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Baking & Stories

A small collection.

Haemocyanin #1

I have been working on this short story for a very long time. I am hoping sharing this small tidbit here will force me to finish it!


The dripping blood was always blue. An interesting pale blue. Not that printer-ink cyan-blue, not even that simple blue of a summer day’s-

“Haemocyanin.”

“Sorry?”

“Haemocyanin! That’s what makes it blue! It doesn’t have iron in it. It’s copper. Copper makes it blue.”

He wondered why he remembered that very specific detail out of all the other very specific details from that whirlwind of a day.

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

The rows and rows of prehistoric creatures were clamped tightly onto conveyor belts, moving with a slow constant hum as their blue blood dripped out of those thick 8mm gauge needles he’d previously forced through their shells.

“Just behind the first carapace joint. Yes, right where the head joint meets the body. Yes I know it kind of all looks the same at the beginning, we’ve all been there. Oh come on, you’re going to have to try harder than that. Push, boy, push! I thought I hired a man not a woman! Yes of course they can feel it. No don’t be ridiculous we don’t have time to worry about that. Ah there we go, yes. Nice. Don’t worry they’ll survive. I’ve punctured one old hag at least 50 times. I’m sure of it, I cut off one of her legs just to be sure. They always come back. They like it more than we do.”

He laughed to himself.

33 percent – that was the magic number. The maximum volume of blood they said we could extract from each animal before it could no longer recover.

“But I think somebody just made that number up. We always take more.” He winked.

He was always winking.

He stood on the pier, the cold air dancing off his lips in thin wispy curls. The night was dark, cold and constant, but the lights that flashed along the pier penetrated the darkness with warm tungstic crackling.

The tip of the cigarette glowed softly, and the ashes lengthened, teasing him at the wastefulness of the whole affair. He placed it on his lips, and pulled, inhaling deeply, quickly, perhaps too quickly, and he felt the tickling at the back of his throat that he knew would be soon followed by his coughs.

He suppressed them.

Toes splashed lightly in the cold water, and he closed his eyes as he exhaled, letting the smoke leave his body in no direction in particular.

It had been a long time since he’d come here.

Soft Éclairs

The Vietnamese girl with a tired face boarded the train at Campsie station and asked herself:

“Is this train real?”

Her eyes were dull and glazed over and her head tilted slightly to one side. She was missing a sock and the little brown one she was wearing poked through the front of her left leather sandal like a soft curious mouse. Her hair was oddly neat, deep black strands of calm atop an unkempt mind. She was wearing a strange white hat, as though someone had spooned a dollop of double-cream on top of her head.

She went up the stairs and she saw a woman sitting by herself, so she walked over, sat next to her and placed her hand on her lap.

The Greek woman was sitting alone with a freezer bag of carrot sticks in her lap. She wasn’t eating them, just fiddling with them through the plastic. She knew she was just bringing them along to assuage the guilt she had about these unplanned fortnightly éclair trips of hers. La Renaissance Pâtisserie at Circular Quay. Even memories of an adulterous husband couldn’t keep her away.

He used to take her there when they were still together. She was the one who took them there first, showed him the cafe, and wanted him to be amazed with its wondrous cakes and pastries. He wasn’t as excited about it as she was, but that could be said about a lot of things.

The girl was so small and quiet that the woman didn’t notice she was next to her until she sat down and put her hand on her thigh. The woman flinched and the carrots dropped to the floor.

The Greek woman didn’t know what to do, so she tried her hardest with her hands, frilly flower-print dress and sheer force of will to keep to herself, in the hope that the girl would go away. She was feeling very uncomfortable with having a stranger’s hand on her thigh so she slowly shifted her weight onto her knees, and then her onto her feet, and lifted herself up in that ungainly way overweight people move their bodies.

Then a hand shot out and grabbed her wrist, strongly.

“Please, stay.”

The Greek woman looked at her in shock, and was herself shocked by the girl’s face. Suddenly smiling vaguely, her eyes drifting away every few seconds, the girl had the appearance of a person not quite sure what she was looking at.

She tried to pull her wrist away, but the strength of the girl was startling.

“Please. Stay.”

The Greek woman looked around and clutched at her dress nervously, looking around to see if anyone else was around to witness the scene. She had become deeply accustomed to blame, but never quite so publicly.

She looked at the girl warily, waiting for her to do something, anything. She sat back down on the seat, still watching the girl. When she seemed unresponsive for a few minutes the Greek woman hoped everything had naturally resolved itself and pretended that she was alone again.

“Why are you ignoring me?”  The girl’s voice startled her again.

“Sorry?”

“Why are you ignoring me?” she repeated, looking at nothing in particular.

“But you weren’t saying anything.”

“I have some friends at Erskineville.”

The Greek woman didn’t know how to react.

“They’re really friendly. Every time I visit we always have fun.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” she said, awkwardly.

“Actually, they’re my only friends now. I used to have a lot of other friends, but,” she looked around nervously, “slowly they…they all turned into spies.”

“Oh- oh really?”

“Yes, spies for them. They are always watching me. They used to my real friends, then slowly one by one they’d visit me at night and with their eyes all red and they’d sit at the bottom of my bed and scream at me to give them all my money. If I didn’t have any money they would scratch me.”

The Greek woman was starting to become very alarmed. She noticed red, raw scratch marks on the girl’s arms.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes.”

“No really, do you need any help?” she asked, her voice trembling slightly.

She smiled, “Today was the last day they could ever get me. I’m never going back. I’m safe now.” She thought she heard a note of triumph.

“That’s great, I guess,” she said shakily, unconvinced. “Where are you staying now?”

“Oh I told you, with my friends at Erskineville. They’ll keep me safe.”

The train shook slightly as it passed by Marrickville Station; the older timber railway sleepers were not as stable as the newer concrete type.

The Greek woman stole a glance every now and again at the girl, who had retreated back into her own world. The orange rays of the setting sun were in their eyes, and although she had to hold up her hand to shield her face, the girl looked straight into the sun. The orange glow washed over her skin and deepened every one of the slight creases on her face into a wrinkle, making her seem like an old tired woman.

She looked exhausted.

The Greek woman suddenly found herself feeling quite sorry for the girl-

“I’m okay, really,” she said, apparently reading her mind. “Don’t worry about me. The world is full of friends, and all of them are waiting.”

The train slowly rode the tracks into Erskineville Station, and the girl looked out of the window and smiled. She stood up after the train had already stopped and took her time walking out, almost getting caught in the closing doors.

The Greek woman watched her walk away on the platform and then up the stairs, to a separate life she knew she would have no part in. Every step the girl took away from her, she felt a strange urgent need grow and grow, telling her to shout out and grab her, to try and cling on to the first real relationship she had felt in a long time, however brief. As the train left the platform, a brief sadness touched her heart as she realised she would probably never meet the girl again.

But maybe she would.

She would have loved to buy her an éclair.

She walked up the station steps, taking two at a time (every second step was booby-trapped, of course) until she got to the top, where she did a little jump onto the concourse. She walked towards the farthest platform, Platform One, but as she walked down this set of steps she didn’t skip any; the traps don’t work on the way down.

The colours of the beautiful mural greeted her and invited her in, as they always did, and she began to laugh in the welcoming glow. Smiling faces leapt out from their colourful houses in the walls and colourful painted children began to peel away from the stone and dance around her, and she danced with them, laughing more and more. She reached out to try and touch them, but she knew she never would, and she didn’t care.

She was with her friends now.

The people on the platform stared at her uneasily, but even they could not deny that her joy was real.

Typewriter

The last time I wrote on a typewriter I was living in Bedok Reservoir with our now dead grandfather Arwa Datuk Aman. Our uncle, Uncle Hamdan, who, despite his two adult children, had not yet left home, was the owner of this typewriter, and the funny stories we wrote as young children drained his ink – to his silent displeasure.

In hindsight, I think he enjoyed our company.

The flat at Bedok Reservoir I remember was often full of faces showing other forms of silent displeasure. Mak Long, perpetually upset with Abah, still could not help but ask for his advice on whether it was safe or not to eat mushrooms with some mould on them (“tell her a mushroom is already a fungus”), a grandfather annoyed that his grandson could not read out a phone number in Malay, and eventually a funeral procession of flowers over his silent body.

In the end, Hamdan sold the flat without asking for anyone’s permission.

The silence filled the house in the end.

The Malay word for funeral is “pengebumian” – from the root word “bumi”, meaning “earth”. Thus, a ritual or ceremony to return one to the Earth. 

Damascene Chaos

This small piece of writing was initially written in 2017 for a post on The Wayfarer’s Compass. I am reproducing it here to build up the blog as a writing portfolio. Not my traditional style of writing I suppose, but it does reflect the state of my mind once upon a time. Reading it puts me in a particular pensive mood, so naturally I tend to avoid doing so.

Enjoy. 

Whenever I tell people of my time in Damascus before the war, I inevitably end up talking about the chaos. The mad bustling mess of colours, sounds and flavours, a sensory assault for those of us used to suburban sterility.

Life would flow all around me, through me, and often rudely shoved me out of its way. I learnt as best I could to navigate through it, learnt the ways of the people, the ways of the city, but still I found the disorder and confusion so grating.

But there was peace too.

I lived for 6 months in Damascus, in Rukn ad-Din (where else!) – The “Corner of the Faith”, a little maze of streets centred around Abu Nour Mosque, where people from all around the world came to study Islam – and I truly mean all around the world. I met people from Russia, Daghestan, China, Mongolia, India, Turkey, Thailand, and other places I’d never heard of before. I hardly spoke any English my entire time there. We spoke to each other in Classical Arabic, a strange linguistic bubble with a liturgical language as the lingua franca, and we often liked to think we were speaking as people did in the time of the Prophet. The Arabs looked on and laughed at our Shakespearean formality.

Rukn ad-Din lay at the foot of Jabal Qasioun, a mountain standing overlooking Damascus. There are many legends about the mountain: that it was where Adam first lived, that it was the site where Qabil killed Habil, that is was where the 40 Abdal gather every night to pray tahajjud over the city to safeguard it. It was said that throughout history many a Damascene leader had ascended its stony steps and prayed for rain, for it was here that prayers would always be accepted.

I made many prayers on that mountain once upon a time.

To get to the top of the mountain, you had to pay a man with a ute to drive you up to a certain height, where the roads ended, and then walk the rest of the way. There were always a few drivers around, and their trucks were decorated with fake floral garlands and swathes of heavily patterned red-and-black fabric straight out of a British orientalist’s Bedouin tent fantasy – the kitschier the better.

I rode up by myself regularly, to the bemusement of the Syrian drivers, who either chuckled at my oddly-accented shami Arabic, pelting me with their curiosity or ignored me altogether. Even in the colder months I would walk up to the top with just my heavily worn leather sandals on my dusty feet, bought from Souk al-Hamiddiyya like a proper tourist, and ground into fraying threads like a proper seeker.

When I sat upon that mountain and looked upon the city, I looked upon the world, and felt some of its spiritual magic enter my heart.

Nutella

I couldn’t find her this morning.

Walking to the train, I saw: a dark patch of gingery fluff bursting out of the blood-stained road.

Not moving.

She was always moving.

I covered her with a soft white cloth and carried her home.

Later, when no-one was watching, I cried.