My grandfather often told me tall stories. Such as the clump of haunted banana trees at the garden wall. The trees housed the spirits of nine children who had died during a neighbourhood bout of botulism in the late ‘70s. There was a brick altar to the Earth God near the trees . At the back of our garden was a wire fence. Beyond this fence was the catchment pond. His latest yarn was of the elderly Australian corporal hiding in the thick undergrowth near the drainage pond for rainwater, still believing that the war was ongoing in Malaya. One Sunday, Grandfather left packets of imported Anzac biscuits and cans of Heinz baked beans for the soldier by the wire fence.
When the charade continued the following Sunday, I asked Grandfather, “Why doesn’t someone call social services? Surely this Australian has a family who are looking for him?”
“He has no family. He told me.”
“You spoke to him?”
“He’s not crazy.”
“Apart from the fact that he still thinks there’s a war?” I asked, “He needs to see a doctor. What if it rains? What about snakes and mosquitoes? What does he eat?”
“He’s a veteran at living off the land”
“What if he comes into our garden to attack imaginary Japanese soldiers?”
“ We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it-“
“No we won’t because he would have blown up the bridge. What if he comes into our house and scares Grandma while she’s taking a bath?”
“Anyone will surrender if they see your grandmother naked! Hahahah!” Grandfather found this image so funny that the Milo he had been drinking shot out of his nose.
Haunted House Hunting
"There's a haunted house nearby," I sometimes say to a friend in the car after a late night.
Depending on their spiritual beliefs or level of inebriation, most of them of scoff or make silly gibbering noises, but all of them indicate their interest, "Where is it?".
"Down a road that leads off this main road".
And we take the detour.
"Haunted? By what? Who?" my friends launch a volley of questions, fired off by sudden curiosity.
"I'm not sure, " I say, "but a friend knew one of the previous owners and that owner calls it, 'The Vampire House.'
"Really?". I always detect slight disappointment in their tone. No ephemeral ladies in white, knockings or footsteps. Just vampires. Nocturnal haemoglobin addicts watered down and romanticized by mainstream popular culture.
"Here!" I declare and slap the dashboard. My friend normally pulls over to the roadside. We're before the house. Low garden walls, empty driveway,overgrown grass and shuttered windows. The windows are the eeriest - are the shutters meant to keep something in or out? The 'For Sale' sign affixed to the front gate, and the contact number is long faded. We wait. My friend dares me to get out of the car, or I dare them. Once I'm out, I always walk up to the gate and knock. On occasion I pretend to knock and shake my fist at the gate. We scramble back inside, my friend locks the car door. Sometimes, my friend drives away, frantic and yet grateful for the free thrill.
But I've been lucky so far: one night I'll knock and I may get an answer. From the current unseen occupants.
Hard Labour, Tough Medicine
The signboard read, 'Lourdes Clinic'. But I was not looking for a miracle as I pushed the door open, I just wanted a half a day off work. I leave my company's name with the receptionist and sit down on the blue plastic seats, rubbed shiny from heavy use.
The two construction workers sat across from me. Hard hats resting in their laps and overalls streaked with paint and dust. Both coughed as if they had inhaled rusty nails and their swollen eyes threatened to pop out of their sockets. They still wore their laminated ID tags, "PJ Suites". I knew their worksite, I could see it from the window in the waiting room. In one year, men and machinery would finish scouring the section of roadside next to my office block, and assemble piles of steel rods and cement bags into a framework of metal that would resemble the oasis of urban living and retail as depicted in the artist's impressions.
I moved to the next row of seats, and looked out of the clinic's window. I frowned at the site as if I were the foreman, spotting a distant infraction. Even through the walls of the clinic, I heard the thumps of incessant piling, almost obscene in its steady rhythm. A rundown bus parked at the entrance to the site, unloading the next shift of construction workers. The door to the doctor's office opened and a nurse ushered the two workers inside. When workers are part of a relentless machinery, medicine cannot cure all of their occupational sicknesses.