Blog: The shaman’s daughter

frankincenseI was the shaman’s daughter. I helped the shaman with his work until I was no longer a virgin. I did the deed in the warm, makeshift bicycle shed, in pitch black, seven paces eastwards from my room, with a boy from the next village. He was tall and lanky and older than me by five years. He often came over to our house for silat practice and Qur’an reading.

I knew he liked me from when we first met. The shaman knew this and he warned me. He warned me of boys in general but he warned me particularly of this boy. He warned me of gossip, of my reputation smeared with dung, of his reputation smeared with dung. I told him once that people would come to him for help whether I was his daughter or not, they cared not what I did, but what he could do. He slapped me between my shoulder blades. It made the world around me spin; I coughed and vomited everything I ate for the next two days.

But it did not stop me from doing the deed, eventually.

I was beating the laundry onto my usual rock by the river when I caught the boy from the corner of my eye. I knew he was watching even when he did not show his face. A week later again, at the river one of my sarongs went missing. He returned it to me that week, secretly, on the Friday night that Qur’an reading classes were held. It was dry and ironed; he had slipped some wilted jasmine into its folds. I recognised the flowers; they came from just behind my room. They made me smile. Since that day I often slanted the window louvres just a little more, so that he could catch a glimpse of me. And sometimes I shut them but left the light on and made noises with the cupboard door when I was putting away my clothes or sweeping the room.

One day he knocked on the thin wooden wall of my room and whispered I love you. It made me laugh so much, I had to stifle it, stifle it so he would not turn around run away. Stifle it so that he would whisper the same words every day for the next two weeks until we planned to meet in the bicycle shed, one night a week. When we met I never wanted him to stop touching me. I would go to bed, trying to stop thinking of those moments in the dark heat, get up in the same heady stupor before dawn to the river, so that I could wash away his fingerprints.

There was no embarrassing moment when my apprenticeship with the shaman stopped.

A week after the deed the shaman slipped a yellow cloth with a spell scrawled on it underneath my door. On it was a note that I returned him the things that he had given me on my apprenticeship: an ancient Javanese coin, a kris with seven lekuk on each side and seven different types of flowers. I had to wrap the items in the yellow cloth and hand them in that night.

As usual, I did as I was told. The next day, when I was serving lunch to him, he said, “You’re already in trouble, whether I’m angry with you or not,” he said, without looking at me. We did not speak to each other. It was hard to tell if he was angry or he was just resigned to the fact that I would do what I wanted to do. Perhaps he could see further than my own misbehaviour.

But everything else was like clockwork. His gravy was in the saucer, the meat was on his rice and there were three glasses of water that he would drink at the end of every meal after whispering some suras or mantras, I never knew the difference.

He did not explain and I did not confront him, for fear that I might assume that he knew about it when he did not. And for a few days, we went on like this.

One day, he came home panting; his face was white like he had just seen a ghost. He was clutching the waist of his sarong; it might have come loose from sprinting across the compound.

“I already told you that you’re in trouble. Quick, your mother’s just been possessed,” he said stepping into the house for a change of clothing. I followed him around the room, as he rattled off the list of things that I should carry with me.

“Three bottles of Zam Zam water.”

I made a noise to show I understood.

“Is that a yes or a no?” he asked.

“It’s a yes.”

“Twenty-one cempaka flowers from our backyard.”


“Three limes.”




“The Toraja machete.”

I grunted.

“The Kris of the seven princesses.”

He turned around and grabbed my hand suddenly. With a tiny kris the length of my hand, he pricked the middle of my palm. I gasped. He held my hand, dripped the blood into a bowl of sand and stirred it around with the kris until the blood was no longer visible.

“This is so that no one else will pay for your mistakes.”

I heard a long scream outside of the house, the rustling of the tree just outside, and birds fleeing. A boy poked his head into our living room; his face was lined with worry.

“Tok Wan,” he called.

“Hurry up,” the shaman said to me. “We don’t have all night.”

Blog: It was over.

One morning in bed, Gwen turned to Colin and said that it was over. She had never been able to do it before. Goodbyes were always fraught with worry; she worried about the appropriateness of the moment, the handholding until it was safe to let go, even  the renewed bursts of passion that would distract her from why they had to go their separate ways. She worried about lying there and letting him mount her because that would mean settling back into things that she had never been able to put up with in the first place. She would settle for a few weeks. Then the sex would get better and she would delay her departure for several months. Four years had passed, but the niggling ate away at her, at first just when she was falling asleep, and then in the waking hours, like a vengeful ghost.

They loved each other. As she stood by his door with her haversack and laptop bag and three tightly packed suitcases that she would pick up one by one over the next few days, they embraced. It was a genuine one, and not one of those embraces you gave somebody because it was good manners. Colin stood by the door: this middle aged man who she still loved and admired. He always had a slight hunch, perhaps to compensate for his tallness; he had been the tallest person wherever he went. But today he was deflated.

“Perhaps I will come back,” she said.”If it’s meant to be.”

“I’m too old to leave things to Fate,” he sighed, but he harboured hope. Colin had been broke for too long, and it had been a long time since he took home a pay cheque; the prospect of finding work was daunting, more daunting now that Gwen was leaving. Perhaps he could call up his mates at the dock or the old hands at the garage who knew they could use his over-educated brain and years of experience, but it had been a long time since he used his hands. His perfect eyesight had blurred over the last few years, which made him more deliberate and deliberateness was a blessing in his trade, but too much whiskey had made his once firm grip unsteady, and his temper fractious.


Blog: Puddy da Tat is a silly name for a cat

IMG00112-20110730-1313Puddy da Tat is a silly name for a cat. Puddy da Tat doesn’t roll off the tongue like Duke or Oscar or Spot or Tigger. It’s the kind of name that owners of purebreds snigger at. It’s the kind of name that vet assistants find difficult to hear and pronounce over the phone.

“What’s the name of your pet?”

“Puddy da Tat,” I said. I’ve stockpiled enough patience to last the duration of this phone call, or so I think.

“Oh, Pahhhdy the Tat.”

“No, it’s Puddy da, with a D and A, Tat, T-A-T.”

“Right. Hang on,” the vet assistant says, forgetting to put on the wait music.  “What’s the name of the chocolate British shorthair?” she calls out to a colleague.

“Paddy as in Paddle. P-A-D-D-Y,” is the response.

“Thanks for holding.”

“Would you like me to spell it for you?” I sigh. “It’s P-U-D-D-Y, space, D-A, space T-A-T.”

“Ok, P-A-D-D-Y…”

“Not it’s P-U-D-D-Y. It’s Puddy da Tat! Puddy da Tattt! Puddy da Taaaaatt!”

This is a cat that responds to my calling his name. The white critter with its wet chocolate nose and black tail bolts into the living room and joins me on the sofa. He makes a sound that is something between a chirp and a meow, rolls onto his back and starts licking his bollocks. A tiny pointed pink thimble starts to extend from a black furry nub on top of them. Puddy licks it too.

I watch the creature in fascination, stifling the urge to finger the thimble.  I have read somewhere that a cat’s penis is very much like its tongue, rough and bristled.

Just then, John shuffles out of the washroom belly first, fingering the garter of his old shorts.  “That’s right Puddy da Tat, lick ‘em while you still have ‘em, pervy cat.” He turns to me,  “When’s he chopping off his bollockses?”

“Next Friday morning, at the crack of dawn,” I reply. “Well nine in the morning really, no food or drink for 12 hours the night before. “ Puddy da Tat is now glaring at my face with his transparent blue eyes; his pupils are tiny black dots in the sun, his little tongue sticking out mid-lick.

“Poor Puddy da Tat. Next week this time, no more bollockses.” John gives him a consoling stroke at the back of his neck. Puddy flops onto John’s open hand and makes more of those chirp-meow sounds. Then he yawns and stretches and puts a tentative front paw on my left breast and then the other paw, hoisting his entire furry bundle onto my chest. He starts to nuzzle my hair, licking and chewing the strands while making deep purring sounds.

“Look at that pervy Puddy,” John says, tutting as he goes into the kitchen. “Sitting on mummy’s rack like that.”

“Nothing pervy about that. Adopted kittens often look for surrogate mothers – other house pets or humans – to nuzzle. It’s more for comfort than anything else. He’s not getting much else from this does he?” Puddy has stopped purring. He is now on the sofa and on his back again, his paws and hind legs akimbo, his little pink tongue showing by just a fraction. I rub his belly one big firm stroke at a time.

“Not, him, you!” John says. “He will still have his penis after he’s being neutered if you’re thinking of fingering him. But I’d advise against that.”

I make a face. “Why would I do that?”

John waves a well-thumbed Paul Theroux paperback at me, opens a page and says, “Read that.”


“Great opening line, isn’t it?”

I follow his finger down the page until it stops. “Never give a dog a hand job or you’ll never get rid of him.” I make another face. “He’s a cat. That doesn’t apply.”

“I think he thinks he’s a dog.”

Under the pool table, Puddy da Tat is chasing his own tail.