By:Jonathan Tan Ghee Tiong
Shoot the rain from the sky
his morning Clara Chua was found dead. Yesterday, with regret sufficiently clouding her face, Clara was going to shoot the rain from the sky.
Coming home one evening dad announced that he had taken leave from work and they would go on a hike in Lombok. Once an avid climber, Clara had seen pictures of him, then tanned, well built and in the pink with his equally strapping strong buddies making punching poses of victory amongst the meadow of clouds as they took in the depth of the mountains. It was also in one of those hiking forays that he introduced mum to the captivating rawness of high altitude for the first time. Dad’s keen sense of adventure piqued mum who has been brought up prim and proper with great interest.
It was on the way to the ashen-grey peak in Mount Rijani that dad related the story to Clara about shooting the rain from the sky. Yearning for the pounding rain to dissolve everything around him, he had loved to run soaking wet in the rain when he was a boy. “The world seems a little kinder in the rain,” dad said. But once he was caught in the rain for too long that he had a fever that lasted weeks. In his state of delirium, he shouted in between fits of consciousness that he would shoot the rain from the sky. “If I could shoot the rain down, I could bring it with me everywhere so that the world around me would dissolve into a sweeter, watery shade. I would then no longer have to live the way I have lived.”
After the trip, she came home to see that mum had moved out of the house. The first thing Clara noticed was the empty space left by the baby grand piano that her mum had used to serenade her with lullabies when she was a toddler. From her walker, she would sit absorbed by mum’s hands working the keys with a fervent flourish. Dad did not say a word, but on the next day, he had walked into her room and said matter-of-factly, that both him and mum had filed for divorce.
In the last quarrel before mum left home, dad came into her bedroom and let on that he could no longer take the constant tiffs. Next, mum stomped in, and for the first time the quarrels in their bedroom spilled into hers, once muffled and distant was now ringing crisp and clear in her bedroom.
“What do you mean you can’t take the my nonsense?” Mum spewed madly.
“I really don’t want to fight anymore. Enough.”
“Tell your daughter why we are fighting,” mum ranted on.
“Enough, I said,” her dad retorted.
“What is there to hide? You have HIV and you want custody of Clara. Tell me that this is a sick joke.”
“What is the point of telling you anything when you only rant and rave?”
“You’re right. What is the point of it all?”
Mum would call dad all kinds of names. Mum started out calling dad a wimp. But Clara thought it was harmless as she had associated being wimpy with Greg Heffley, the clueless but much-adored protagonist in “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, a staple read religiously followed by her peers in her primary five class.
Then the other names came tumbling out as quarrels intensified – gay, homo, sissy, pervert, good-for-nothing. Clara did not know what it all meant, but she knew the quarrels, sometimes being accompanied by things being tossed about, would leave mum wailing up a crescendo and dad punctuating it with a resigned finality typical of him – runaway silence – as the door slammed behind him.
It was then that Clara went rampaging in the school to bully the juniors and taunt the boys, calling them sissy pricks and homo pigs. Scrunching across the school lawn in a swagger to pick on the younger boys, she would draw up the hemline of her beige pinafore to reveal her thighs to them. Grabbing the shirt collar of the boy who squirmed away from her act, she would lash out at him, raining a rattle of expletives until the boy cried to which she would yell at the top of her voice that what a sissy he was, not worthy to be a man, or a father when he grew up.
When Clara learnt that she were to become the first girl in the school history to be caned during the morning assembly for her rambunctious act, she prayed that it would rain hard so that she could shoot it from the sky. The rain could dissolve everything: the caning, the shame, the loss.
This morning when Clara threw herself off the parapet on the fourteen floor of a HDB block not too far from home, it was a morning shining bright and clear, starved of clouds, for any rain at all.BW
Jonathan Tan Ghee Tiong works in the field of international relations, and believes in the power of words to bridge understanding in global affairs. Born in Singapore, he has lived and worked in Berlin and London. Once bungee-jumped and climbed a volcano to reason out the meaning of life. He is currently cobbling together his first collection of short stories