I knew from previous correspondence that she was writing and even publishing her stories under difficult circumstances and was now encouraging her two daughters to write, too. All will be entering the MPH-Alliance Bank National Short Story Contest 2009
The following is an excerpt of the email that she had sent me:
“I just finished reading all your individual stories as you explained about them in your blog [The Story Behind the Story]. Honestly I have learnt a lot from your stories in Lovers and Strangers Revisited. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t attend the [creative writing workshop] in Penang last year. “Symmetry” was never my favourite [story]. In fact I don’t like reading it at all. The reason behind it is the brother who chops the cockroach into two!! I hate children who behave in this manner. I changed my mind two weeks ago. Want to know the reason?
“Well I have been visiting this young mother whose husband has HIV. She has five children all very young. She is worried and scared to death because the doctor in the hospital wants to check her for HIV as well. She is lost and there is no one to help her. She left home when she was very young to live with this husband. Her parents don’t want to have anything to do with her, what more her children. She has this blank look on her face. I get my friends to get some foodstuffs for her children, and I visit her often to just talk to her. She is very young and she must have been very pretty last time. Now she is all bones.
“Ok to cut the story short, last week while talking to her in her miserable one room squatter house her youngest son came crying that there was a cockroach in his leftover milk. She pushed the mug to me saying that she will be like the dead cockroach. Initially struggling but finally dying!! She said she was like the cockroach lured to her death. That night I reread the story [“Symmetry”] again and I couldn’t agree more with the young mother.”
So for the rest of us who grumble about the unfairness of life, how our lives are not meeting our expectations, how we can’t find the time to write or to do the things that we know we should because of bad choices (watching too much TV, spending too much times with our handphones or surfing the internet), think instead how blessed our lives truly are. Some, as the woman above, have no real life. She’s merely waiting to die, and oh, so young, too, and with all those young unwanted children that she'll leave behind, because of a bad choice (a series of bad choices) she made.
Stories are out there, even a simple story about a little girl finding a dead cockroach in a cup of tea that I wrote about in “Symmetry” can have an impact on someone’s life, mine included -- 22 years later! I'll never be able to think of that story again without associating it with that young woman and the woman who emailed me this story.
What stories can you write that can have an impact on someone’s life in a way that you could never have imagined? For the time being, count your blessings (not your excuses or your complaints) and write. Add some magic, too, by doing something, anything that will take you a step closer to your goals. Good luck and make your life count while you still have a choice.
*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited
Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:
Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.
Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.
Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day.
Chuah Guat Eng, author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change.
Five part Maugham and Me series
Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I