Three Poems

    By Malachi Edwin Vethamani

    1. The Hounding

    He awakes and falls asleep,
    carrying the image of a dark van.

    Between the weekly lunch time collections,
    the handing over of a white envelope,
    between the banal greetings
    and leave takings,
    the seven days pass too rapidly for him.

    In the slow passing of the afternoon,
    amidst the loud horn sounds
    from his motorbike,
    seeing familiar faces,
    buying his kueh for their tea,
    an unwelcome sight appears,
    on a big white motorcycle.

    He sees his day’s sales disappear.
    The damage today is an orange Ringgit note.
    Yesterday, it was a red one.

    As the day draws on,
    his Indian kueh move slowly.
    Sweat runs down his brown face.
    His baniyan is drenched,
    soon sweat dapples his shirt armpits.

    A sudden wave of hands
    brightens up his tired eyes.
    He brings his bike to a stop,
    opens his metal case top,
    revealing an array of neatly arranged kueh,
    sweetmeats and savouries neatly separated.

    It’s almost late evening.
    The day’s light is dimming.
    Three men wave him to stop.
    His heart leaps with anticipation.
    Three men with big appetites, he hopes.
    One man hands over a folded fifty ringgit
    He rummages through his worn-out purse
    returns their change.
    Laughing they leave.

    The long day is done.
    He begins to count the day’s earnings.
    He unfolds the fifty ringgit note,
    it is counterfeit.
    His eyes mist,
    hot angry tears
    flow down his sun-burnt cheeks.
    Another defeated day.

    The dark van will return tomorrow
    the men in blue
    will ask for their share
    of his blood.

    2. Things Come to a Head

    Teacher canes student for calling him a rude name.
    The New Straits Times, June 25, 2019

    (i)

    Who did he hit?
    Who did he hear?

    Those words flung at him
    on that fateful day
    The constant ridicule
    from peers and strangers
    Their mocking and leering looks
    shaming him.

    As he raised his hands
    and struck her repeatedly
    who did he see
    receiving blow after blow.

    This outburst of rage
    once contained in the demure
    of a necktie collared persona
    now all restraints lost
    a cry for help.

    (ii)

    It’s not as if
    I made up that name for him
    It’s not as if
    I was the first to call him that
    It’s not as if
    the others had not called him that
    It’s not as if
    he’s not heard it before.

    Maybe the others
    had said it in whispers
    Maybe the others
    had said it behind his back
    Maybe he didn’t want to hear it
    said to his face.

    I had thought
    he’s heard it all his life
    I had thought
    he’d grown deaf to it
    I had thought
    he’s heard worse names
    I had my thought
    my saying it would mean nothing to him.

    Yet on that fateful day
    I uttered the words
    he had heard hurled at him
    so many, many times before
    something in him snapped.

    The cane came out
    and a rain of strokes
    hit me.
    I stood there receiving the blows
    for all who had called him
    that name
    for all his life.

    3. The Other Child

    As the candles on his thirteenth
    birthday cake were blown
    so ended a dear dream.

    Unlike his freshly-minted teenage friends
    he is labelled different.
    Losing the camaraderie of childhood friends,
    set aside as a refugee.
    A word he would hear more and more.

    He too was born in this land.
    Sang Negaraku* every school week,
    the last six years.
    Now those doors he yearned for
    are closed to him.

    Do I not breathe the same air as them?
    Drink the same water?
    Eat the same food?
    Speak the same language?
    Is my blood so different?
    It bled the same colour on our school field.

    His parents are silent.
    They have no answers.
    They say: Be patient.
    God will answer our prayers.

    I have not changed overnight.
    But they see me different now.
    My sun-filled school days now grey.
    I now wait for my father
    with news of a new school
    among others sharing a similar fate
    born in this land
    but still a refugee.

    *National anthem

    Malachi Edwin Vethamani is a Malaysian Indian poet and writer. His poetry publications include: Life Happens (Maya Press, 2017) and Complicated Lives (Maya Press, 2016). His poems appear in several international literary publications. He published an edited volume of poems entitled Malchin Testament: Malaysian Poems (Maya Press, 2017). It won the Best Book prize in the English Language category for the Malaysian Best Book Award 2020 organised by Malaysian Publishers Association. He is Founding Editor of Men Matters Online Journal.

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