was my junior in school”
An uncomfortable silence blanketed the ward and Randy spoke next.
“Chan is both my course mate, my friend…and..” Randy paused for a second for revealing that he is also going to be his brother in law.
“why…why are they at the warehouse?” I asked. “They’re working undercover ?”
“Without going into specifics, we have been monitoring General Aung’s movement for a while. We caught 2 individuals, a male and a female who have been helping Aung in his logistics using a shell company.” Fizal explained.
While communications have been done online or over the phone by single use sim cards, Aung’s suddenly appearance on the island caught everyone off guard.
“At the same time, there are evidence to suggest some of our own, have aligned themselves with General Aung. So command decides to send Chan and Sulyani to meet Aung instead of senior officers.”
It was supposed to be a simple meet up and introduction where they leave after collecting money. However, Aung forced them to join him.
“Aung’s movements and actions are unpredictable, they fall outside of convention.” Fizal added and I mumbled something under my breath.
“Like he knew what was going to happen.”
Fizal and Randy looked at me without saying anything for a while before replying.
“Yes. Like he knew what would happen.”
“Where is he now?” I asked.
“He vanished with one other. He has other help in this country. We’ll find him.”
Fizal handed each of us a card, asking us to call the number if we require help in counseling or transition back to our normal lives.
Sam picked up the card and waved it at them.
“What the fuck..” Sam cursed.“ Just like this?”
“Please calm down Sam.” Randy said. “ We know you are under a lot of stress from what happened. But we need you to understand it is imperative for us to try and contain this situation.”
“Im Pee Gi Lan ah ( Imperative my foot ), these…these soldiers from another country, they came and start shooting at us….and you expect us to keep quiet?” Sam’s voice gets louder with each word.
“As per our national security act, we require you both to sign a strict confidentiality document and not discuss what happened with anyone.”
The tension in the room went up a notch with Sam and I starring at the two officers.
They are essentially telling us to cover up the whole thing.
“People…and kids…died…” Sam was literally growling by then. “Friends….of ours….died…”
I don’t envy Fizal and Randy’s job one bit. It’s not their fault this tragedy happened.
It’s not their fault that people died, yet they are the one bearing the brunt of our wrath right now.
“I will not pretend I understand what you guys are going through mentally and emotionally as victims of this tragedy, but I hope you understand that we are just doing our job.” Fizal said as he put a document in front of both Sam and i.
“If it’s any consolation, I want you guys to know that this doesn’t stop with you signing the document. It doesn’t. “ Fizal said softly.
“We’re going to find them.” He mumbled under his breath as he produced a pen from his pocket. “We’re going to hunt them.”
Placing the pen on the document in front of me, he continued;
“We’re going to find every single one of them responsible.” Fizal said while he looked at me in my eye. “And we will deal with them, in our own way.”
“Will they be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law?” Sam asked. “They need to be locked up, trialed as murderers and hanged!”
“No they will not.” Fizal said to Sam’s surprise.
I picked up the pen and signed the document, knowing full well that there is nothing more I can do, not while I’m in the hospital. The answers I seek do not lie with Fizal or Randy.
I will have to get my answers from another source.
Fizal handed the pen to Sam.
“The men who murdered our people, the ones who shoot our kids. They will not see the inside of a courthouse Sam, nor will they see the insides of a coffin for they deserved none.”
“You make them pay….Please… you make them pay…” Sam said as he broke down after holding it all in for so long. “you make them pay..”
It felt weird seeing a big grown man like Sam cry.
He always strikes me like the jovial, happy go lucky kind of guy and to see him bury his face in his hands like this felt strange.
“The poor kid…he died in front of me…” Sam sobbed. “One moment he was running and the next he’s just… he’s just gone.”
Randy gave Sam’s shoulder a squeeze as he signed the document.
Stopping by the door, Fizal and Randy turned and looked at the both of us.
“This is not the end gentlemen, I give you my word. We will not stop until we are done hunting all of them”
Shortly after our meals were served, the visitors started to flow in.
Sam’s wife and kids came and the first thing he did was to hug them close.
He was shot during the evacuation, but the bullet only grazed through the side of his rib. In fact, he can be discharged that very day.
I heard his wife asking him if he is ok and Sam just nodded. He was not his usual jovial self, the shock and gravity of what happened is starting to sink in.
My parents arrived shortly, utterly shocked to see me hospitalized.
“We were told you were in an industrial accident. We were so worried.” My mum said. “Why did you transfer money to us out of the blue!”
“I’m ok ma…”
I requested to be discharged and by dinner time, I was back in my place opposite botanic garden. My parents wanted to stay over and keep me company, but I insist they head back home and rest.
“Let me be alone for a while, I have a lot on my mind.” I said.
I sat in the living room with a drink in my hand while staring out my balcony. Something made me get up from my seat. I got changed and walked into botanic garden.
Taking the same path where I first saw Hock Chuan, I slowed down my pace when I saw a newspaper stand being set up a distance away.
Yes, a newspaper stand.
I stopped walking altogether and just looked at the makeshift stand with an umbrella as a shelter. The bright yellow umbrella bore the ads of an abalone company while beneath it, sat two woman.
Both of them had shawls wrapped around their shoulders and from where I stood, I could see the smoke from their hot drink rising up into the night sky.
Taking a few step forward, I realized they are not alone.
Arturo stood in the shadows under a tree, away from the light cones of the streetlamps illuminating the park.
I arrived at the newspaper stand and pulled out the spare plastic chair under the table. It’s like they knew I’m coming.
Taking a seat, I noticed that aside from magazines, there is a copy of paper folded into two.
Just one copy.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before exhaling slowly.
Raising my voice will not accomplish anything even though that is what I really wanted to do. I wanted to shout and scream at the two women in front of me so badly and it took everything I had to suppress my emotions.
“Why…” I asked. “ Why did they have to die?”
I looked up at Suwen and Xiumei.
“Everyone dies Jerry…you…me….every one.” Suwen answered.
“Sulyani…she..you….you told me….you told me…” I could feel my voice cracking.” You told me I delayed it…that I caught her pen…”
“You did delay it Jerry… you did. If not, she would have died in the car accident.”
“You told me it’s going to be a long time before…before…”
“Long is subjective Jerry.” Suwen said. “ an additional day might mean the world to a cancer patient…. compare that to asking a kid to wait an additional day to open his present… one wished the day will never end, while the other could not wait for the sun to set.”
“You…you told me…my friends…. Will help me…they will help me…” I said with trembling lips. “ How….how will their death help me accomplish anything…? We accomplished nothing!”
“Your friends helped you save many of the children from a slaughter.You saved a lot of people Jerry.”
“I KILLED a lot of people!” I raised my voice in the quiet park.” I sent them to their deaths. They fucking drowned!”
“What if I told you that out of the tens of thousands of variation of what could possibly happen, the actions you did and decisions you made resulted in the best possible outcome?” Suwen said gently.
“Out of the many pens that were thrown into the air at the same time, you have caught as many as you possibly can.”
“but it’s not enough.”
“It’s never enough Jerry. It’s never enough.” Suwen said as she took a sip of her coffee.
The aroma is rich and creamy, like a barista just extracted the drink from freshly ground beans.
“The goal all along was to save as many as possible, not all.”
I sighed and rest my head on the table with my hands covering the back of my head. The exhaustion I felt is akin to having a large stone placed over my head.
“why me?” I asked “ Why are you all doing this to me.”
“because we believe in you.”
“Stop… just stop…. Stop talking around in riddles.” I said. “Just go straight to the fucking point. What the fuck do you want me to do? What else?”
“Ok.” Gesturing to the copy of paper on the table, Suwen waited for me to look at her.
“This, will be the very last copy of paper we will be selling you. And depending on how our conversation go in the next few minutes, we will decide if we want to sell it to you.”
“Where is Aung ?” I asked. “ Is he alive?”
“Yes, alive and well, he is well hidden in the country. He will not show his face in the near future.” Suwen answered.
“He has someone helping him too. Someone like you.” I said
“My abilities are not unique to me and my family alone.” She replied almost as if she knew the question I was going to ask before I spoke.
“Does the paper tell me where he is?” I said while reaching for it but Suwen pulled it back away from me.
“wrong question Jerry.”
“If you knew there is going to be a fucking terrorist attack on the warehouse and nursery, why didn’t you say so! Just fucking say it! Tell me a bunch of fuckers is coming with guns and…and..”
“Would you have believed me?” Suwen threw the question back to me. “Would anyone have believed me?”
I find myself at a loss for words.
“I can march into a police station, a military camp, even the prime minister’s office itself but the question is, would anyone believe me?”
“But…but…If you just say it…” I tried to offer up a rebuttal but realized Suwen is right. No one will believe it.
“It took us months, to convince you that the future can be predicted to a certain extent, and even then, the number of variables does not mean it is cast in stone.”
“What do you mean?”
“You saved Sulyani and Chan when their time is up, you saved Choo, Tan, and even Daphne…..” Suwen said. “It’s not cast in stone, things can still change.”
“I did not save Daphne. She died with unborn twins in her.”
“You gave her the chance to know that she is going to be a mother.” Suwen said. “And it is that maternal instinct that made her sacrifice herself to save another child instead of herself.”
I felt a hot tear roll down my cheek but I’m not crying. I’m really not. The tear just rolled down on it’s own.
“Out of the 40 kids, the worse that could have happened would be all of them dying, the best case scenario was that you save 32. Of all the adults, if Sulyani lives, another 4 kids die. If Bobby lives, Sam dies. If Conor lives, 5 more kids will die in his place. Jerry, there are thousands and thousands of possible variations like this going through my head every single second.”Suwen’s hand touched mine in a reassuring manner.“You did your best, don’t blame yourself.”
“so the past few months, you were just leading me slowly to this.” I said while pointing at the last copy of the paper on the table.” This final copy of newspaper.”
“Why don’t you just show me this copy right from the start? Or after I won the lottery, or Hock Chuan’s death. I will have believed it.”
“No you won’t. No you won’t” Suwen said. “You are not ready for this last copy of paper Jerry.”
Xiumei tapped me on my arm and offered me another flask of hot coffee as they both stood up and started packing up the newspaper stand.
“Your time on this world is numbered Jerry.” Xiumei said and I chuckled with a snort.
The chuckle turned to a laugh.
“Talk about bad news eh.” I said in a sarcastic manner. “How long more do I have? Guess I’ll spend more time with my parents instead of working my guts out in the office.”
“Do you know they are not your biological parents?” Xiumei said and I felt as if someone just slapped me across my cheek.
“What the fuck did you just say?”
“They are not, your biological parent. Jerry.” Xiumei repeated herself. “But they are nice people, and they will live to a ripe old age, with, or without you Jerry.”
“Fuck you!” I cursed.
“Cursing me will not change anything.” Xiumei said. “You will leave this world Jerry, never to return on 24th December 2021, at 12.30pm.”
“what the fuck….? On Christmas eve ? Fuck you…” I said as I threw the flask of coffee at the table.
Turning to Suwen, I asked her why are they telling me this.
“I thought you already revealed my death then, you will not be saying it again.”
“But I’m not the one saying it. My mum is the one.” She replied calmly.
“You will be in a park, sitting on a bench.” Xiumei continued talking even though I asked her to stop.
I don’t want to hear anymore.
“It will be drizzling.” She went on. “You will hear the rumble of the large truck driven by one of Aung’s men.”
Arturo emerged from the shadows, and he helped to pack up the makeshift stand.
“A storm is coming Jerry.” Xiumei said with a sad look on her face. “do what you can to fortify the walls you build. They will be coming from the northeast and the south. We must not lose the ridge.”
“What the hell are you talking about!”
The 3 of them picked up their belongings and started walking away. I wanted to go after them, but I find myself rooted to the ground.
Only when they are long gone from sight did I manage to move myself.
I went back home and looked at the calendar on my phone.
24th December 2021 is slightly more than 2 years away.
It felt weird knowing the day I am going to die. There is this unsettling feeling in my stomach.
Sitting in the dark living room of my apartment, I rest my head on the coffee table.
Within the last 48 hours, I watched my friends die, I watched kids barely old enough to take a bus on their own die. I found out when I will leave this world and the cherry on top of the cake was that I am not the biological son of my parents.
This is how you fucked up someone’s life isn’t it?
18 February 2019
It’s been slightly more than a month since the incident and I’m finally back in office. I ignored Fizal’s orders, I went to Sulyani and Choo’s place, I wanted to talk to Sulyani’s mother but there is a constant flow of relatives entering and leaving her home.
In the end, I stood a distance away and just stared.
Using the business directory, I looked up Bobby’s business and found his residential address. His wake was held at the void deck of where he stayed with his parents.
I stood a distance away, looking at the white hair of an elderly couple sitting quietly around a large table half filled with paper offerings.
I tried to find Daphne’s address but the news agency she works for is not sharing them. I couldn’t get any details on Conor either, the debt collection agency he used to work for hung up on me.
Just like Fizal said, HR came to me with a new appointment and I have taken over Alvin’s role in the office.
The biggest change in my job scope is managing money and budget.
I now have the liberty to control and spend money as I like for projects I deem necessary.
Xiumei’s words did not fall on deaf ears, looking at the locations of projects Alvin was handling, I get an idea of what she wanted me to do when she talked about walls.
No, she didn’t mean for me to build a wall around the whole island. It’s impossible, instead, I noticed it is entirely possible for me to change certain specifications and dimensions of the works.
A retaining wall is commonly used along hilly sites to stop the soil from spilling over onto the driveway. I made some changes to the height of the walls. While an additional 15-20 centimeters would be more than enough to finish off, I raised it by 1.5m for certain sections facing strategic spots and junctions.
This essentially creates a trench for men defending the positions to use.
It’s a lot of work but I reviewed every drawing and detail.
My colleagues raised objections on the changes but I bulldozed it through.
“Jerry, you are over doing it for these changes. When we get audited….”
“When we get audited, I will answer the auditors, I bear full responsibility for the changes.” I said to a filled meeting room.
“We’re building parks Jerry, why do we need walls so tall? you’re creating a fortress.”
“Don’t exaggerate, I just made some walls thicker and longer. They can easily be covered up by shrubs and plants. Call it a feature wall if you like. My decision is final. Make it happen.”
Project Iron Haven was conceptualized around all the abandoned bunkers on the island. The public knew of the popular ones, those have been turned into Instagram spots and tourist attractions.
What they do not know, is that tuck within nature reserves, under 100 year old trees in the botanic garden, or green spaces overgrown with shrubs and weeds are dozens more bunkers, some as big as a school hall.
They are in need of repair and upgrades if we were to reopen them.
Granted that the bunkers of yesteryears are no longer effective against modern day munitions but getting them ready is better than leaving them in it’s current state.
It beats sheltering under a bus stop when you hear the air raid alarm go off.
I have 2 years.
It’s more than enough to get those old bunkers into decent state.
I just need to make sure they’re structurally sound, have power and water.
If space allows, I can put in a toilet on pretext of making them accessible to the public as part of the nature trail.
Opening up Alvin’s master project list, I could see the ongoing works minor works around the parks and I zoomed into the southern ridge.
Southern ridge comprises of 10km of trails connecting 3 parks. Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Kent Ridge park. They may not be the highest point on the island, but on the south, they are high enough.
We don’t have much high ground in the country.
Highest point being Bukit Timah, followed by Bukit Gombak, Bukit Batok, Fort canning and so on. And all of them falls withing my department’s purview.
I can see where this is going.
Suwen and Xiumei is right.
There is no way anyone can justify building walls and spending money in nature reserves and parks for fortifications. It’s madness. I could not help but laugh when I picture the day the auditors realized what I did with public funds.
It didn’t matter though. I’ll already be gone.
Perhaps they will bury it, just like the many scandals plaguing various department with regards to their procurement methods.
With so much built up area, I guess most of the fighting will take place in an urban setting. The nature reserves will probably be a place of refuge, people going there to hide after the tall buildings have been reduced to rubble.
I split the time I have left between work and my parents.
Knowing that I have limited days left, I spent as much time as I could with them. I brought them out for meals, we travelled together. Wherever they wanted to go, I will do my best to plan it.
I contracted an independent lab for a DNA test and what Xiumei said is true.
I may share the same common blood type as my parents, but they are not my biological parents. I could ask, but what is the point?
They may not have given birth to me, but I consider them my parents. That’s all it matters.
Perhaps the one bastard thing I did was to up my insurance coverage to the maximum possible. My financial planner friends were all too glad to meet up when I told them I wanted to get some policies from them.
I have it all planned out.
On the day I go, my parents will have more than 5million in insurance payout, on top of my property, savings and stocks.
That is more than enough for them to live out the rest of their life comfortably.
I kept a record of my feelings and emotions as the days, the weeks and months passed.
From anxiety and frustrations, to anger and rage, then to calm and acceptance.
I tried looking for Suwen and Xiumei at the nursing home but they are gone. I will jog along the pathway where I last saw them in Botanic gardens, but they too, did not show up.
As Christmas of 2021 draws close, I started to get my affairs in order.
I wrote a will, labelled each and every one of my bank cards with it’s pin on it.
I deleted all the porn I kept in a hardisk under the bed.
I also made it a point to catch up with a few friends for one last time.
23rd December 2021
I brought my parents Christmas shopping before having a nice dinner at a Michelin star restaurant.
They chided me for wasting money but I told them money is made to be spent.
“Save up la, next time when you get married, need a lot of money one.” My mum said.
I smiled but said nothing.
It was then I realized I’m still a virgin. I’m going to die a virgin.
That thought was so funny that I started chuckling to myself at the table.
“Stop drinking already Jerry. You drunk already ah.” My mother said.
I sent them home and before I left, I asked for a hug.
“You see. You see…. You drink too much already. The bottle of wine you finish more than half. I ask you not to order it already, it’s so expensive you know. If you buy from supermarket, can buy 10 bottle. Some more got membership points.” My mum kept nagging as I hugged her.
“I love you mummy.” I said.
“See…see… siao already ( crazy )”
I hugged my dad I could tell he knew something was wrong.
“Everything ok? “ He asked.
“Yes. Just…err..work stress.” I replied.
“Do you need to talk?”
“I’m ok… I’m ok… I love you pa.” I said, taking him by surprise.
You see, the thing with us Asians, we don’t readily express our feelings outright with words.
“It’s late, go wash up and rest, I said to my parents.
“I’m cooking dinner tomorrow ah, your aunt and cousins are coming over. Come over early if you have nothing on ok ? Don’t always wait until so late, I also donno what you always so busy with.” My mum continued talking while my dad asked her to stop nagging.
I watched them go into their room and I took one final look at the cozy home I grew up in.
Mouthing a quiet goodbye, I shut the door and locked the gate for one final time.
Taking a cab back home, I alighted at the front gate of my condo. Instead of heading back up, I looked towards Botanic garden and decided to take a walk.
It’s coming to 11pm and aside from the occasional late night jogger, the place is empty.
Coming up along the path where I last saw Suwen and Xiumei, I saw the newspaper stand set up again.
It’s right there, complete with umbrella and a small table lamp.
I took my time to stroll over. This time round, there isn’t a spare chair waiting for me.
On the table, sat one copy of newspaper.
Suwen and Xiumei, with the same shawl wrapped around their shoulder stared at me without saying anything.
I pulled out a $5 bill and pushed it across the table.
Suwen nudged the newspaper over to me.
“This is the last copy?” I asked.
“It’s too late isn’t it, even if I know the headlines, there’s nothing more I can do.”
“You have already done what you can Jerry.” Suwen said she stood up.
“I guess, this is the last time we will see each other then.”
“In this world at least.” She replied with a gentle smile.
“Is there life after death?” I asked. “Heaven and hell?”
“If I say yes, will you believe me?”
“Hahha. I’ll believe it when I see it then.” I replied.
Taking over the copy of newspaper, I took a deep breath before I opened it.
The picture on the headline left me utterly speechless.
It was one of Marina bay.
The infinity pool of the sands resort has been disconnected from the 3 towers with one tower still burning. Columns of smoke rose from the entire financial district and many of the prominent towers in the country’s skyline is in ruins.
The sky is overcast not with rainclouds, but by the smoke that rose from the burning city.
The article below featured condemnation by other nations on the atrocities committed by the factions of military from the Myanmar army. A coup has taken place, splitting the country into two with the military retaining most of the power.
Within weeks, a blitzkrieg attack down from the southern coast of Myanmar effectively won the army control of the Andaman Sea, crippling 60% of the world trade as shipping vessels avoided the conflict zone, taking a longer route towards Indonesia especially with Singapore under siege.
The Junta is using the control of the Andaman Sea as a bargaining chip on the world stage.
Rumors of China retaking Taiwan by force began to circulate, sending tensions in the region to it’s peak. Authorities from both sides denied such rumors but it did not stop militaries mobilizing their forces.
Talks of improving relations between the two Koreas broke down, incursion on disputed islands between Korea, Japan and China flared up. The Taliban, having taken over Afghanistan, is seeking to reassert their power and influence over the middle east.
“The world’s gone mad.” I said.
“Unfortunately.” Suwen replied.
“Do we win?” I gestured towards the paper while I alternated my eyes between Xiumei and Suwen.
“Jerry….in a war…. Nobody wins.”Xiumei said.
“My…my parents….” I said. “will they survive?”
“They’ll be ok…don’t worry.” She said as I looked at the reported figures on the articles.
“More than 4000?” I asked, unable to believe the figure. “More than 4000 died in the one week war?”
“It would have been more if not for what you did.”
I looked at the infographic which gave a breakdown of the dates when it happened and I wished there is something more I can do.
“You’ve done enough Jerry. You’ve done enough.”
Giving the paper back to Xiumei, I bade the both of them goodbye.
“Goodbye Jerry.” Xiumei and Suwen said.
I gave them a nod and noticed Arturo stepping out from the shadows. He tipped his cap at me and I gave him a nod of acknowledgement as well.
Heading back home, I walked around the place I decorated and furnished from scratch one last time before lying down on my bed.
I smelled my pillow and pulled the blanket up to my chin, wondering what it would be like when everything goes dark for me.
24th December 2021
I could have avoided all the parks, I could have stayed the fuck away from all the benches but I didn’t.
My time is up and the irony was not lost on me. There is no one to catch my pen.
I hopped onto a taxi and asked the Uncle where is he stays.
“Pasir Ris. Why ?”
“Then take me to Pasir ris……any part…. Your favourite place if possible.” I sat back and enjoyed the ride to the east of the island.
He asked if I’m ok, or if I needed help. I told him I’m fine, just want to do something impromptu that day.
When the taxi stopped, I gave him a fifty dollar bill and asked him to keep the change.
He brought me to Pasir Ris Beach park and I alighted near Carpark D.
Looking at my watch, it’s 11.30am
Another hour to go.
I don’t see any trucks in the carpark.
Making my way to a lone bench in the wide open park, I took a seat. Switching off my phone, I leaned back and looked at the sea.
The slaty breeze felt refreshing, I don’t remember when was the last time I visited the beach. Must have been ages ago when my parents brought me when I was a kid.
I sat in the middle of the bench with my arms spread out on the backrest, watching people walk their dogs or joggers doing rounds in the park.
A man appeared at the path near where I sat. He had a packet of ginger cookies in his hand. He munched on the snack and approached the bench where I was sitting on.
“Can share the seat?” He asked.
He’s about my age from what I can tell. I was immediately suspicious of him. Of all the seats in the park, why must he come to my bench.
He might be one of Aung’s men but he speaks like a Singaporean.
Not wanting to appear unfriendly, I kept my spread arms and made space for him.
He did not say anything to me and he seemed contended with snacking on his cookies while looking at the sea.
Perhaps I was overthinking things and perhaps like me, this man is just having a day off in the park, doing the things he wants to do.
A couple of pigeons appeared near his feet and he threw them some crumbs from his cookies.
We did not talk at all and I just looked at him feeding the birds.
I wonder if I should identify myself and tell him not to feed the pigeons.
I checked my watch and it’s almost time.
“You should probably find another place to sit.” I said to the man.
“Find another place to sit.”
“You crazy ? You buy one ah this bench?” he replied while throwing more crumbs to the pigeons.
“Dude, you don’t want to be on this bench, trust me.”
“You need to learn how to share bro, this is public property.”
Looking at my watch, it’s 12.20pm
“There’re dozens of benches around, why the fuck do you have to sit beside me?” I said.
“What’s your problem!” he said in a non-aggressive manner, looking more amused and upset with my selfish behavior.
I spent the next few minutes arguing with him, trying to get him away from the bench but he is just one stubborn fool.
“You’ve going to fucking die you dumb fuck.” I cursed.
“Wow…you’re crazy…” He said while pulling something out of his pocket.
Flashing me his identifications, I realized he is a police officer.
“It’s been a while since I get to come to the beach, can you don’t disturb me?” He said before popping another cookie into his mouth.
Right about then, I heard the loud rumble of a truck pulling up into the carpark behind where I’m sitting at. The truck rumbled and I could see it making a turn, orientating it’s head to face me.
Looking at the stupid fool beside me, I guess I’m going to have to push him away.
It’s barely 50 meters away from where I am.
I pushed the guy beside me onto the floor and he fell, spilling his cookies all over. I’m going to turn aggressive and scare him off. I don’t care if he is a police officer or what not, as long as I behave like a mad man, he will surely keep his distance.
“what the fuck is your problem man?” He shouted at me.
“Get the fuck away if you want don’t want to get run over by a truck!”
“You’re fucking crazy!” he said while getting up. “ Why would I get run over by a truck ? It’s a fucking beach park dude.”
I heard the roar of the engine as the truck picked up speed and mounted the grass turfing. It rolled over shrubs and is making it’s way towards us.
This is it I guess.
The man saw the truck slowly speeding towards us and I heard him mumble.
“And how the fuck can you possibly know that?”
Using both hands, I shove him hard, sending him out of the path of the approaching truck.
“Because a fortune teller told me so.” I replied as I stared right into the eyes of Larry who is behind the wheel.
The wheels of the truck ripped up turfing and soil as it sped towards me.
The man on the floor calmly got up and stood beside me.
“What is your problem?” I shouted at him when the truck is barely 20 meters away.
“You know what Jerry.” He said, catching me by surprise.
He knows my name.
Dusting his palms free of cookie crumbs, I saw him calmly place both palms together as he looked directly at the charging truck.
I felt the sudden swirl of air around me and I was hit by the strong scent of ginger from his cookies.
“what the fu…”
“You believe in fortune tellers.” He said as a strong gust of wind appeared out of nowhere. “ I hope you believe in magic too.”