Day 14

30 Days Of Art With NAC: Memories Are Water Shaped As Stories by Fairoz Ahmad

To inspire and uplift readers as the country emerges from the Covid-19 circuit breaker, The Straits Times, supported by the National Arts Council as part of the #SGCultureAnywhere campaign, has commissioned 30 works by local writers and artists on the pandemic and what it will be like when all this is over

ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

We will remember what we want to remember and we will forget what we want to forget. No. We will not forget what we want to forget. We shape them to what they need to be. Memories are water shaped as stories.

Force hits water. Words are displaced. Wet. Some words are drenched. The lazier words float on water, pulled by the wind. Sea birds swoop and peck at them. They let the birds be. These are happy-go-lucky words. These are take-it-easy words. Heavier words sink so deep that it is impossible to decipher what words these are, what memories they are made of. Don't bother, they say. It is too deep. It is too dangerous to go below. Let them be. Tend to the easy ones. Mostly the floating words. These are easy pickings. Then, tend to the ones moist only at the sides. If need be, the drenched ones. That is all. These words, these words, they are okay.

So we scoop up these memories and drink from the wetness of our hands. The water tastes of absence. Some words slip through the valley of our fingers because we are careless. We are thinking of other words. Be gentle. Be present. Even better, let a child scoop them up for you. They are gentler than you. They are always present. They have small fingers. No words can escape.

Why were you thinking of other words? I was thinking of the words deep down below. I can still remember them. They must be dredged. Dredging is dangerous work. You can get cut. Or drown. I know. Do you know what the deepest part of the ocean is named? Hadal - hell. It is the coldest.

But you dive in. Because you are a fool. And they were right. It was too deep, too dangerous. We are all fools. It was safer to be at the surface. You should have been like the others. The rest are hanging the damp words to dry now.

See, some of them are already good as new. Especially the ones floating on water. All trawled at one go. They did not resist. These are happy-go-lucky words. These are take-it-easy words.

You reach the surface and, like fishermen of old, haul up your net. A thick ball of seashells, weeds, shards, sand and words, all wrapped in colours. Such a shame to break it. But you are wiser now. You tell yourself - colour is the fiction of light. And so you reach out for a knife, feel the touch of blade on skin and stab. Words spilled on earth. You stab it each night when your heart is empty and your heart is full again the next morning. This will happen again and again. It is the price to pay for going too deep.

And so, over time, all memories become stories. It is the only way that water flows.

Once upon a time, long before you were born, I spent the entire Ramadan alone in my room, for all the mosques were closed. I prayed each night. It did not feel the same. Was this in the 18th century, grandpa, during a time of war and wicked witches? No. Let me tell you the tale.

There once lived an old man who stayed home alone for 58 nights. He grew a beard so long that it stretched from end to end. On the seventh night, he forgot if he had washed his hands. On the twelfth night, he forgot who his family was. He remembered only dreams.

It was a dark and stormy night when she got the news that her mother had passed away. She could not attend the funeral because…

We defend our stories and the flows they take in our hearts. Like kings of the past, we draw swords and we draw shields to protect them. Because they matter. And because they are worth defending.

We have felt defeat. We are all fools. We are all kings.

• Fairoz Ahmad, 37, is the author of the short story collection Interpreter Of Winds (2019). A Temasek Polytechnic lecturer, he has spent the circuit breaker period designing home-based lectures and tutorials for his students, as well as helping a social enterprise in Indonesia develop a digital platform that curates affordable food items for Indonesians.

• To read the other works in this series online, go to str.sg/30Days. To listen to them in a podcast, go to str.sg/JW2f

• For more local digital arts offerings, visit a-list.sg to appreciate #SGCultureAnywhere

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2020, with the headline 'Memories Are Water Shaped As Stories by Fairoz Ahmad'. Print Edition | Subscribe